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Experts suggest youth empowerment plan to avert radicalization

by Christine Lagat NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- The Kenyan government should focus on long-term interventions like education, vocational training and income generating activities to cushion youth from joining militant groups responsible for spreading terror.

Security experts told Xinhua in interviews that rampant poverty, social exclusion and peer pressure were driving the youth into the arms of terror master-minds who promise money and a good life.

Global Peace Foundation Executive Director Daniel Omondi said that Kenya should employ soft power rather than brute force to contain radical ideologies that fuel terrorism.

"We require a paradigm shift in order to win the war against terrorism that has engulfed this region.

"Security organs and their civilian partners must adopt a holistic approach to fight terrorism effectively," Omondi said.

Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia and Mali were recently described as terror hotspots by a global consulting agency. The East African nation has experienced a spike in terror attacks from the Somalia based 'al-Shabaab' militants.

Despite assurances from political leaders and security chiefs, ordinary civilians remain a soft target for murderous terrorists.

'al-Shabaab's reign of terror in Mandera County that claimed 64 lives recently was a confirmation that Kenya must adopt new methods to defeat this menace.

Omondi told Xinhua in an interview in Nairobi that counter- terrorism measures in Kenya have failed to nip the vice in the bud and required a comprehensive review.

"Terrorism is driven by an ideology that cannot be eradicated through military force.

"Our youth are susceptible to extremism due to unemployment and low self-esteem," said Omondi.

Kenyan security forces in October raided mosques in the coastal city of Mombasa to flush out radicalized youths.

According to police, the mosques were used as recruitment venue for terror networks.

Omondi regretted that jihadists have spread tentacles in the urban slums and remote villages where poverty and social marginalization is rampant.

"Some reports indicate that 'al-Shabaab' and other terror groups are enticing unemployed youth with a monthly salary of 600 U.S. dollars.

"This is a wake-up call for policymakers, civilian leaders and security chiefs," Omondi said.

He urged the government to scale up youth empowerment programs to reduce crime, terrorism and drug abuse.

Kenya has been an epicenter of youth radicalization thanks to poverty, absence of social safety nets and weak policing.

The youth advisor at the UN Human Settlements Program (UN- Habitat) Hassan Abdikadir said that terror networks have recruited vulnerable youth to swell their numbers.

"Majority of Kenyan youth lack sustainable revenue streams and terrorists are promising them treasures.

"It is hard for a jobless youth to resist an offer of 600 dollars per month if they join a militant group," Abdikadir said.

He was previously working with a community based organization that engaged youth as agents of peace and community development.

Kenya must adopt innovative strategies to address the root causes of terrorism.

"Abdikadir proposed community led interventions to contain spread of radical ideologies.

"Citizens have a critical role to play in the fight against terrorism.

"We need to strengthen community policing and public awareness to ensure terrorists do not have a safe haven in the country," Abdikadir told Xinhua.

Reliance on conventional military strategies alone will compromise the war against terrorism in Kenya.

Trevor Ng’ulia, a security expert, noted that terrorists have exploited divisions within Kenya’s security apparatus, civil and religious tensions to kill and maim innocent civilians.

"We require a thoughtful operational strategy, technology, soft skills and an astute political leadership to defeat terrorism.

"There is need to combine military and nonmilitary actions to win this war," Ng’ulia remarked in a newspaper commentary.

Kenya should invest in sophisticated intelligence gathering in order to foil terror plots.

Ng’ulia noted that creation of a robust homeland security agency is urgent to help deal with terrorism and transnational crimes.

"Members of the public should be incentivized to volunteer information on suspicious characters in their midst. The government can also hire jobless youth to undertake community policing for a modest fee," Ng’ulia said.

Kenya must implement affirmative action policies to ensure under-privileged youth have access to quality education.

The director of National Crime Research Centre, Oriri Onyango, noted that access to basic services and mentorship programs will provide a life-line to vulnerable youth.

"Our youth are joining militant groups largely because there is a vacuum to fill. At this juncture, social programs will discourage them from embracing radical ideologies," Onyango told Xinhua.


Terrorism 2014: 'Wake-up' call for civic leaders and security chiefs



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