DECADE OF WAR

10 years of fighting Shabaab: Time to focus on soft power

Military campaigns and security measures per see offer stopgap measures.

In Summary
  • A case in point is the security and religious seminars that the military now hosts for schoolgoing youngsters in the coastal region.
  • The end of this decade of war should mean the beginning of serious assessments to firmly shape our fighting strategies.
A KDF officer interacts with Somalia locals in Dhobley.
A KDF officer interacts with Somalia locals in Dhobley.
Image: KDF

Kenya will soon mark a decade of fighting al Shabaab in Somalia. Kenya’ military will soon pull out of Amisom as the end of the extended period draws closer.

The country needs to document and implement important lessons learnt from the experience in this age of unconventional, dynamic and transnational security threats.

A paramount realisation is the exigency for a comprehensive remedy for terrorism and radicalisation. The country’s experience with these two ideological menaces, plus the best practices in Countering Violent Extremism used abroad, have shown us that military campaigns and security measures per see offer stopgap measures that do not address the root causes of violent extremism and indoctrination.

This critical discernment of a holistic and multi-sectoral solution is what I guess has even informed KDF’s new formulation of soft power approaches like community engagement as part of its strategy towards extirpating al Shabaab.

A case in point is the security and religious seminars that the military now hosts for schoolgoing youngsters in the coastal region.

Broadening and reinforcing the national response to the threat by al Shabaab, especially in the areas of structural changes, community engagement and building resilience, will go a long way in countering violent extremism and radicalisation.

Addressing these areas of soft power is highly recommended by key international organisations such as the United Nations Institute for Training and Research and the United Nations Development Programme.

A UNDP discussion paper titled, ‘Preventing violent extremism through inclusive development, tolerance and respect for diversity: A development response to addressing radicalisation and violent extremism’ offers 11 interlinked development building blocks as a theoretical framework for Preventing Violent Extremism that can be adapted at community, national, regional or international level.

The document can supplement existing domestic pillars and strategies for PVE.

The blocks include: Promoting a rule of law and human rights-based approach to PVE; Enhancing the fight against corruption; Enhancing participatory decision-making and increasing civic space at national and local levels; Providing effective socio-economic alternatives to violence for groups at risk; Strengthening the capacity of local governments for service delivery and security.

Also: Supporting credible internal intermediaries to promote dialogue with alienated groups and reintegration of former extremists; Promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment;

Engaging youth in building social cohesion; Working with faith-based organizations and religious leaders to counter the abuse of religion by violent extremists; Working with the media to promote human rights and tolerance; Promoting respect for human rights, diversity and a culture of global citizenship in schools and universities.

The end of this decade of war should mean the beginning of serious assessments to firmly shape our fighting strategies and put more emphasis on the use of soft power to defeat al Shabaab once and for all.

Peace and social commentator in Garissa