The challenge of extremism and radicalization has been quite rampant in the East African region, especially in the wake of global terror activities perpetrated by such groups as the Al-Qaida (Aronson, 2013). The Islamic faith, in particular, has been seen as a political tool in the Eastern African region for many years. Extremism is, therefore, explained by the process where Islam adherents impose the Islamic teachings to other members of the society. In addition, they try to impose the Quran rules by use of radical methods with disregard to the sovereign constitution of a country (Botha, 2014). The extremism is, therefore, the ideology that the radical groups try to impose the Islamic rules in the countries through teachings based on the Islamic religion and by overlooking the constitutional order governing the countries (Gordts, 2015).
It is worth noting that the extremism and radicalization are not only East African problems but also global issues as depicted in many other countries and regions (Aronson, 2013; Botha, 2014). Over the years, the East African region did not have great challenges from Islamic violence. However, after the 1998 bombings that targeted the US embassies both in Uganda and Kenya by Al Qaida, many other Islamic terror groups have come up. Therefore, in what could have been interpreted as a new form of local violence, terror groups linked to violent Islamism have risen to become a security threat in the region (Warner, 2015). Therefore, the rationale for this paper is to provide a persuasive discussion on the genesis, proliferation, and impact of Extremism and Terrorism in East Africa as well as its impact on Global and Regional Security.
The Al-Shabaab Group
The Al-Shabaab is one of the most notorious groups of terror in East Africa, which is based on the concept of Islamic extremism (Botha, 2014). The self-proclaimed Islamic militia rose in 2007 in Somali and has grown to become a great threat to this region through the years. The militia has a goal to have Somali country converted into an Islamist state, an initiative that has received considerable opposition from the international community (Yan, 2015). The resistance has seen the group level attacks on innocent civilians in the country and other countries from the region. In the recent past, Kenya has been the most affected country (Gordts, 2015). However, collaborative efforts by the international community have seen the coordinated efforts being leveled towards abolishing and destroying the militia group in the region.
Al-Shabaab Terrorist Group in Somali
After the determined efforts and commitment shown by the international community led by the US to wipe out terror threat from such groups like Al Qaida in Iraq and Syria, the challenge is still on after the emergence of similar minded militia groups. The emergence and operations of Al-Shabaab can be traced back to the Horn of Africa, Somali (Gordts, 2015). The group is propagating the jihadist tactics to the entire region of East Africa and uses extremism as the explanation of its operations (Kisiangani, 2015). In fact, the ideology is carried beyond the country’s border and the militia attack individuals who carry a deviating opinion from the extremist interpretation of Islam as a religion (Gordts, 2015).
Accordingly, the group has the guiding principle that any person who does not ascribe to the doctrine of Salafi is an apostate (Gordts, 2015). However, in other countries like in Kenya, the militia group takes conflict with Christianity and through the sectarian rule embraces all people professing the Islam religion. Such could have been visible in the recent terror attack in the Garissa University in Kenya. In the university attack, the perpetrators separated the Muslim students from the others before shooting the non-Muslims (Yan, 2015). In essence, the Sharia law was the basis or foundation of the extremism taught and embraced by the Al Shabaab group (Yan, 2015). While the motive behind targeting innocent civilians like the students and the shoppers at such malls as the Westgate could not be easily understood, the militia group explains that the strategy is to instill fear to the nationals. The explanation can be understood through the recruitment procedures observed by the group, especially in Kenya (Yan, 2015).
The recruitment process does not target the Muslims alone, but on the contrary, all willing Kenyans are equally recruited (Kisiangani, 2015). The strategy is to lure the youth through money and offering training in the use of the military weaponry. Besides, the group is strategic in facilitating easy conversion from the Christian faith into Islam for the new recruits. In fact, the group downplays the Islamic fundamentalism while recruiting the members from Kenya and in a different dimension exposes the corrupt security forces in the country (Kisiangani, 2015). Through such a strategy, the Shabaab creates propaganda of rampant corruption in the country and challenges the Muslim Kenyans to criticize and rise against the government.
The increase in cases of violence being propagated by the group has seen the Kenyan government join hands with other countries towards eradicating the group (Kisiangani, 2015). Through the efforts, a military group called the AMISOM has been created and sent to Somali and has been fighting the militias for years now (Botha, 2014). Nevertheless, the attacks leveled against the militia group by the military personnel have also been used to explain the recent terror activities and retaliatory efforts in Kenya. Notably, the government of Kenya has also been able to abort planned attacks by the group within the country.
The Al-Shabaab is also linked to the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) and Muslim Youth Council (MYC) in Kenya (Botha, 2014). These groups are sympathizers to the militia group and operate businesses on the behalf of the Shabaab. Moreover, the group’s financiers from Saudi Arabia and other parts of the world avoid sending cash directly to the Shabaab group (Warner, 2015). Instead, they send other merchandise as a charity, but the goods are sold and converted to money at local stations to finance the operations of the terror group (Botha, 2014). While the Shabaab group is opposed to the Somali government and constitutional ideals, it also enjoys some support from the federal government of Somalia (FGS) whose majority of its members hold two or three passports. Therefore, those members do not have Somali’s interest at heart (Botha, 2014).
Emergence of the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC)
The resurgence of the MRC group was noted in the year 2008, and the group was, among other thirty-two groups that were banned through a government gazette in 2010 (Botha, 2014). The banning of the group was explained by the measures of the Kenyan government to prevent organized crime in the region (Botha, 2014). The MRC group is predominantly concerned with land grievances and accuses other tribes from the mainland of inhabiting the lands considered to belong to the Coastal Society (Chonghaile, 2012). The interview quoted by Botha confirms that although the majority of the MRC affiliates are Muslims like the Al-Shabaab, the organization is totally different from the later (Botha, 2014). Therefore, the literature confirms that the MRC group is a secessionist group advocating that the Mombasa region is not part of the Republic of Kenya. However, the fact that radical Muslim clerics such as Sheikh Aboud Rogo and Ibrahim Omar led the activism could not confirm the affiliation of the MRC group with the Somali-based Al Shabaab (Botha, 2014). However, the mass activity and violence that resulted in the assassination of such leaders heightened the tension in the region and fueled the anti-government activities of the group. From the interviews, the extremism in Kenya and the East African region at large is not a new phenomenon (Botha, 2014). However, the radicalization and criminal activity that the country has had since the bombings initiated by the Al-Qaida group in the late 20th century has had some effects in explaining the increased activity of the groups (Botha, 2014). Finally, the political reasons and interest have been used to further the activities of the anti-government groups in the region. Whenever the political class is called to address the issues of violence and terror activity in the region, the majority tend to support the grievances of the electorate that they represent. As such, the political class on the Kenyan coast has had instances to support the attacks facilitated by the Al-Shabaab, with the argument that their people, especially the Muslims are being unfairly targeted by the government.
MRC and Al Shabaab
While there have been some controversies between the interaction of the radicalized group of Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) and the extremist group of Al-Shabaab, there is a notable fundamental difference in their operation (Chonghaile, 2012; Botha, 2014). The two groups have quite different profiles as the Al Shabaab pursues the Islamism terrorist agenda, and the MRC pursues the Secessionist agenda. Therefore, the notable difference is that MRC has not unleashed terror activity within the region unless connected to Al-Shabaab (Goldsmith, 2011). According to interviews conducted on the Kenyan coast by Botha, the youth joins the extremist groups like the MRC for different reasons and not for terror (2014). The majority of the interviewed subjects reasoned that the government had imposed a “collective” punishment to the Somali or Kenya-Somali nationals. As a countermeasure, the youths have joined extremist groups like the Al-Shabaab and MRC. The study established that with such pre-conceived mentalities in the region, more of the youths in the region were likely to be radicalization and eventually join the extremist groups (Botha, 2014). If the Kenyan society continues with the ethnic or the religious identification strategy, then extremism and radicalization is likely to be perpetuated.
The Kenyan government has accorded the group higher attention than previously, a situation that makes MRC continue operating to assert their position just as Al Shabaab is doing in Somali (Dabbs, 2012). Among other reasons that have facilitated the polarization of Kenya is the creation of political, social and even religious divide. The historical aspect of Mombasa having been a Zanzibar Sultan territory and not under the British rule as other parts of Kenya had also facilitated the formation of such group as the MRC (Dabbs, 2012). As such, the interviews conducted in the region could explain the religious differences as well as social differences that have enabled the formation and affiliation of the MRC group to the Al-Shabaab group. While the Al-Shabaab group is more inclined to religious identity, the MRC group reflects an ethnic identity (Botha, 2014; Goldsmith, 2011). The conflict of identity shown by such religious and ethnic identities in the region continues to shape the national identity divide existing in the Kenyan society at large.
Al-Shabaab Affiliation with ISIL and Al-Qaida
Although the group’s membership is not well known, the militia is said to be affiliated with other global terror groups like the Al Qaida and ISIL. After operating in isolation for some years after its formation, the Al Shabaab group formally joined hands with the global terror group Al-Qaida in the year 2012. Besides, in the same year, the leadership of ISIL invited Al Shabaab to the course of waging Jihad on the countries within the region. Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia were the primary target of the terror threat that Al Shabaab were to level in the East African region (Adam, 2015).
