Nearly a fortnight ago, on January 15, Nairobi was under yet another terrorist attack — this time on the Dusit complex on Riverside Drive. The assault came barely five years since the raid on Westgate Shopping Mall, in the neighbourhood, and less than four since the Garissa University attack.
As a parent and leader, it is distressing for me whenever I see young and vibrant Kenyans who would have otherwise been of great service to our nation, become consumed by radicalisation. It is time we asked ourselves what we can do, or have done, to save youth, who are increasingly becoming recruited into terrorism.
The Nairobi City County comprises a population that is largely youthful. One in every three residents is under 19 and three out of four below 35. That means 75 percent of the county’s population is a potential target of radicalisation.
We cannot pretend anymore that this only happens outside Nairobi. We must tackle the vice in earnest to avert future terror attacks on Kenya.
This calls for understanding of the unique challenges that make Nairobi youth prone to this and then developing and implementing a plan to address them. One, we need to map areas affected by or prone to radicalisation, the parties involved and the targets, as well as the interventions in place or measures to be taken to prevent it. That means working with our youth to show us where the shoe pinches.
Two, in line with President Uhuru Kenyatta’s directive, Nairobi should urgently develop a County Action Plan for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism and Radicalisation. We need to work closely with key stakeholders and identify the pillars and proposals to focus on.
Three, we will need to align the proposals and activities for preventing and countering extremism and radicalisation with the “Nairobi City County Annual Development Plans”, especially by catering for them in the next budget. We should also propose to the county assembly the establishment of a directorate dedicated to prevention and countering of violent extremism and radicalisation in Nairobi.
Four, as proactive step, we should train all senior county officials and leaders on confronting violent extremism, radicalisation and terrorism, in general. This will go a long way in helping our officials and stakeholders appreciate that terrorism and radicalisation cover all departments and cut across different sectors.
Five, given that the menace is inter-county and international in nature, the implementation of activities meant to counter violent extremism cannot be done in isolation. The Nairobi City County government should engage and collaborate with the national government, the international community, other county governments, civil society, media and donor agencies to make the strategy work.
Six, we should open debate and discussions on this subject by building avenues of meaningful conversation between the administration and citizens. I believe a good start would be a high-level county stakeholders’ forum involving the leadership, led by myself and county focal points, national government department heads, religious groups, academia, private sector, NGOS and donors.
Seven, there is a need for inter-county exchange or learning forums. In this respect, there is a need for a working relationship in this area with Mombasa County, under Governor Hassan Joho, which has extensively dealt with radicalisation in the past.
However, we cannot wait until a plan is developed. I challenge my team, particularly county executives and Department of Education, to begin tackling radicalisation, especially in schools, by initiating student dialogue forums up to university level. Equipping vocational centres and providing funding for skills and talent development for youth are vital.
Lastly, in the spirit of the ‘handshake’, it is time to take a personal initiative in building bridges with one another as Nairobi residents, regardless of our backgrounds. It is time to live up to the reputation of Nairobi as the City in the Sun by rising again and shining even brighter!
Mr Sonko is the Governor of Nairobi City County