Amnesty to radicalized youth positive step towards peace Featured

As Kenya finally acknowledges that  radicalization of youth into religious extremism poses the greatest danger to national security, Interior minister Joseph Nkaissery’s

announcement of amnesty to the young people who may have joined extremist groups like Al-Shabab signals the beginning of a new counterterrorism
approach. It is important to point out that terrorism is a combination of two factors—ideological motivation and operational capabilities to use violence. Hence, ideological motivation + operational capability = terrorism. In view of the foregoing equation, security analyst now believe that if the ideological aspect is addressed effectively, the operational capability that makes terrorism a reality will be weakened and, hence, render the threat of terrorism easy to eliminate. It is in this light that minister Nkaissery’s amnesty should be viewed. Indeed, international counter-terrorism experts now acknowledge that terrorism cannot be defeated through military means alone because the radicalization that motivates recruits to become violent imparts in them a perverted religious ideology— this perverted ideology can only be challenged by another ideology and not military means.

Hence, the various counter violent extremism (CVE) programmes supported by the international community are meant to address a very critical component that makes terrorism a reality. From the foregoing, one now understands where minister Nkaissery is coming from when he announced a government amnesty to young people who may have been radicalized into extremist ideology. The logic behind this amnesty is to encourage such radicalized youth to abandon the extremist groups they may have been recruited into, thus reducing the number of foot soldiers who have the operational capabilities to commit terrorist acts. However, Nkaissery’s amnesty has been  greeted with praise and condemnation in equal measure. There are those, especially a section of Christian clergy, who feel that this amnesty amounts to condoning terrorism and should, therefore, be rescinded. But for the sake of a sober debate on this amnesty issue, let us first find out what the term ‘amnesty’ refers to. English language dictionaries define ‘amnesty’ as a general pardon for offenses, especially political offenses, against a government, often granted before any trial or conviction.

Amnesty is, therefore, a legally recognized act of forgiveness for past offenses, especially to a class of persons as a whole— forgetting or overlooking of any past offense. Politically, amnesty is a decision that a group of people will not be punished or that a group of prisoners will be allowed to go free— it is the act of an authority (as a government) by which pardon is granted to a large group of individuals. This is where Nkaissery’s amnesty falls. Linguistically, “amnesty” sounds a little like “amnesia,” – and that is because in its more specific sense amnesty means “forgetting.” Hence, the government will essentially forget about whatever crime was committed, or whatever horrible things were said. As part of a truce, amnesty can be granted to opposition forces in civil disputes. Amnesty to illegal aliens means the government will deliberately overlook their illegal entry to the country. There can also be a period of amnesty when people can turn in something that they would otherwise get in trouble for.

From the foregoing definitions, Mr Nkaissery’s amnesty to the young people who have joined extremist groups and would like to return to normal society should be seen as a strategic and internationally accepted way of solving a protracted conflict. There are many examples where amnesty has been used to settle conflicts amicably. In Kenya, the Shifta War ended in 1967 after a truce mediated by former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda. Part of the truce was an amnesty to the combatants who had launched a secessionist war against the government. The amnesty extended to government security agents and decision makers who committed serious human rights violations during anti-Shifta operations—this amnesty to government officials and security agents would, in fact, be guaranteed by law in the form of the Indemnity Act of 1970. To guarantee that the government had decided to ‘forget’ and ‘overlook’ the crimes committed by its security agents in during  the anti-Shifta operations, the Act stated: “… no proceeding or claim to compensation or indemnity shall be instituted or made in or entertained by any court, or by any authority or tribunal established by or under any law, for or on account of or in respect of any act, matter or thing done within or in respect of the prescribed area after the 25th December, 1963, and before 1st December, 1967.” Amnesty also worked well in Uganda when the government, through legislation, extended an unconditional amnesty to members of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) of the infamous Joseph Kony. It must be pointed out that Kony launched a campaign of terror in northern Uganda motivated by extremist Christian ideology. Uganda’s Amnesty Act was enacted in 2000 as a tool to end rebellions in Uganda by encouraging rebels to lay down their arms without the fear of prosecution for crimes committed during the fight against the government.

The promise of amnesty and reintegration played a vital role in motivating fighters to escape or defect from LRA. Most recently, amnesty was extended by the Federal government of Somalia to Al-Shabab and other insurgent groups in that country. The amnesty was supported by the U.S and U.K governments and saw the defection and surrender of a top Al-Shabab commander. Zakariya Ismail Hersi, who was al- Shabab’s intelligence chief, surrendered in December 2014 under the amnesty deal and called for reconciliation. “I can confirm that as of today I am no  longer a member of al-Shabab and I have renounced violence as a means of resolving conflict and I will aim to achieve my goals towards peaceful means and through reconciliation and understanding,” Hersi said at a media conference in Mogadishu in January 2015. Other examples of successful amnesty deals include the Philippines where amnesty led to the signing of a peace treaty between the government and the Moro Islamic  Liberation Front in order to end decades  of war and improve lives in the Philippines’ most poverty-stricken region of Mindanao.
Colombia is another case of a successful amnesty deal as groundwork for peace-building between the government and the FARC rebel group.

Hence, amnesty for radicalized youth in Kenya should not be seen as condoning terrorism, but a positive step towards finding a lasting solution to a complex and protracted problem.

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