Politics aside, new anti-terrorism rules boost vigilance against violent extremism

In Summary

• Rules are contained in the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendments) Act.

Parliament Buildings.
Parliament Buildings.
Image: FILE

Parliament recently enacted regulations giving the National Counter-Terrorism Center additional powers to regulate Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) involved in countering radicalization and violent extremism. The new rules have drawn a sharp reaction from NGOs and CSOs who claim they are not only draconian but unconstitutional.

The contentious rules are contained in the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendments) Act signed into law by the President on July 5. The Act amends the Prevention of Terrorism Act in part to make the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) the approving and reporting institution for all NGOs and CSOs engaged in preventing and countering extremism and radicalization.

The overall effect of the new regulations is to bring community-based organisations involved in countering violent extremism (CVE) within the purview of the NCTC.

Any discussion on this issue should however begin by accepting the fact that everyone is entitled to their constitutional rights. Second, community-based entities play a valuable role in CVE via public sensitization and outreach. They work with individuals and groups susceptible to radicalization and violent extremism, and then seek to de-radicalize and rehabilitate them.

As such, such organizations offer a direct, non-violent pathway to confronting and eradicating radicalization and violent extremism.   

But opposing the new rules, in my view, is misguided. Lack of a definitive framework to regulate the activities of such organizations creates ample opportunity for terrorists to infiltrate and use them to advance their criminal motives.  

CSOs claim the requirement to report to NCTC is an attempt to control, manipulate and even silence them. And that the new rules impede their work in human rights. Is this really true? 

Violent extremism is a sensitive subject. Given its far-reaching social, economic, political and security implications, it requires a multi-faceted approach involving all stakeholders. Moreover, Kenya has in the past borne the brunt of deadly terrorist attacks. It is a no-brainer, therefore, that tough measures should be put in place in order to detect, deter, counter and defeat extremists and their sympathizers.

This is the big picture that opponents of the new regulations are missing. For NCTC to effectively discharge its mandate, it must be clothed with jurisdiction to supervise community-based entities involved in CVE. Fundamentally, this entails tracking such entities to prevent criminals using them to conceal their real motives.

A close perusal of the amendments reveals that they do not target human rights campaigners per se as claimed by opponents. Truth is, they apply only to those “engaged in preventing and countering violent extremism and radicalization through counter-messaging or public outreach, and disengagement and reintegration of radicalized individuals.”

The community-based organizations involved in CVE also claim the new regulations infringe on their right to hold confidential information regarding their activities. The State is the primary custodian of public safety and security. It logically follows that it has a right to be informed of the identity and activities of non-state actors in CVE. 

Insisting on confidentiality only serves to fuel mistrust among various actors in the fight against extremism and terror.

All said, the new rules should be seen as a mechanism to make the CVE space more transparent by weeding out elements likely to undermine public safety and national security under the guise of being bona fide NGOs and CSOs. 

Left unchecked, there is a very real possibility that such organizations could become conduits for money laundering and illegal enrichment where unscrupulous individuals divert donor and public funding for CVE. 

Most, importantly, we should avoid playing politics with the lives of Kenyan citizens. The terror attacks at Westgate Mall, Garissa University, Dusit Complex and places like Wajir and Mandera, are poignant lessons that eternal vigilance is the price we have to pay to remain safe as a country.  

Mr Choto is a lawyer and public affairs consultant. [email protected]