The analysis of the operations of the terror group in Somali and the nearby countries could show resemblance to the tactics of operations by the ISIL and Al Qaida terrorist groups in the Middle East. According to a report by Rachel (2015), many similarities could be pointed out in the manner of beheadings, recruitment processes, and the propagation of propaganda by the groups. In fact, there are videos that could confirm the working together of Al-Shabaab and ISIL as well as Al Qaida.
Nevertheless, new developments in the management of the group have seen the group consider cutting the relations with the original affiliates like ISIL and Al Qaida. The formation of the Islamic States and its dissociation from Al Qaida has brought about the mixed feelings by the Somali-based militia group. According to Spencer (2015), the conflict of interest is making Al Shabaab to consider cutting ties with the Al Qaida for the Islamic State. The Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria has risen to attract global attention and has increasingly been recruiting members all over the world. In fact, Spencer notes that the terror group has become a jihadist group of choice and has membership from even other terror groups like the Boko Haram from West Africa. The continued weakening of Al-Shabaab group in the Somali by the African Union forces may be explained as an equal reason the group is seeking a partnership with the Islamic State group and ditching the former partner, the Al Qaida.
It is worth noting that the Al Qaida and IS do not collaborate. However, the Al Shabaab argues that joining hands with the terror groups could enable them realize victory in targeting the common enemy (Spencer, 2015). Besides, IS may also consider the Shabaab group as an asset in advancing the agenda of radicalization and extremism based on the Islamic teachings. Consequently, the report by Spencer does not clarify the unanimity of the Shabaab group leaders in disassociating itself from Al Qaida and joining hands with IS. However, the article notes that the Al Shabaab group may be propelled to join the IS for financial gains.
Facilitators of Radicalization
Politics and the government. The process of radicalization can be perceived as a way of socialization, which the individuals are inducted and nurture. Just as a political process, individuals are socialized into a system of believing and through time, people take the perspective in which they were oriented. Therefore, they adopt the new perspective when they visualize and interpret the environment they live (Botha, 2014). The interviews quoted from the report by Botha shows that the majority of the respondents had to lose some family relations to some form of politically mitigated occurrences. In fact, many have been made to understand that the Mombasa Island should not be part of the Kenya, a situation that justifies the fight for secession (Botha, 2014). From such socialization, the youths become radicalized in the belief that engaging in anti-government activities could prompt the government to accord the region the “sought after independence” (Botha, 2014).
Those who are arrested complain of torture and punishment and at extreme cases, some succumb to the government brutality. Therefore, instead of the efforts by the government and the administration to curb the menace and control the spread of the ideology, the sufferings lure more youths to the course of agitating for their rights. The political course and the government have an equal share of the blame for making youths join the radicalized groups like the MRC. In fact, according to Botha, punishing the members of the MRC and killing them is not the solution to the challenges of radicalization in the region (Botha, 2014).
Peers and family. Peers and close relations were also noted to play a critical role in recruiting and the radicalization of the youths in the region. According to the study by Botha, the influence of friends was ranked highest in facilitating radicalization and recruitment into the MRC group (Botha, 2014). In fact, the same study established an equal assertion that friends were the foremost instrument used to recruit new members into the Al-Shabaab terror group in the region. Family members and relatives of persons already radicalized and operating in the groups were also noted to be a factor that made many youth join the outlawed groups (Botha, 2014). A strong opinion by the affiliates of the two groups established that the members never regarded nonmembers as part of them. As such, only members of these groups could be regarded as “us” while the other members of the society and the government were regarded as “them”. Therefore, the identification explained the activities of the two groups towards the others at this moment regarded as “them” (Botha, 2014).
Religion. Kenya has been known to be a multi-religious country with Christianity being the most professed faith followed by Islam (Botha, 2014). According to the 2009 census findings, the Christians accounted for 84% of the total population, while Islam followed with 11% (Opendata.go.ke. 2009). Besides, the statistics established that the country is categorized as a secular country. However, even with such an identity, the Muslim fraternity feels discriminated against, especially in government and other national institutions. Nevertheless, the Islamic religion has well established representative alliances or legal bodies that advocate for their rights. In the role of the religious divisions in recruiting people into the MRC and the Al Shabaab groups, the respondents to the survey indicated that at least 34% (Al-Shabaab) were approached by Muslim religious leaders (Botha, 2014). Similar findings were recorded for the recruitment of the youth into MRC. Therefore, religion was identified as an equal facilitator of the recruitment of MRC and Al Shabaab groups in Kenya (Botha, 2014).
