We shouldn’t let ideology of hate consume us
Politically motivated violence is a recurrent challenge in many countries.
Sadly, youth play a prominent role in perpetrating it. Throughout history, they have been recruited into armies, militia, criminal gangs and extremist entities.
According to United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), while youth are often perpetrators of violence, a majority of them choose not to get involved but still remain vulnerable to political incitement and extremist influences.
This was amply demonstrated in a 2011 report by humanitarian agency, Mercy Corps, which revealed that over 70 per cent of perpetrators of 2007/8 post-election violence in Kenya were youth.
And while only five per cent were actually involved in the conflict, a majority of victims were young Kenyans.
Since 1990s, political violence in Kenya has been a regular feature of election cycles.
Politicians often resort to violence to intimidate opponents and voters. The recent incident where two young Kenyans lost their lives in politically-instigated violence in Kenol area of Murang’a County is a case in point.
The incident is a painful reminder that youth remain susceptible to manipulation and incitement by irresponsible leaders.
While as expected the state responded swiftly by putting in place a raft of measures to curb cases of violent political activities in the country, there is need to effectively deal with socio-economic grievances such as unemployment and poverty, which predispose young people to extremism, and especially ‘youth empowerment’ as a political mobilisation tool.
While there is nothing wrong with empowering youth to improve their lives and play their rightful role in society, this ought to be well-structured, backed by appropriate policies and involving all stakeholders.
If left to politicians, consequences will be disastrous, as they could exploit grievances to radicalise youth with extreme political views that could lead to widespread violence.
As the largest social demographic, youth have not been spared the devastating socio-economic impact of Covid-19.
In fact, they constitute a huge vulnerable group that could easily fall prey to political machinations seeking to exploit their situation including lack or loss of jobs, reduced business opportunities, hunger and other challenges.
Of greater concern is extremist elements in and outside the country could capitalise on political violence to radicalise and recruit youth into global terrorism networks.
As Aya Chebbi, the African Union Youth Envoy says, “It is important to acknowledge that tendency toward violent extremism does not emerge in a vacuum.
Socio-economic and political marginalisation, and disaffection of youth on the African continent and around the world are catalysts for joining violent extremism.”
Experts warn that a sizeable population of idle and unemployed youth offers a perfect breeding ground for extremism.
However, while it may not always lead to violent outcomes, it could fuel political instability and mistrust among communities.
Radicalisation of youth into violence could also lead to increased criminal gangs and militia.
Significantly, the ongoing involvement of youth in political violence undermines the National Strategy to Counter Violent Extremism, which has a mechanism for engaging local communities at counties level in preventing and countering extremism.
We must strive to uproot the insidious ideology of hate and violence before it consumes us all.
We must learn from history that youth are at the greatest risk of falling victim to the merchants of political violence. — The writer is Advocate and Partner at Viva Africa Consulting Ltd — [email protected]