What if Mackenzie was Muslim?
Articles & Insights
May 18, 2023
Scofield Yoni Muliru
The phenomenon of terrorism has often been defined as the utilization of force to achieve political objectives. Throughout the years, much deliberation has revolved around the underlying causes of terrorism, with a focus on the factors that drive individuals towards radicalization and recruitment. Previously, the categorization of such movements as terrorist or extremist organizations has largely been based on their targeted actions against non-combatants, specifically civilians, and their pursuit of political goals, whether explicitly proclaimed or inferred through research.
In response to such branding, the reactions have typically been severe to impede their expansion and eradicate their influence within communities, which are often perceived as fertile grounds for recruitment. Frequently, these organizations take considerable time to grow, amass followers, gather resources, and expand their operations before launching overt attacks against specific interests or groups.
However, it is evident that diminishing resources, the impact of climate change, and the quest for meaning and purpose have made these groups appear appealing to potential recruits through a process of indoctrination and assimilation. Recently, religious ideologies have been exploited by such organizations as conduits for disseminating information, with Islamic teachings being co-opted by Al-Shabaab, ISIS, and Al Qaeda, and Christianity being adopted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Liberation Front of Tripura, the Ambonese Christian Militia, as well as the emerging Makenzie group and its followers.
The time has come for the National Counter Terrorism Centre, National Intelligence Service, the Security Committee in the National Assembly, the Makenzie-Committee in the Senate, and religious leaders and practitioners in Kenya to engage in a rational and unbiased discussion regarding security policies that solely target a particular religion in relation to terrorism, violent extremism, radicalization, and recruitment.
In the context of Kenya, the manifestation of terrorism bears resemblances to the characteristics of cults, necessitating a careful analysis for the pursuit of a lasting solution. While the current issue surrounding the Makenzie group is being labeled as a cult problem, its features share significant similarities with other terrorist movements, including Al-Shabaab. Drawing from this context and considering the involvement of youth in their activities, this analysis refers to this new Christian extremist movement as Makenzie-baab.
Al-Shabaab attacks have historically targeted both individuals (for deviating from their norms) and the masses in overt situations. In the case of Makenzie-baab, the primary targets were the followers themselves, with many becoming victims of their faith. However, it can be argued that due to the impact on families and the targeting of minors, the masses were also affected. In fact, Makenzie-baab has exacerbated the situation through its specific targeting of minors. When examining the process of radicalization, Al-Shabaab followers were presented with a defined future afterlife, one filled with rewards and blessings. Similarities can be observed in Makenzie-baab, where even the elderly were willing to die for the sake of their distorted faith.
With the revelation of teachings by figures like Aboud Rogo and the discourse surrounding Ahmed Iman, young followers were encouraged to devalue formal education and focus on teachings and indoctrination in Madrassas. However, in these earlier instances, the targeting did not extend to parents as witnessed in Makenzie-baab. The current form of religious indoctrination demonstrates a focus that begins with parents and extends to involve their children through practices such as “fasting” and ultimately death. This presents a greater threat and indicates a higher degree of socialization within the movement. It signifies control over minors through the conversion of adults, rather than the reverse. This reality should be deeply concerning for the government and professionals working in deradicalization and prevention of violent extremism.
Within Al-Shabaab, the Amniatt is responsible for intelligence gathering and dealing with those who deviate from the group’s teachings and expectations. Makenzie-baab follows a similar pattern. In fact, media reports indicate that the process of dealing with dissenters involved methods such as strangulation and outright murder. The process of indoctrination and teachings within the Al-Shabaab ideology involves a deliberate separation of individuals, encouraging them to engage in secretive Madrassas or mosques within their communities. Similarly, the trajectory of Makenzie-baab demonstrates a progression from Kilifi to the Shakahola area for further involvement.
The government’s response to Al-Shabaab has been characterized by resolute action, applying and extending the Security Amendment Laws of 2014 to combat the threat. This involved conducting searches and making arrests of individuals with links and associations to local leaders, including figures like Aboud Rogo, Samir Hashim Khan, Mohamed Bekhit in Mombasa, Ahmed Iman in Nairobi, and other radical sheikhs in the North-eastern province. In contrast, the response to Makenzie-baab has been less straightforward. Apart from the arrest of the group’s leader and some individuals equivalent to the “Amniatt,” certain Christian leaders have come forward to defend and dissociate themselves from the indoctrination, making it challenging to apply the Security Amendment Laws.
Law enforcement teams may have responded slower to claims of radicalization and recruitment within Christianity due to the dominant association of these narratives with one religion, Islam, rather than Christianity. The lack of connection between mass killings, secluded preaching, and fasting for an ideology to Christianity may have led to a cultural response of waiting to observe the outcomes.
Currently, the focus primarily lies on the exhumation and identification of bodies, with minimal discussion on the possibility of Christian forms of radicalization and recruitment. We tend to overlook the fact that Christianity, as a religion, can be manipulated and used as a conduit for acts of violence, similar to Islamic terrorism exhibited by groups like Al-Shabaab, ISIS, and Al Qaeda, which also have a presence in Africa.
We fail to ask the difficult yet crucial question of whether death after fasting was the ultimate goal of this sect. While we have to some extent deciphered high-level goals of Al-Shabaab, our focus on Makenzie-baab has largely centered around body count, searching for survivors, and building a strong legal case against the leader. Although these processes are important, they miss addressing the other aspects mentioned above. Additionally, the government may be hesitant to officially categorize Makenzie-baab and similar groups as terrorists. This apprehension stems from the imbalance within the existing laws on the subject, where the outcomes of their application have often exceeded the confines of specific religious boundaries. However, it is indeed true that there are more similarities than differences between Shabaabism and Makenzie-baabism.
The Makenzie-baab scenario presents an opportunity to reevaluate Kenya’s Security Amendment Laws. There is a risk of narratives being developed by Al-Shabaab leaders who closely observe how the government and the public respond to this new form of religious indoctrination. The question of “What if Makenzie was Muslim?” is slowly gaining traction, highlighting a perceived preferential treatment based on specific religions.
For instance, sections 4, 5, and 9a of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 30 of 2014 stipulate that anyone engaging with a terrorist is liable to an offense and could face 30 years in jail. Does this apply to all those who subscribed to Makenzie-baab’s doctrines, including the “Amniatt-equivalent“? The same act addresses the use of specific premises for such activities. Therefore, what should happen to those who provided land to the Makenzie-baab group? Will preferential treatment be applied?
Radicalization, recruitment, and terrorism are evolving threats that thrive on misinformation and counter-cultural narratives. While the nation debates the regulation of religious institutions, with current focus on Protestant or Pentecostal Christian organizations, the Makenzie-baab situation presents an opportunity to soberly review the laws and their application across all faiths in the country.
The committee in the Kenyan Senate that is investigating this matter should expand its mandate to include a review of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 30 of 2014, assessing its relevance both now and in the future. Additionally, the Security Committee in the National Assembly should utilize this opportunity to initiate informed discussions on the roles of the National Intelligence Service, the National Counter Terrorism Centre, County Security Committees, the Nyumba Kumi initiative, the National Strategy to Counter Violent Extremism, and the County Action Plans.
This situation also provides an opportunity for practitioners, policymakers, and the community to contemplate the ultimate goals of such movements, while not losing sight of existing groups like Al-Shabaab, ISIS, and Al Qaeda.