When the computer age came to Kenya, a new sweet-sounding word came with it – multitasking. It refers to the ability of a computer to process several tasks concurrently.
The term would soon be extended to humans to refer to the ability of an individual to handle more than one task, or activity, at the same time. An example of multitasking is taking phone calls while typing an email.
It appears that we Kenyans sometimes lack the ability to multitask. Presently, national attention is on the state of the economy and claims of runaway corruption in the public sector. But we seem to have completely forgotten that national security is an equally, if not, the most important issue that should occupy our minds at all times. We seem to have let down our guard and forgotten the dangers posed by international terror organisations and their local franchise.
It is for this reason that the government, the media, political leadership and civil society should reset the country’s agenda by shifting public focus back to national security. We should not wait for another terror attack, God forbid, for us to remember Kenya’s national security is still very vulnerable to the threat of violent extremism.
This is not to suggest that the state of the economy and corruption are trivial. All I am saying is Kenyans should learn to multitask such that, as we discuss the economy and corruption, we should also be investing the same amount of energy and vigilance on security.
As of now, it looks like the government has lost steam on delivering the national counter radicalisation strategy. Despite President Uhuru Kenyatta’s constant reminder that the spread of the violent extremist narrative and recruitment of young people into extremist groups are the biggest security challenges facing Kenya today, there seems to be no action from government bureaucrats to match the words.
Despite the President appointing a distinguished career diplomat to head the National Counter Terrorism Centre, Kenyans are yet to get a clear framework of how the national counter-radicalisation strategy will be launched and implemented. Effective implementation will require an interface organ that mobilises the security agencies, county governments, faith-based and civil society organisations.
Official and non-official intelligence reports indicate that young people continue to join violent extremist groups. In a recent alert, none other than the Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces, Gen Samson Mwathethe, said al Shabaab is attracting more and more youth – some as young as 13 years.
There is no reason why the government should not craft an effective counter-violent extremism strategy that brings on board government and civilian actors. When President Moi declared HIV/Aids a national disaster in 1999, a well-coordinated and eventually effective national action plan enabled the country to significantly arrest and deal with the devastating effects of the epidemic.
The establishment of the National Aids Control Council created a platform upon which government and non-government actors converged to craft a comprehensive action plan and mobilise resources to respond to the challenge. With a well interfaced strategic plan, Kenya approached the international community to seek support for its national Aids intervention and response – the results were fantastic as donor support, both financial and technical, rushed in to assist a well-coordinated, transparent and focused initiative.
The same approach can be employed to craft and move forward the national counter-violent extremism plan. As experience has shown, the war on terror cannot be won through military means alone.
Governments alone cannot win this war. It is for these reasons that experts from the security sector and academia have recommended that the war starts with countering violent extremism. And this requires that government and civilian stakeholders work together to execute a common plan.
In fact, when the KDF boss recently warned against increased recruitment of Kenyan youth by extremist groups, he challenged civilian stakeholders to play their role in preventing the increased movement of youth into Somalia to make the military’s work easier.
I, therefore, want to challenge the relevant government authorities to take the issue of violent extremism and radicalisation very seriously. They should take leadership and move forward the national counter-radicalisation strategy agenda with speed before Kenya is, once again, caught flat-footed.
As the government responds to corruption and a collapsing economy, it should multitask by paying equal attention to the threat of violent extremism.
The writer is deputy secretary general of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims.