A Discourse Analysis of the National Strategy to Counter Violent Extremism and County Action Plans in Kenya
March 27, 2019
In September 2016, Kenya introduced its National Strategy for Countering Violent Extremism (NSCVE) with the primary objective of rallying all sectors of Kenyan society – including social, religious, and economic realms – to unequivocally reject Violent Extremist Ideologies (VEI). The strategy aimed to shrink the pool of individuals vulnerable to radicalization and recruitment by terrorist groups. Orchestrated by the National Counterterrorism Centre (NCTC), the strategy’s development involved extensive collaboration at the governmental level. However, non-state actors engaged in CVE implementation asserted that their consultation during this process was inadequate.
The NSCVE sought to tackle the intricate and disputed definitions of Violent Extremism (VE) and delve into the complex phenomenon of Terrorism. This exploration encompassed acts of terrorism, the threats posed, impacts, and broader significance beyond security, extending into the socio-political domain. The strategy aimed to cultivate patriotism, enhance government support for at-risk communities, rehabilitate and reintegrate returnees, implement non-coercive CVE approaches, employ law enforcement for deterrence and prosecution of radicalizers, and facilitate research on the evolution of Violent Extremist Ideologies.
During the NSCVE launch in 2016, the President underscored the imperative to prevent the insidious spread of a harmful ideology and acknowledged Terrorism as a domestic challenge. Consequently, a multi-agency security operation was initiated, significantly intensifying efforts to “Detect, Deter, and Disrupt” the activities of Violent Extremist Organizations (VEOs) and terrorists. This marked a policy shift, pivoting from perceiving the threat as external collateral damage to a direct internal challenge.
Identifying the issue as domestic provided a strategic foundation, allowing the government to develop responses targeting internal drivers of Violent Extremism while engaging local non-state partners. However, the NSCVE framework fell short in comprehensively identifying and understanding local dynamics and context. Although the document outlined thematic areas for addressing VE and Terrorism, it lacked alignment with parliamentary acts and a comprehensive policy structure to effectively address the evolving VE and Terrorism landscape.
Furthermore, while the NSCVE covered both Violent Extremism and Terrorism, including a security-focused pillar for responding to Terrorism, it lacked a well-defined procedure to support rehabilitation and reintegration of returnees. The outcome was a public proclamation of amnesty for returnees that clashed with the Suppression of Terrorism Act and Security Amendments bill. The imperative to safeguard the State from a faceless adversary led to actions and measures driven more by possibility than probability.
This report encapsulates research conducted between July and October 2018, documenting insights garnered from Preventing/Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE) programming in Kenya. The study encompasses an examination of VE trends in Kenya, an evaluation of the development process of the NSCVE and County Action Plans (CAPs), and an analysis of the interplay between existing statutes pertaining to VE-related activities. The research encompasses discourse analysis of Violent Extremism and Terrorism in relation to their interpretation and implementation through the NSCVE and CAPs.
The study employed data triangulation and a mixed-methods approach, combining fieldwork in Nairobi, Mombasa, and Garissa with data from existing strategies in Kwale, Isiolo, and Lamu. It incorporated insights from the transnational threat context and global lessons learned. Respondents were selected using a tiered sampling method that employed purposive clustering, focusing on government representatives, non-state actors, and community members. The methodology entailed in-depth interviews through Participatory Systemic Inquiry (PSI) to elicit lived experiences within the community.
This comprehensive report comprises seven chapters critically evaluating the conceptualization and implementation of CVE, VE, and associated concepts in Kenya. It provides context-specific historical context framing, examines the consensus-building process, coordination among stakeholders, and competing interests in development. It also explores responses from the state, international partners, and Violent Extremist Organizations (VEOs). The report outlines the evolution of Terrorism and Violent Extremism trends in Kenya, including a shift from viewing them as collateral damage to a direct target after the 1998 US Embassy bombings.
Furthermore, the report delves into community definitions and perceptions of Terrorism and Violent Extremism, analyzing Kenya’s state categorization of the two and past responses. It offers an overview of the NSCVE, highlighting progress made since its launch, identifying gaps, and presenting opportunities for future engagement.
Through discourse analysis, the report examines the framing of terminology, emphasizing the influence of spoken discourse in driving action. It underscores the challenge in defining VE and Terrorism, highlighting their context-dependent interpretations and the NSCVE’s lack of contextual inclusion, boundary definition, response options, and actor representation. The report traces the historical development of legal jurisprudence, including acts such as the Suppression of Terrorism Bill (2006), the Witness Protection Act (2006), and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (2012), shedding light on the evolution of hard power approaches by the government.
Acknowledging that the NCTC was in the process of reviewing the National Strategy, the report acknowledges the potential integration of findings and recommendations from this research.