The Somali-based branch of Al Qaeda has sharpened its focus on East African countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Sudan, recruiting hundreds if not thousands of fighters.
Poverty and hopelessness has driven many Kenyans to cross the border and join the Al Shabab terror group in neighbouring Somalia.
For the past decade, Al Shabab has targeted marginalised communities along East Africa’s Swahili coast who share historical ties through Islamic culture and ancient trade roots.
The terror group also targets vulnerable unemployed young people in Kenya’s underdeveloped North Eastern Province, which borders Somalia and is predominantly inhabited by the Somali community.
The group has also exploited local grievances, attracting impoverished young people across faiths in Kenya who feel the government has failed them.
Khelef Khalifa, a veteran human rights campaigner and Chairman of Mombasa-based Muslims for Human rights (MUHURI) told TRT World that Kenya’s raging financial turmoil and erratic economy is “causing unemployment and pushing desperate youth to join militant group, Al Shabaab”.
Rampant corruption and a judicial crisis have fuelled the militant recruitments. For decades – even before 2013 when devolution came to effect – resource allocation was skewed which resulted in the marginalisation of some areas. An effect that is still being felt to date.
“The extremists are promising hefty pay for local fighters who have largely remained unemployed or poorly paid,” Khalifa said. “They target those below 30 years, Kenya’s biggest population and one which has been greatly affected and impacted by unemployment.
Al Shabab is waging most terror onslaughts in Kenya than any other radical faction in the world.”
Khalifa also said terror attacks increased when Kenya joined the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) in 2011, sending its troops to ‘stabilise’ the country. There are several reasons why locals support Al Shabab and the most common ones are unemployment, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearance and political and economic marginalisation.
According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Kenya leads other East African countries with the largest number of people who are unemployed. Records show that one in every five Kenyans is unemployed compared to Tanzania where one in every 20 Tanzanians is without a job.
Youth unemployment in Kenya has been described as a ticking time bomb. Three-quarters of the population are under the age of 30.
“Al Shabab came into existence in 2006 as an armed wing of Islamic Courts Union, later splitting into smaller groups,” Khalifa said. “At the time, youth unemployment in Kenya was at around 22 percent according to data from Statista – a reputable international firm leading in providing market and consumer statistics. Al Shabab attacks increased with the rate of youth unemployment.”
He continued: “Since the group’s inception in 2006 to 2017, there has been a 3.40 percent increase in youth unemployment from 22.81 per cent.
“Over this period, there were five deadly terror strikes by Al Shabab-affiliated locals in Coast [Province] alone and dozens of incursions in other parts of the country. With it, hundreds of innocent lives lost, dreams and hopes of many more shuttered, an everlasting trauma.”
Many people have taken to social media to express their frustrations about youth unemployment.
Sources: TRT World