A Winning Strategy Against al-ShabaabBy Fredrick Ogenga // Tuesday, April 12, 2016
It appears al-Shabaab’s assault on innocent Kenyans and Kenya’s political economy is taking its toll. Al-Shabaab seems prepared to fight a long war, perhaps for many years or decades. As a group motivated by religious beliefs, they have won sympathizers at home and abroad. Kenya went into Somalia under an operation dubbed Operation Linda Nchi looking for a quick-fix solution to a complex asymmetric conflict. Confounding the expectations of experts and observers, that operation is now sailing into its fifth year, which begs the question—are Kenyans prepared to fight in Somalia for decades, as al-Shabaab is?
If the answer is no, that does not mean Kenya should pull out of Somalia blindly without an exit strategy. It is often argued that conventional mechanisms used to stop and diffuse conflict in one area might actually be the recipe that destabilizes other areas. Somalia is a good example. Kenya joined AMISOM in Somalia and succeeded in achieving some degree of control across a good number of areas. However, this has led to instability in Kenya, especially in counties proximate to Somalia, such as Mandera, Garissa, and Mombasa due to spillover of instability displaced by KDF in Somalia. Therefore, Kenya must rethink its military engagement and diplomatic strategy in Somalia. One quick way of further stabilizing Somalia would be for the Kenya Defense Forces to build up the capacity of the Somali National Army (SNA) in order to transfer security responsibilities.
Root Causes of Terrorism
More broadly, we must ask—why is terrorism on the rise globally, and what really motivates it? Out of the many complex issues that drive terrorism, one key factor influencing the global spread of terror is radicalization. Radicalization is compounded by a growing and global youth population, especially in Africa, frustrated by the pressures of modernity amidst rising poverty levels and a lack of employment opportunities. These factors have made the youth a primary target for radicalization. The political and economic exclusion of the youth in national affairs has cultivated perfect grounds for youth resentment. The youth are therefore using terrorism for self-assertion in the hope that they can shape and re-shape relations and rearrange power in the global political economy.
With its high number of unemployed youth, Kenya is currently faced with major threats of terror that have been made good by a battery of successful al-Shabaab attacks in places such as Westgate, Baragoi, Mpeketoni, Mandera, and Garissa University College. In Nigeria, Boko Haram has used asymmetric tactics to instill fear, from the abduction of teenage girls to guerilla massacres targeted at innocent villagers. Countries like Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, and Cameroon have all suffered terror attacks, pointing out the worrying surge of terrorism on the continent.
The truth is that terrorism is increasingly diffusing global power as states, non-state groups, terrorists, and individuals all get opportunities to shape global security as never before. The emergence of global asymmetric wars is what characterizes the quest for identity and global power as non-state actors, terrorist groups, and individuals fight for recognition and consequently complicate national and global security.
So what are the best ways of fighting terrorism in Africa? It is important to engage the youth in Africa in meaningful employment and to invest in youth education and sensitization to divert their attention from radicalization.
Military intervention is obviously necessary and urgent in the short term because terrorists are armed non-state actors who pose an immediate threat to civilians and to the state. It is difficult for African states to fight shadowy, elusive groups like al-Shabaab using conventional methods, but they may not have approaches other than military ones to defeat such groups. It is this dilemma that such groups—which thrive in weak or chaotic states—exploit, since they have nothing to lose in the process. Most organized states would feel reluctant to employ the same tactics used by terrorist groups due to the losses in terms of infrastructural damage and civilian casualties, and the economic downward spiral they could cause.
Modern states often fall victims of insurgency or terrorism because they are often working hard to fight the tactics employed by such groups rather than formulating a working strategy for defeating them. States must understand that terrorism is motivated by radical ideologies that are propagated over a period of time, and therefore it is high time states counter radicalization in the long term by investing in research and education in partnership with other stakeholders.
The other immediate approach to defeat terrorism in Africa is to deny terrorists the media publicity they yearn for. The ways in which the Western media covered the Paris attacks and are currently covering the attacks in Brussels magnifies the extent of the damage caused by terrorism. Terrorists exploit the local and international media, including the internet, to sensationalize the visual consequences of their asymmetric attacks to spread fear and to impact global audiences. Widespread media images of violence, terror, and frightened people, like those that came out of Brussels and Westgate, Nairobi, play into extremist hands.
Fredrick Ogenga Ph.D. is Senior Lecturer and Head of the Department of Communication, Journalism and Media Studies, Rongo University College and Director, Center for Media, Democracy, Peace and Security (CMDPS).
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- CANCELED: A Conversation with the Foreign Minister of Nigeria, H.E. Geoffrey Onyeama March 15, 2017
- Sudans Working Group: A Private Discussion with His Excellency Professor Ibrahim Ahmed Omer, Speaker of Parliament of the Republic of the Sudan March 1, 2017