Communities’ Perceptions of Reintegration of Al-Shabaab Returnees in Mombasa and Kwale Counties, Kenya
Keywords:Reintegration, Terrorism, Al-Shabaab, Rehabilitation, Kwale County
This study explores community perceptions of reintegration of returning foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) from Al-Shabaab in coastal Kenya. Drawing from fieldwork accounts collected in Kwale and Mombasa Counties, Kenya, this study nuances and problematizes communities’ perception of reintegration. The study fits into a growing yet unsettled discourse of what works well in reintegration initiatives for returning foreign terrorist fighters. Governments worldwide are focusing on fighting Islamist terror groups like ISIS and Al-Shabaab in East Africa. But the need to also build other strategic counter-terrorism capabilities has developed, even more so in the rehabilitation and reintegration of returning foreign terrorist fighters. How host communities perceive this shift from a whole-of-government, hard approach, to a whole-of-community, soft approach, will determine how effective this strategy is in the global fight against terrorism. In Kenya, it is estimated that at least 1,000 returnees live in communities along the coastal areas of Kwale and Mombasa. There is a paucity of research focusing on the perceptions of those communities absorbing the returnees in Kenya. This study draws on 31 interviews with government officials, returnees, academic experts, civil society actors, and 104 questionnaire interviews with community members in Kwale and Mombasa. The study’s findings show that while the family and the society at large may be longing to see their loved ones, there are competing dilemmas involved, including stigma and negative labelling. The study also found that there is a lack of structures to ensure proper involvement of host communities in the reintegration of returnees. As such, the process is marred by lack of trust and negative labelling, which affects positive reintegration. The study’s findings are useful for counter-radicalization policy formulation and practical peacebuilding interventions at the community level.
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