NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta has promised a new campaign to stop people joining violent radical groups and to fight the influence of Somali Islamists whose attacks have killed hundreds and threatened growing prosperity.
Suggesting a change in strategy with more use of discussion and persuasion, Kenyatta said conventional policing methods would not be enough to tackle the threat from radicalised men and women.
“To deal with this enemy, we must keep improving our methods and tactics … We must stop them from being radicalised,” Kenyatta said on Monday during a speech marking Madaraka Day national holiday.
Dealing with the rising threat of home-grown radicals has become a priority for Kenyatta. Some of the gunmen involved in the biggest attacks on Kenyan soil in recent years, including the slaughter of 148 people at Garissa university in April, were Kenyan citizens who had joined Somalia’s al Shabaab.
The attacks have also threatened Kenya’s rapid growth in prosperity, ravaging the east African nation’s tourism sector and denting its image abroad.
Diplomats have long criticised Nairobi for its heavy-handed approach to tackling radicalisation among Kenya’s 4.3 million Muslims, urging the government to use softer tactics that would win over the community and help with intelligence gathering. Al Shabaab has vowed to punish Kenya for sending troops to Somalia to fight the group as part of an African Union peacekeeping force.
Kenyatta did not reveal how the anti-radicalisation drive will work in practice, but said the government would soon start working with civil-society groups and faith based leaders to implement it.
Kenya had in April offered an amnesty for al Shabaab militants who wanted to hand themselves in.
Nelson Marwa, county commissioner for the coastal Mombasa region, said several youths had surrendered and the government planned to assign them Muslim clerics and counsellors who would offer them alternative views.
“This is a matter of ideology, and we have to use another ideology to neutralise,” Marwa said.
Al Shabaab’s attacks have scared off visitors and dented Kenya’s vital tourism industry, with mass redundancies and hotel closures reported along the coastal region.
Kenya’s task of winning over Muslims is made harder by the perceived brutality of its security forces. Kenya’s police chief Joseph Boinnet on Sunday said the police would investigate photos circulated on social media purportedly showing officers in the Garissa region “flogging” 10 handcuffed young men.
Diplomats have also criticised Kenya’s move to shut down Haki Africa and Muhuri, two prominent Muslim human rights groups which had been working with radicalised youths.