• States are now blending hard security interventions with measures geared to preventing violent extremism from gaining traction in their territories.
• This new approach is captured in the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.
Defence forces the world over have the cardinal responsibility of defending countries from external aggression. But in a world where terrorism has evolved into a serious transnational security threat, armies have a vital role in preventing and countering violent extremism.
With extremists constantly changing tactics to win public sympathy, States are now blending hard security interventions with measures geared to preventing violent extremism from gaining traction in their territories.
This new approach is captured in the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, emphasizing the need for nations to address the conditions that fan the spread of terrorism.
Indeed, contemporary thinking is that defeating extremism requires more than decisive military action. There is therefore urgent need to address economic, social and political grievances that fuel the poisonous ideology of extremism.
It is also now generally agreed that security and development approaches must go hand-in-glove in combating terrorism. This is referred to as the developmental response to extremism. Its main goal is to enhance the economic and social wellbeing of communities particularly those considered most vulnerable to extremist influence.
This includes enhancing community resilience to radicalization by addressing developmental challenges including lack of access to basic social services and infrastructure. While armies are trained to deal with external security threats, their role in preventing violent extremism is now a subject of interest.
From a local context, Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) have done a commendable job of neutralizing external security threats like Al-Shabaab. However, perennial terror-related insecurity in north-eastern Kenya calls for a concerted developmental response.
This includes strengthening the role of KDF in preventing and countering violent extremism through tapping into its expertise but this time, in undertaking large-scale infrastructure projects needed to secure remote parts of the country from incursions by militants and other criminal elements from neighboring countries.
Insecurity in counties like Garissa, Wajir, Marsabit, Isiolo, Samburu, Mandera, Kwale, Kilifi, Lamu and Tana River has been partly blamed on poor infrastructure. These counties constitute the north-eastern-coastal belt considered highly vulnerable to violent extremism due to its proximity to the lawless Somalia.
Revamping roads and other critical physical assets will not only enhance security in the region but also open up the region to investment thus concurrently addressing social and economic challenges like lack of jobs and business opportunities.
KDF has unveiled plans to establish a company known as Ulinzi Construction Company that will be involved in public infrastructure projects. This move mirrors the growing involvement of KDF in national infrastructure development, notably seen in the recent establishment of Kenya Shipyard Limited, the rehabilitation of the Nairobi-Nanyuki and Nakuru-Kisumu railway lines, among other projects.
KDF boasts highly trained and experienced engineering expertise within its ranks. The efficiency with which KDF personnel executed the railway projects, at only a fraction of the normal cost, is a clear pointer to how this valuable resource has been under-utilized in the past.
In my view, the proposed Ulinzi Construction Company should prioritize the counties mentioned above due to their unique circumstances. Apart from a poor road network, water is another big problem. The new entity should be involved in building dams to provide water to the communities as this will help improve food security and health in those counties.
Of course, there will be attempts to cast aspersions on the role of KDF in what are essentially civilian projects. Kenya is however not the first country to walk down this road.
The Pakistan army has since 1977 managed a national infrastructure development entity employing thousands of civilians and ex-servicemen and has been involved in mega-projects like ports, highways, dams and canals.
The role of military engineers in peacetime nation-building activities has also long been appreciated. As the two US Army Colonels, Youngberg and Sherill wrote in 1920, “The military engineer should be made an effective instrument for war but he should also be utilized to the limit of his useful capacity in time of peace…… and it is necessary to his efficiency for war that he be given this experience in peace.”
Kenya is at war with the enemy in Somalia but that is not to say that our military expertise should not be deployed where it is needed most to propel national development. Equally important is the need for preventive measures against violent extremism.
Mr. Mwachinga is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya. Email: [email protected]