May 20, 2019

Unemployment and violent extremism

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According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the Kenyan population is predominantly comprised of people aged below 30 years old. Past estimate places the number somewhere north of 70% of the national population. Additional figures indicate that over 10% of these individuals are unemployed. To put it in perspective, that is over 10 million unemployed youth. Every year, secondary and tertiary learning institutions churn out hundreds of thousands of young people that have little labour market competence. These figures, without even the mention of terrorism and radicalization, should worry any rational Kenyan as they are a ticking time bomb in the country. The situation among the youth is dire, and terrorist groups have been paying attention.

The current Kenya economy is not favourable to the average individual, especially the youth. The lack of employment opportunities and the skills gap is slowly isolating this group. As a result, there has been increased desperation as most are genuinely looking for a way out of the abject poverty around them. Crime has been an escape for so many, that news of young people killed over violent crimes surfaces every other day. In January Boniface Mwangi was quoted highlighting the plight of being a youth in Kenya. Therefore, unemployment is making young people vulnerable to violence.

Terrorist groups have taken note of this occurrence and are exploiting at-risk individuals to join their ranks. Thousands of young Kenyans have been recruited by al-Shabaab over the previous decade with women being more vulnerable than men as they reportedly face higher joblessness. Countless families over the Kenyan coast have reported children, and the youth are missing under suspicious circumstances only for them to show up as terrorist operatives. A good example was during the war in Somalia when the Amisom forces captured some dozens of Kenyan born youth on the other side. Another is during the recent Dusit D2 attack where the majority of the attackers were Kenyan. The primary strategy employed by the terrorist is luring the individuals with promises of riches. This move is often enough to influence a significant number of struggling youth. However, Al-Shabaab has been known to prey on the helplessness and lack of purposes among the victims to indoctrinate them into misguided ideologies. This is usually the most dangerous tactic as the youth are completely bought into the extremist ideologies.

Recruitment usually takes two forms. First, the youth are recruited to the more traditional frontline jihadist attacker approach. Here, the young persons are trained and deployed to attack their home country as seen with the Dusit D2 attackers. They may reside in the country as sleeper agents or outside and come out when the time is convenient. The other form includes recruiting at-risk individuals then sending them back to the community as embedded spies that relay information to the terrorist organizations. Women are more prevalent in this form of radicalization.

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