Socializing the Prevention and Countering Extremism Process in Kenya


December 15, 2021

Executive Summary

The strategies employed by development partners and governments to counter violent extremism and terrorism have increasingly shifted their focus towards engaging local actors, involving civil society, and promoting grassroots responses within communities. This approach operates under the assumption that widening the pool of stakeholders aids in depoliticizing the process and encourages the framing of violent extremism as a societal issue.

This study delves into the inclusivity and diversity of dialogue processes within Kenyan counties, particularly examining the extent to which these processes reflect various community groups. The investigation hones in on two specific counties, Nairobi and Kwale, chosen as case studies. Furthermore, the study scrutinizes how participants were recruited and whether the dialogue efforts managed to ensure meaningful engagement from all community sectors. It also evaluates whether the development of County Action Plans (CAPs) successfully garnered engagement at both national and county levels of government. Lastly, the study explores whether this engagement bolstered the legitimacy of the state and fostered moderated interactions between the state and communities concerning violent extremism (VE). The research was conducted between January and February 2021.

Kwale and Nairobi were selected as the focus of this study due to their distinct approaches to CAP development. Kwale’s plan seemed to emerge from a community-led process, in contrast to Nairobi’s plan, which was a response to a presidential directive. The Kwale CAP offered an opportunity for in-depth examination, having been launched in 2017 and having undergone various iterations, including the Refreshed CAP and the Rapid-CAPs (R-CAPs). Notably, Nairobi, despite being the government’s central hub for security-related matters, was among the last counties to establish a CAP, a curious aspect in the analysis.

Grounded theory was utilized as the research methodology, enabling a theoretical sample size selection to fill and validate properties of an initial category. The sample included gender-based representation and cluster categorization, incorporating participants from local government, civil society organizations, traditional leaders, women, youth, donors, and political party representatives. A total of eighteen respondents from Nairobi and seventeen from Kwale were interviewed using a key informant interview protocol.

The analysis employed a constructivist grounded theory approach, emphasizing multiple realities that encompass the roles of the researcher and researched, as well as subjectivities of situated knowledge. Comparisons were made to assess engagement levels within three interrelated themes: meaningful participation and inclusion, political space and pluralism, and intersectionality and resilience. These themes provided a framework for evaluating ownership of the development process and monitoring implementation progress. Theme categorization was based on interrelationships, demonstrating that one theme’s sufficiency relied on others within the same category. The study unveiled both positive outcomes and evident gaps stemming from the development process, which could impact subsequent implementation.

A high-level systems analysis reveals that CAP development has facilitated coordination success, potentially enhancing Kenya’s prevention and countering of violent extremism (P/CVE) responses. Stakeholders from all sides (national government, county government, and communities) achieved mutual understanding regarding necessary actions to address VE, recognizing its multidimensional nature and threat to Kenyan society.

Furthermore, civil society gained recognition as a crucial player in VE response, resulting in consistent outreach from national and county governments for engagement and support. However, it’s arguable that this outreach could be attributed to the limited financial resources allocated to CAPs by these governmental bodies. The County Engagement Forum (CEF) has aimed to unite government levels and civil society, rectifying previous parallel approaches to VE response. This shift in approach highlights an enhanced governmental grasp that VE extends beyond mere legality and security concerns. The CAPs have broadened government comprehension of P/CVE responses, allowing discussions about structural imbalances as root causes of VE. Additionally, the CAPs streamlined donor funding for VE response, focusing efforts and resources.

While the CAPs exhibit successes, notable gaps persist. County governments have not effectively conveyed their security concerns to the national government. Conversely, the national government has struggled to incorporate county and community perspectives into national legislation and P/CVE policies. Evidently, links between county and national governments and civil society remain tenuous, underscoring the imperative for inclusive engagement to facilitate a comprehensive approach. These gaps underscore limited inclusion and meaningful participation during the development process in both counties.

Moreover, the CAPs’ framing of issues inadvertently fosters dependency on development partners, leaving funding primarily reliant on external sources. The CAPs essentially remain a mandate from the national government, positioning it as the dominant authority rather than a collaborative partner in the process. Additionally, though politicians may provide pathways to reach vulnerable communities, these same politicians are often perceived as threats by these communities. Further research is needed to comprehensively understand the role of politicians, political spaces, and P/CVE efforts.

The study highlights the challenge of anchoring CAPs within legal frameworks. Most counties primarily seek legislation for financial support, sidelining critical issues such as amnesty, returnees, and reintegration.

Furthermore, CAPs assume community resilience and interactions that lead to VE, rather than actively promoting and analyzing these factors. Current CAPs encourage communities to fit their challenges into an existing framework, often without provisions for local solutions to local issues. Local capacities were unintentionally disregarded during the development process, both in urban and rural contexts. Opportunities for building resilience emerge during CAP implementation and should be maximized.

CAP development appears influenced by development team needs, donor fund usage restrictions for at-risk groups’ engagement, and constrained time-frames. Inclusion definitions frequently categorize target populations as “at-risk” without nuanced understanding, potentially leading to a marginalized branding of local stakeholders by the national government. This dichotomy may hinder comprehensive engagement and necessitates a more tailored approach. Additionally, conventional “at-risk” definitions may not align with the dynamics of VE.

Ownership emerges as an issue, partly due to limited participation and language barriers. CAPs are developed exclusively in English, creating challenges for close community engagement.

In conclusion, while CAPs have generated insightful ideas, they often lack the empowerment tools required to address VE effectively in Kenya. This study offers several recommendations:

  1. Encourage locally led CAP development to enhance countywide communication and awareness between community members and government representatives.
  2. Establish open communication channels and national government accommodation, ensuring meaningful participation and expanding political engagement during CAP implementation.
  3. Undertake ongoing reviews of CAPs to analyze local conflict systems and their interactions with VE, allowing for nuanced engagement and more comprehensive implementation.
  4. Foster political will, accommodating conversations on pressing issues such as returnees, reintegration, and structural conflicts within CAPs.
  5. Consider local politics during CAP implementation, as it shapes inclusion levels, conflict system evolution, and the transition to violent extremism.
  6. Develop laws overseeing critical issues like amnesty and returnee integration to build trust and guide CAPs’ implementation.
  7. Explore political institution engagement in P/CVE, supported by legislation and political will.
  8. Replace rigid timelines with flexible periodization, accommodating community needs and implementing realities during monitoring and evaluation.
  9. Translate CAP documents into local languages, facilitating community engagement.
  10. Schedule CAP revisions every six months to address dynamic manifestations of violent extremism and terrorism within communities.