Ethnicity. Kenya is known to be a multi-ethnic country with mixed representation being recorded in the different regions of the country (Botha, 2014). To establish the role of ethnicity in explaining the affiliation of the Kenyans into the MRC and Al Shabaab group, Botha included the question in the survey. While the Al Shabaab noted having the composition of various tribes of the entire of the country and region, the MRC group was more concentrated on one ethnic group (Botha, 2014; McGregor, 2012). Accordingly, the MRC members noted their position on ethnicity and argued that ethnic diversity was not desirable to them. Domination and lack of trust from some ethnic groups could lead to the betrayal of the group’s agenda, hence the opinion (Botha, 2014).
Socio-economic factors. Poverty is among the most debated factors that make the youths join the unlawful groups. Accordingly, the research established that many people were lured into joining MRC and Al Shabaab by poverty as a Socioeconomic factor (Botha, 2014). However, no research has established a statistical significance of poverty as an encouraging factor that would make the youth join MRC and Al Shabaab groups in the region (Botha, 2014). However, other literature quoted by Botha in the study has established that the lack of employment opportunities for the youths has been a reason that would make youth join such terror groups (McGregor, 2012). In fact, according to the research, social inequality can be the cause of social conflicts observed in many parts of the world. For instance, the MRC could justify their course in lobbying for Mombasa secession for the sake of resources such as the port, the lands, and tourism (Botha, 2014).
The extremism and radicalization observed in the East Africa region are caused by various factors and has implications. The section has, however, evaluated the issue of extremism and the radicalization through the perspective of MRC and Al Shabaab groups operating in the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa. Apparently, there is sufficient evidence for the operation and existence of MRC and its connection to Al-Shabaab as indicated by the highlighted factual interview in a study conducted on the subject in 2014. More importantly, the respondent involved were members and relatives of the families represented in Al-Shabaab and MRC groups.
Al-Shabaab Operations: Recruitment and Attacks
Somali has been one of the most impoverished countries in the world and has had decades of political instability and war (The World Bank Group. (2015). In 2012, the HDR (Human Development Report) estimated Somali’s per capita GDP to be $284 as compared to the average of $1,300 in other sub-Saharan countries. The poverty incidence was estimated at 73%. In fact, 80%, representing the poor people in the rural area while 61%, representing the poor in urban setup (The World Bank Group, 2015). These conditions explain the formation and development of insurgency groups, right after the failure of Siad Barre’s military rule in the country in the 1990s. With the motive of forming a common state of United Somali Emirates covering the larger section of the East African region, the group Al Shabaab was formed by the elite class of Somali with the help of Osama Bin Laden (Agbiboa, 2013).
However, having failed to capture the region as was the initial plan, the group maintained a low profile until its rise in 2008 (Wise, 2011). Extreme poverty and lack of employment opportunities leave many young Somalis with few prospects for the future. Over 70% of Somalia’s population is under the age of thirty. However, the unemployment rate for youth in Somalia is 67%, one of the highest in the world (United Nations Development Program, 2012). After the 9/11 attacks, the US named the Al-Shabaab as a terror organization group and keenly watched its operations (Masters & Sergie, 2015). The group rose to the scenes in the late years of the first decade of the 21st century and purported to wage a Jihadist war against Kafir (non-believer) and unite the region under the Islamic rule. The members are predominantly from the Muslim youths. However, the group has in the recent past extended its membership to reflect a global face (GlobalSecurity.org. 2015; Richardson, 2012). The extension of the scope of recruiting its membership has extended its scope of operations. In the recent past, the group is targeting the neighboring countries within the region. The Republic of Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, and the Somali has been the most affected by the terror activity of the group, especially after the region embraced a common position of fighting the insurgency in 2011 (GlobalSecurity.org. 2015). Through a common military organization (AMISOM), the African Union forces have been in the group’s stronghold in Somali and much of the group’s activities have been retaliatory.
From around 400 members in 2006, the Al Shabaab group had its membership shoot into thousands by 2008 (Wise, 2011). Besides, during the period, the links between the group and the Middle East-based Al Qaida group resurfaced and the relationship facilitated the funding the recruitment and training for the militia (Agbiboa, 2013). With promises to wage Jihad war in the region, the group staged the first attack and killed seventy-two people in Uganda in 2010 (GlobalSecurity.org. 2015). However, after the occurrence, many attacks have been done in the mainland Somali, Kenya, and Ethiopia with the group claiming responsibility through the social media (Menkhaus, 2014). After the attack in Kampala, Uganda the group’s spokesperson said that the mission was to send a warning to all countries daring to send troops to the group’s hub in Somali (GlobalSecurity.org. 2015). However, the African Union sent a joint team of troops in the country under the cover of AMISOM and over the time, the forces have succeeded to destabilize the operations of the group in Somali greatly.
