CVE: A necessary tool in Kenya’s security drive

CVE: A necessary tool in Kenya’s security drive

The occurrence of unprecedented terrorist attacks across the globe has driven policy makers to invest in initiatives that prevent rather than react to the roots of violent extremism. As Kenya faces an ongoing threat from Somalia-based al-Shabaab; how can a national CVE policy curtail the risk of violence and thereby contribute to mid to long-term prosperity?

Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) initiatives are playing an increasingly important role in national counterterrorism (CT) agendas worldwide, with the aim of minimizing the reach and effectiveness of groups employing terrorism by bolstering resilience among at-risk populations.

Kenyans have experienced violent attacks at the hands of Al-Qaeda (AQ) affiliated al-Shabaab, Africa’s third deadliest terrorist group that operates largely out of neighboring Somalia. These attacks include the April 2015 massacre at Garissa University (claimed by a militant now affiliated with the so-called Islamic State), and the attack at Westgate Mall in 2013.

Due to persisting security concerns within a thriving economy, Kenya is unrolling a new CVE policy with the intention of enhancing long-term national security.

Current Security Climate

Recently, al-Shabaab made headlines by officially claiming the bomb attack in a Somali Daallo passenger jet that managed to make an emergency landing in Mogadishu last month, causing one fatality. In addition, scores of Kenyan soldiers were killed at a base in Somalia mid-January, in ongoing retaliation for Kenyan involvement in African Union peacekeeping forces.

While an orchestrated attack against external interests or tourism, or a mass casualty attack has not occurred for eight months, the possibility of violence persists.

Why CVE?

A look into CVE shows a vital arm of holistic CT, as it works from the ground up to prevent radicalization, rather than attempt to simply destroy operational extremists. One obvious shortcoming of lethal force-heavy CT operations is that they can fuel the very radicalism they aim to eradicate.

Investing in CVE can be contentious, as results aren’t as tangible as kinetic operations, where a missile strikes and a suspect is dead. Therefore, international funding for CVE is relatively low when compared with funds for military action, as mentioned by President Obama at the White house-led CVE summit in February, 2015.

Before CVE can be implemented, the target of the projects must be defined. As it stands, most researchers and practitioners alike agree that there are no finite ‘causes’ or ‘roots’ that indicate whether or not someone is likely to undertake a violent act of terror; they are fluid and contextual. Continual research is required because of the shifting nature of extremist groups and the context-specific nature of radicalization, and thereby counter-radicalization initiatives. The same push factors can bring one person to radicalization without impacting the other; situations are rarely similar, but grievances are often connected to a sense of alienation in a given surrounding.

CVE in Kenya

In a study on why youth join extremist movements in Kenya, 65% of respondents specifically referred to the government’s counterterrorism strategy that targets Muslims as a main driver, showing the shadow side of a conservative counterterrorism policy that doesn’t simultaneously support integration and a counter narrative. As time progresses, Kenyan government officials have been moving towards an understanding that the violation of rights and generalizations of ethnic populations only fuels radicalization, a shift from a previous strategy based on force.

Since a follow up CVE conference in June 2015, Kenyan officials have been focusing on more innovative CT initiatives, hoping to foster cooperation between government and civil society for open dialogue. Unemployment in Kenya has been steadily increasing for the past several years, albeit at a slow pace. Unemployed youth are especially susceptible to recruitment tactics that exploit grievances and engender allegiance to extremist agendas.

Security forces targeting ethnic Somali citizens have contributed to a tense climate where perceived and actual injustices facilitate successful recruitment. The planned Kenyan CVE policy aims to harness civil society infrastructure and minimize restrictions to civil liberties that have often accompanied security clampdowns. Therefore, the initiative functions in two ways through a multi-pronged approach.


CVE is not only concerned with targeting the roots of extremism; it also aims to confront the ideological reach and strength of extremism through strategic communications, awareness raising, and initiatives that promote dialogue and integration on the ground.

A well-administrated CVE strategy that works to maintain human rights while addressing factors that lead to violent extremism, can only add value to the security climate.

As Kenya’s economic outlook remains promising, a focus on a well-rounded CT strategy can only contribute to mid to long-term security and growth.

About Author

Kira Munk

Kira Munk is a political risk analyst located in the DC Metro area, and has lived in Lebanon and Egypt and the UAE. Kira focuses on topics related to terrorism and counterterrorism, human rights, and the impacts of social and political developments in the MENA. She holds a Master's degree in Terrorism, Security & Society from the Department of War Studies at King's College London.