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article imageOp-Ed: Is counter-ideology the way forward for Kenyan counter-terrorism?

By Robin Okuthe     Apr 6, 2015 in Politics
Nairobi - As potential solutions to the al-Shabab menace, bombing, erecting barrier at borders, advancing counter-terrorism unit, and removing KDF from Somalia are pertinent physical security measures Kenya currently explores.
Response after a security breach can be reflexive and as expected, Kenyan warplanes have bombed positions of militant Islamist group al-Shabab in neighbouring Somalia in response to last week’s massacre of 147 students by the insurgent group at the Garissa University College. More violence, as Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery anticipate, however how much justified, will not provide long-term political solutions to al-Shabab threats.
In fact, if the perspective that terrorism is an ideological problem should be believed, then it is certain that terrorism will diffuse much faster in Kenya and beyond -- in reaction to the current bombings. An ideology prevalent in modern-day terrorism is that, for Islam, as a political system, it is the duty of Muslims to establish Islamic rule globally. Current studies indicate that more youths are becoming obsessed with the ideology, thinking it offers a more rewarding voucher to paradise. Failure to attain the objective of Islamic rule through peaceful means, extremist Muslims have resorted to suicide missions. An idea being, if non-Islamic rule cannot be eliminated, then they can, as a minimum, de-stabilize other religions to establish grounds for Islamic hegemony.
Locally, while Kenyatta and Nkaissery’s decision to engage stronger military action provides relevant and justified response to the heinous terrorist acts committed on Kenyan soil, a larger military would not have deterred the shocking tragedies. And, it won’t deter future terrorist actions.
Why? My take is terrorists are not conventional adversaries detected, deterred, and responded to by traditional military action. If this was the case, terrorism would be fictional in places like Israel, Australia, France, and the United States. Statistical comparison shows that the Israeli military is larger, more advanced and better equipped compared to any Palestinian terrorist groups. Still, terrorism continues to persist. Clearly, the answer cannot be that simple to the Kenyan authorities.
What Kenyatta and Nkaissary appear to overlook is that terrorism, by its nature, is not a conventional warfare. Terrorists single out and decide the times and places to strike. As well, they do not wear uniforms to differentiate themselves from their adversaries. They are the direct opposite of the kind of enemy that the Kenyan military force is designed and trained to fight. In fact, terrorism relies on the idea of asymmetrical warfare; they avoid battlefields, which the military force is trained to engage in.
A long-term solution could be ‘counter-ideology against ideology.’ However, this may sound rather out of the ordinary and will need systematic inclusion of the world leaders, including religious leaders. Clearly, the answer is not as simple as the Kenyan authorities have tended to think. Ideologically, the question should be, how can we achieve lasting peace that all parties agree to? As established in recent researches, the present-day terrorism is rooted in ideology. Ideology cannot be countered through legal action, military action, or by mere condemnation by political and religious leaders. The Kenyan (and the world) leaders must develop a counter-ideology to overcome the al-Shabab ideology.
To counter violence, violence must, therefore, be ripped up from the mind itself. The fear is, this too, takes time and effort. Still, it is the only option that has indestructibly worked. The world over, governments have tried to defeat the terror menace through legal action and military action. Both of these strategies have been futile. In fact, it is an accepted opinion that the Western allies’ military actions have contributed to diffusion of terrorists globally, including in Kenya.
To date, no surgical air strike or legal actions have effectively uprooted terrorism. In contrast, using counter-ideology to counter ideology has been more effective, an example being the two parallel cases of the US against Communist Russia and the US campaign against Saddam-led Iraq. Russia and Iraq were traditional enemies of the US. While the US successfully restrained the threat of Communist Russia using ideology, it has failed to address the Iraq threat many decades later using military action.
Nkaissery still needs to survey his options. While it is a little stupid to think that violence could be completely eliminated without more violence, violence, however, should have been the last line of defence against the battle-hardened, suicidal, and unyielding extremists from the start. Objectionably, this is where Ethiopia got it right and Kenya wrong. Like Kenya, Ethiopia borders Somalia. Unlike Kenya however, al-Shabab attacks have not spread to Ethiopia.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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