Recent security operations in the coastal town of Mombasa where teams of police commandos raided certain mosques and arrested dozens of youth suspected to be

undergoing religious radicalization has left many Muslim leaders and institutions confused about the nature of the security threat that continues to dog this once
serene region. For quite some time, many were made to believe that radicalization through extremist Islamic narrative was the cause of the wave of attacks on Christian worship centres. However, the latest wave of crime where, for example, dare-devil attackers attempted to raid a military barracks with machetes have left many wondering if at all radicalization is still the cause of the insecurity in the coast region. Let’s look at some of the issues that have raised eyebrows about the recent security operations in Mombasa;

1. In the raid on Masjid Musa and Saqina, police displayed what they said were assorted weapons, bomb-making materials and radicalization manuals recovered from the two mosques where But the question is, having been aware that the two mosques were under police surveillance for months, which terrorists worth that tag would continue keeping their deadly arsenal in a place they knew police could raid any time? Terrorists and their accomplices are very tactical and elusive people and it is unlikely that the “terrorists” of Masjid Musa would be so stupid as to store their tools of crime in a premise they knew very well was under police surveillance for months.

2. When the media relations team of the anti-terrorism police in Mombasa published names of about ten young people they said were on the wanted-list of top Somalia-trained terrorism suspects, a good number of those whose names appeared on the wanted-list promptly turned themselves in to the authorities and even
addressed the media flanked by Mombasa County Commissioner Nelson Marwa, denying claims that they were terrorists or promoted terrorist activities. The young men who turned themselves in looked genuine and even exchanged pleasantries with their accusers, thus pointing to the possibility that the anti-terrorism police could have been wrong about them.

This twist of events points to the possibility that a good number of young men previously gunned-down by police in Mombasa on suspension of being terrorists could have been innocent, thus prompting the question—if these young people are innocent, how accurate is the so-called intelligence information that police act on when conducting their operations? So long as the foregoing puzzles defy a convincing answer, the fight against terrorism in the Coast region will continue to wallow in confusion and even cause those well-intentioned Muslims to shy away from offering solutions. And this is why the government should eat humble pie and go into constructive engagement with local leaders to devise a genuine strategy of dealing with the security threat posed by the radicalization that feeds terrorism— unilateral military action which often targets innocent people is no longer helpful.

A few weeks ago, some security chiefs were heard saying that they would consult the Israeli government to learn from them how to deal with terrorism, especially in populated neighbourhoods such as Mombasa. While, there is no doubt that the Jewish state has immense experience in dealing with terrorism because of its unique circumstances, it may be foolhardy for Kenya to copy and paste the Israeli approach— Israel is dealing with an uprising against what is perceived to be an illegal occupation, the Kenyan situation is far from this and that is why the former’s strategy and tactics cannot be applied to the latter. As much as terrorism should be dealt with accordingly for the crime that it is, it is also important for the government to deal with the socio-economic factors that make religious radicalization attractive to the youth of this region. Truth be told, the Coast region, and Mombasa in particular, is nothing but a clearing and forwarding house— the rest of Kenya only goes to Mombasa to clear their goods through the port or go on holiday once a year after making their billions after working elsewhere. This means that no meaningful wealth can be generated in Mombasa because clearing and forwarding houses are not meant to retain any wealth—they only retain crumbs (mabakshishi) thus creating some sort of ‘doormat’ mentality among the people of this region.

Once a people feel that they are only useful as a doormat and can only mabakshishi, they are bound to be attracted to radical ideologies as a way to emancipate themselves and make the rest of society acknowledge their importance beyond the doormat status. In this regard, what is happening in Mombasa today is some  sort of self-emancipation. Algeria faced this kind of situation when the regime of Chadli Bendjedid created conditions necessary for an uprising motivated by radical Islamic ideology. Under Benjadid, Islamic ideology proved to be the only viable force capable of challenging the economic inequalities created by the privatization policies of the regime that came to power after the death of socialist leader Houari Boumediene—the result was the emergence of the militant Islamic Salvation Front.

Hence, as much as the Kenyan government sees the Islamic radicalization in Mombasa as mere criminal insurgency, it must also appreciate and genuinely address the socio-economic issues underlying it.

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