Counties must build community trust in combating extremism

In Summary

•Community-led security approaches are not new in Kenya. A good example is community policing popularly known as ‘Nyumba Kumi’ which has led to greater collaboration between law enforcement agencies and citizens in improving security.

•The main challenge however is in building and sustaining trust between communities and the various agencies tasked with maintaining law and order. Trust cannot be imposed from above.

Council of Governors chair Wycliffe Oparanya during a press briefing on Wednesday, September 17, 2020.
Council of Governors chair Wycliffe Oparanya during a press briefing on Wednesday, September 17, 2020.
Image: COG

The devolution pillar in our Constitution recognizes the right of communities to manage their affairs and pursue their development aspirations. The supreme law also mandates counties to promote community participation in the governance process.

In respect of security matters, while the Fourth Schedule to the Constitution assigns the security function (national defence and police service) to the national government, Article 189 obligates both levels of government to cooperate in exercising their respective functions. Accordingly, the national and county governments must work together in ensuring the security and safety of citizens.

The recurrent threat posed by terrorism and violent extremism (VE) further amplifies the need for this collaboration. Recent trends indicate terror networks have devolved to many parts of the country. Therefore, counties bear an instrumental role in preventing and countering violent extremism (PCVE) in their jurisdiction.

In doing this, they must involve local communities in constructive dialogue on issues affecting them and likely to mutate into grievances fueling extremism. This calls for a preventive community-driven strategy that directly addresses the root causes of VE. Such strategies are required to be contained in the County Action Plans (CAPs) on prevention of violent extremism.

Community-led security approaches are not new in Kenya. A good example is community policing popularly known as ‘Nyumba Kumi’ which has led to greater collaboration between law enforcement agencies and citizens in improving security.

The main challenge however is in building and sustaining trust between communities and the various agencies tasked with maintaining law and order. Trust cannot be imposed from above. It must be painstakingly nurtured through consultation and dialogue and requires tolerance and inclusiveness within and between communities.

As Colette Rausch, a conflict management expert at the United States Institute of Peace, cautions, “Trust cannot be coerced, delivered or manufactured. It develops through a process of collective engagement and commitment to a common purpose.”

One platform for building such trust is the County Engagement Forum (CEF), a multi-stakeholder forum bringing together national and county governments, civil society, security sector, faith-based organisations and local communities.

CEFs are tasked with developing and implementing CAPs. But since each county has its peculiar political, social, economic and security challenges, CAPs should offer locally relevant solutions with community input through CEFs. This they can only achieve if communities are willing to engage in the process.

Mombasa, Isiolo and Nyeri are examples of counties making notable progress toward participatory, inclusive and trust-based dialogue.  

Civil society in Mombasa has been active in promoting community participation and fostering dialogue on PCVE. The county also boasts a broadly representative process bringing on board diverse State and non-State actors. Notably, a civil society initiative dubbed ‘Inuka’ has been advocating for a bigger role for residents in combating radicalization and recruitment to terrorism.  

Isiolo County has been keen on a PCVE model involving teamwork and building faith in the capacity of existing governance mechanisms to resolve community grievances that radicalized groups may seek to capitalize on to recruit locals especially the youth. Isiolo has also adopted a bottom-up approach in fighting extremism with the family as the smallest unit. 

With the emergence of terror sleeper cells, Nyeri has recently become a radicalization hub. In response, the county government has embraced a PCVE program emphasizing resilience of local communities. The local CEF has focused on building the capacities of youth, women, elders and cultural groups as well as religious leaders in identifying and responding to the activities of extremist elements operating in the region.  

Nyeri CEF is also working with secondary and tertiary learning institutions to mitigate students’ vulnerability to crime and delinquency, teenage pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, and other social ills that may predispose them to radicalization and VE.

The county has also integrated Covid-19 response to ongoing PCVE activities as a way of facilitating community trust and vigilance against suspected agents of terror networks.

From the foregoing, communities are clearly becoming a central cog to the PCVE agenda in the counties. However, eradicating mistrust and suspicion is key to winning hearts and minds and above all, achieving community trust and support for the war on extremism.  

Mr. Mwachinga is an Advocate of the High Court. [email protected]