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Dr. Ochieng Kamudhayi: Creating peace out of war

We have heard of war atrocities, from those of the two World Wars to those of the Cold War, and felt the effects of extremism within our own borders. Security checks, which were not part of our lives a decade ago, are now our daily bread. Dr. Ochieng’ Kamudhayi is a man who will talk about wars with deep passion; the different types of wars, their histories and how they evolve. He is keen to bring peace where there is war and to prevent war where there are seedlings of violence. He speaks to us about his research that focuses on the Somali war, and countering violent extremism.

What prompted you to study conflict management and security?

I did my Master’s degree in International Studies at the University of Nairobi (UoN) focusing on conflict management. This was after dealing with young people and realizing that they were tending towards violence. I opened this up towards peace and security which led me to a Master of Arts in Peace Education in Costa Rica in conjunction with UoN and Wilson centre in USA.

What did your PhD focus on?

I’ll begin by describing the different types of wars. There are the conventional wars, known as the interstate wars. As we ended the cold war, new wars were emerging, particularly fought in Africa. These were the intrastate wars where people within a state fought, maimed and aimed at decimating each other. Look at the Sierra Leone civil war or the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency in Uganda that cut people’s limbs off simply because they were riding bicycles. These were wars that were fought by local people who had not gone to any military academy and who did not know about the Geneva Conventions. What they knew is how to use crude weapons; machetes, clubs, bows and arrows. These were experiences that required a different outlook. My PhD now focused on a war like that, the Somali war, where the government had disappeared by 1991. The warring factions were trying to make peace and I wanted to find out how such groups make peace. So my study set out to investigate whether a protracted conflict like the one in Somalia can end through negotiations and, if so, what the conditions under which it could terminate successfully would be.

Have you done any studies on terrorism?

This is the field I am now interested in. We no longer talk about terrorism but countering violent extremism (CVE) for one main reason; we require the community to be involved in the rehabilitation of radicalized individuals because it is the community that must help them integrate back into society if they have a change of heart. When it began, governments focused on a military approach or counter-terrorism (CT) which escalated the problem in many instances. Soft power approaches are now being introduced. In addition, there are many groups that hold extremist views, hence the adoption of preventing violent extremism (PVE).

Why is this an area of interest?

Because it is a threat to individuals, communities and national security. A long time ago it was possible to frequent social areas without much worry, but nowadays when we gather to watch a football match we must think about security. Look at how much we are spending on this. If society changes, we can redirect these funds to other dockets.

Have you encountered young people who have been radicalized?

We have encountered cases of young people who have been recruited into extremist groups. It begins in a small way, through a gang perhaps, then it escalates. In academia, though, our role is to identify and to give the data which can be utilised by organizations that deal with rehabilitation.

How does radicalization happen?

There are certain reasons, true or untrue, why people join extremist groups. Recruiters are smart. They profile their targets, study their likes, dislikes, and soft spots.  These are the areas they use to hook one in. Once recruited, it is difficult to leave as they maintain the recruits with threats. There are those who would like to desert but they face a dilemma: If they desert and surrender themselves, the government deals with them the hard way; if the government doesn’t arrest them, the extremists consider them traitors and for that there are repercussions. It is a complex issue to deal with and all this requires hard data.

Which organizations are involved in rehabilitation?

There are Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) that are focusing on rehabilitation although this is still a weak link in Kenya. In other countries like Sri Lanka, this link is strong. A jail term in many cases hardens, instead of softening the inmate. The inmate will then convert ten other aggrieved persons in jail. We are trying to change this mentality. The government needs to empower these NGOs for rehabilitation to take place.

Is there funding for this area of research?

If it is an issue that is troubling everybody, there is funding for it. It is funded by the government through the National Counter Terrorism Centre which has a fully-fledged research component, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and a few religious organizations that are trying to look at the ideological side.

What would you like students to know?

The youth are the ones targeted for recruitment; people my age are rarely recruited. First, they need to be informed about this so that they do not fall prey as radicalization sometimes happens because of lack of knowledge. Secondly, they need to be at peace with themselves and with others so that there is less tension.

This article was written by Wambui Gachari.

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