• Haki Africa boss Hussein Khalid says because of the sensitive nature of the cases, the government has not released statistics. But he said more than1,000 youths have vanished from the Coast region.
• Experts say most radicalised youth have similar backgrounds: they come from abusive homes, their parents didn't spend time with them and talk to them. And youths were out of work.
The pain of having radicalised sons and daughters is mostly borne by mothers who are blamed for failed parenting.
One such mother is Zainab Katana from Kwa Charo Wa Mae in Kilifi.
Katana is at a loss over why her daughter was lured to a terror group, al Shabaab.
She was hospitalised in Kilifi for three months last year after she saw her daughter on a video clip sent to her. Her blood pressure shot up.
“In the recording, my daughter, a salonist, said she was happy in Somalia. I really do not understand how she travelled there,” she said.
Katana added her 26-year-old daughter had an Italian boyfriend who visited Kenya and a week later, in January 2018, she vanished.
“I did not suspect anything because it was not the first time the two have left Kilifi,” she said.
A month passed, however, without a word from either her daughter or her boyfriend.
“In the clip, my daughter said she had joined a terror group. I have never had high blood pressure but from that time I have not been well. I have weird dreams of her being tortured and sometimes I cry the whole night,” Katana said.
She said that when she got out of the hospital, other women did not allow her back into their chama because of the stigma of her radicalised daughter.
The single mother of three is still hopeful her daughter will return safely.
“I have tried calling the number used to send the clip but it’s not going through,” she said.
The International Labour Organization has attributed increasing radicalisation to poverty and lack of empowerment.
ILO Workplace Based Training Specialist Ndegwa Ngung’u on Sunday said terror groups are taking advantage of poverty and unemployment to easily recruit youths and young women.
Speaking in Kilifi during a youth’s workshop, Ndegwa said radicalisation has shifted from institutions to households. Al Shabaab and ISIS sympathisers easily win the trust of poor families and jobless youth with benefits before recruiting them.
The Kilifi County Counter Violent Extremism group says the county had an estimated population of 1.2 million people by 2012. More than half a million are men and about 600,000 females.
The youth population was almost 0.3 million, approximately 27 per cent of the total population.
The enrolment rate in secondary school is very low, 42.5 per cent.
Kilifi is one of the poorest counties with an absolute poverty level of 71.7 per cent, according to the 2013-2017 Kilifi County Integrated Development Plan.
“Youths at the Coast are easily recruited to join terror groups after being promised decent jobs abroad and good money. But when they get there and realise the job is not according to the agreement, it is already too late and they can’t travel back,” Ndegwa said.
Engage Jamii Initiatives director Fatuma Juma said poor parenting makes many youths and girls easy targets by terror groups.
Juma said most parents do not spend enough time with their children to give them guidance.
“When you empower the youth to have skills that are applicable in society, then our youth will not be easily deceived.
"The reason they find themselves in the hands of militia groups is that they don’t have skills marketable globally,” Ndegwa added.
Anisa Menza of Wajib community initiative in Malindi said most of the radicalised youths lacked support from their families beginning in childhood.
Wajib community Initiative has been engaging al Shabaab returnees, giving them social support and counselling.
“We have a bigger problem at the Coast. Most youth we have rescued from joining terror groups have almost identical backgrounds," Menza said.
Some were living in abusive homes, while others found no one to talk to. "About 75 per cent of those we have interacted suffered poor parenting," Menza said.
She said most parents failed to read the signs that their children could have been radicalised, or are being tempted.
“When your son or daughter is talkative and suddenly becomes reserved, you need to investigate. There are other youths who are very polite but they suddenly change and get mad at the slightest provocation,” she added.
Statistics on the number of radicalised youths remain scant as the government doesn't release them.
Haki Africa executive director Hussein Khalid said because of the sensitive nature of the cases, the government has not disclosed numbers.
However, he estimated that more than 1,000 youths have vanished from the Coast region.
"We only suspect that these youths have joined terror groups. Some have done it voluntarily while others have been forced. We have over 900 youths from Kwale whose where about is not known," Khalid said.
He said Haki Africa has documented about 150 killings of youths whom we believe were eliminated because they had been suspected of radicalisation," Khalid said.
Rukia Mwinyi from the American Embassy said lack of psychosocial support has contributed immensely to youths joining terror groups.
“In the recent past we have heard of Jihad ul Nikkah (Brides for Jihad) which is not mentioned anywhere in the Koran. We also have groups like Wild Ladies."
"If you look closely at these groups, they are all young girls who have joined terror groups who promised to make their lives better," Mwinyi said.
She urged counties to formalise the informal sector to meet national occupational standards.
Zainab Rashid from Kilifi attributed poor economic planning by the government for many youths' slide into terrorism.
Rashid said many youths have tried to get startup capital from the government without success.
“The government introduced affirmative action funds but youths have given up applying for it due to government restrictions,” said Rashid.
Kilifi County Deputy Governor Gideon Edmond Saburi said the majority of the youth rush for money without looking into the circumstances of the job they are being promised.
“The terrorists will build houses for their targets, buy luxurious items for their children. and provide them basic needs and in the end, trap them,” Saburi said.