Media Narratives on Female Violent Extremism Open Up a Rich Field of Scholarly InquiryBy Fredrick Ogenga // Tuesday, December 27, 2016
There is an emerging trend of female violent extremism in Kenya, embodied by three women who botched an attack on the Mombasa police station on September 15, 2016. To say the least, the attack was publicly shocking, as Kenya has never witnessed anything like it before, in terms of women’s direct involvement in terrorism. This incident points to a worrying trend of female violent extremism, but scholarly inquiry is required to fully make out what it means.
Behind this new emerging threat, the central question lingers of why people, especially youth, join violent extremist groups. The U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, recently warned in a public conversation at the Wilson Center that it will take more to prevent terrorism, including by examining the reasons why people join terror groups. This will be necessary to design youth programs targeting at-risk groups especially those marginalized from the national political economy for historical, cultural, or religious reasons.
Kerry noted that there should be unity of purpose among competing groups in the quest for peace anchored on more inclusive nationalism that has with it elements of ownership and commitment towards a common destiny. How can this note by the U.S. Secretary of State benefit the strategic prevention of terrorism in Kenya?
Kenya has, in the short term, succeeded in containing terrorism and restoring confidence in the security situation to the extent that the United States, Kenya’s more reliable counterterrorism partner, recently downgraded its assessment of security threats in the country. However the notorious terror group al-Shabaab has already wreaked havoc, and traditional conventional preventive approaches to terrorism seem likely to be inadequate. The group is changing tack by targeting young women in areas that are traditionally not considered terror hotspots (the Rift Valley and Western part of Kenya). This is reason for the counterterrorism community in Kenya to be more worried., as a threat drive by ideology, it is difficult to discount the staying power of terrorism in Kenya. The mutating nature of terrorism, as embodied by the rise of female suicide bombers elsewhere in Africa, is one notable example that speaks to this.
Female Violent Extremism – A Subject in Need of Scholarly Inquiry
This worrying trend makes the lack of research on women’s involvement in violent extremism in Kenya even more pressing. The limited literature available hampers scholarly analysis of the problem and attempts to formulate more meaningful presuppositions for critical inquiry.
In my just-concluded research scholarship at the Wilson Center, I interrogated the role of the mainstream press in helping citizens, audiences, and scholars understand unusual realities like the emergence of female violent extremism in Kenya. From a media research and practice perspective, the exposure of such narratives and the ensuing research could be an opportunity for scholars in Africa to build literature that would further help unravel and understand the complex trend of women on the frontline of terror in the continent.
Fredrick Ogenga, Ph.D., is a Southern Voices Network for Peacebuilding Scholar at the Wilson Center from September to November 2016. He is the Head of Department of Communication, Journalism and Media Studies, Rongo University and the Founding Director, Center for Media, Democracy, Peace and Security (CMDPS), Kenya.
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