The Al-Shabaab group enforces a strict interpretation of sharia law in what is perceived as a form of radicalization and forces people to abstain from smoking, selling khat, and even shaving beards (Agbiboa, 2013). For the thieves and persons accused of adultery, death and such punishments as amputations have been imposed on them.
The Types of Attach from 2007 to 2012
According to Miller (2013), the Al-Shabaab attacks have been multifaceted. They range from hijacking, assassinations, armed assaults, among others as indicated in the chart below.
The affiliation with such other global terror groups like the Al Qaida and IS has made the group more sophisticated in operations, tactics, recruitment, and attacks. For instance, to the majority of observers, the WestGate mall attack in Kenya and the siege in Garissa University was not a surprise because the group had indicated it would unleash an attack on the Kenyan soil. Evidently, the group has succeeded in making attacks as indicated in the table below.
Source: (Miller, 2013).
The group had issued warnings previously to the effects that if the Kenyan government did not call out the troops from Somali, the group would stage such attacks. The intelligence reports released after the two attacks indicated the participation of highly educated persons and even foreigners with military combat skills (Rosen, 2015). The involvement of the high profile persons in the group could suggest the internal sophistication of the group as supported by the international terror groups like Al-Qaida.
The Response of Kenyan Government and Other Regions in Fighting the Al-Shabaab
It is worth noting that while other governments in the region have been involved in fighting Al-Shabaab, the Kenyan government has had the worst experiences with the militia group and hence the commitment to challenge the group. Under the umbrella of AMISOM, the AU has had the member states contribute by sending forces to Somali in a bid to annihilate the group (Buhadur, 2012). The Kenyan government has been in the forefront in suppressing the group and challenging its operations in the region. The strategic positioning of Kenya and the fact that it has been the most hit by the group could explain the efforts that the government has employed towards the threat (Buhadur, 2012). Besides directly targeting the group in Somalia under AMASON umbrella, the Kenyan government has dealt strictly with the issue of extremism and radicalization in the coastal region (Cohen, 2009). Through what has been branded as the “Linda Nchi” operation, the government of Kenya decided to force the troops into Somali in a bid to destroy the operation hub of the insurgency (Buhadur, 2012). Also, the government has had to commit to higher vigilance within the borders to abort possible attacks from the group through timely response to intelligence alerts. The operations of the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) have been notably successful in fighting the Al Shabaab group with records of scores of the militia being killed both in Somali and also within the borders of the country while staging attacks (Buhadur, 2012). However, the challenges of limited resources to succeed in targeting the Al-Shabaab, with the sophisticated weaponry the group has, the Kenyan forces have had to face challenges of victims and abduction (Masters & Sergie, 2015).
Nevertheless, the Kenyan government efforts could be underestimated because of the role it has played in ensuring that the peace and integration of the region have not been disturbed by the Al Shabaab group. Another challenge to the commitment of the Kenyan government towards stopping attacks on the domestic soil has been the high level of corruption in the country. The porous Kenyan-Somali border and the existence of many refugees of Somali origin in the country have seen weapons sneak into the country and used for the attacks (Buhadur, 2012). Besides, the manner in which the government has responded to the issue of radicalization extremism has led to the increased activity of local sympathizers to the Al Shabaab group (Cohen, 2009). However, the Kenyan government has increasingly received international support in the fight against terrorism, especially from the regional threat Al Shabaab. Moreover, the commitment towards destabilizing the organization has seen the government freeze as many as 86 bank accounts for the sympathizers and funders of the operations of Al-Shabaab within the region (Buhadur, 2012).
From the analysis, the paper establishes that effective management of Al-Shabaab and such other local formations resulting from extremism and radicalization requires a mixed approach and not only through military means (Africa Center for Strategic Studies, 2015). The operations of the jihadist group, Al Shabaab in the East African region, have had to share much from the operations of the Boko Haram group in West Africa (Africa Center for Strategic Studies. 2015). However, coordinated and devoted efforts by multiple players have the likelihood of destroying the Muslim militia groups and ensuring the stability of the regions (Apengnuo, 2010).
Effects of Extremism and Radicalization in the Region and Possible Counter-Strategies
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