Since the start of the war Somalia in late 2011, Kenya has seen young Muslims from Northeastern and the coast region enter the conflict zone in unprecedented numbers to fight alongside Al Shabaab or to settle and live in areas under extremists’ control. With the rise of groups like ISIS, and as the dynamics of the conflict changed on the ground with these groups losing territory, influence, and power, we saw some of these young people return home. Others stayed and shifted allegiances to different groups, and some even plotting attacks in Kenya’s capital.
As the Al Shabaab clings to its last slivers of territory in Somalia, Kenya is starting to grapple with a problem: Some of the fighters are returning home.
In April 2015, Kenya’s government surprised observers by announcing an amnesty for young Kenyans who had gone to neighbouring Somalia to train with the terrorist group, Al Shabaab. In a statement, then-cabinet secretary for the Interior Joseph Nkaissery urged repentant members of the group to return home and report to their county commissioners, where their cases would be considered. Those found to be eligible for amnesty would receive support to help them reintegrate into society.
An inter-agency body, the National Counterterrorism Centre (NCTC), coordinated this new, more nuanced approach. Its’ National Strategy to Counter Violent Extremism (NSCVE), released in 2016, tasked government departments to work with their counterparts at the county level to devise programs to de-radicalize, rehabilitate, and reintegrate returnees who were willing to abandon violent extremism.
Over 1,500 have returned since February 2016 and have gone through government rehabilitation programs in Kilifi, Mombasa and Kwale.