At the end of July, two closely linked media campaigns were set up in Kenya to counter radicalisation in the country, and the efforts correspond with the Kenyan military’s movements to root out al-Shabaab from the Boni Forest area of the Kenya-Somalia border under Operation Linda Boni (Protect Boni).
The first campaign is a YouTube channel and Facebook page called Taqwa Media, which has focused on publishing content that counters violent interpretations of jihad in Islam and highlighting the negative impact of al-Shabaab in Kenya.
The second campaign is a self-purported “official” Operation Linda Boni Twitter account that primarily retweets messages from Kenyan government officials about anti-al-Shabaab operations in the country.
It has not been confirmed who is behind the efforts, but the campaigns reference each other and Kenya’s Interior Ministry was one of the Operation Linda Boni Twitter account’s first followers. The campaigns’ approach closely mirrors the Think Again Turn Away counter-radicalisation campaign that the U.S. government set up in 2013.
In late September, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said countering violent ideology was part of his 7-point plan to address radicalisation. Regardless of whether there is Kenyan government involvement in these new media campaigns, the messages are ones that the government would like to see disseminated, including the following:
- Kenyan parents should monitor their children to prevent radicalisation
- Al-Shabaab hurts Kenyan communities and livelihoods, especially in Kenya’s northeastern and Coast regions
- Kenya is improving its success at deterring al-Shabaab and similarly violent elements.
- The true meaning of jihad is to strive to make yourself and society better, not pursuing violence
A sample of the campaign’s messaging is below.
As of 7 October, none of the anti-radicalisation videos on the Taqwa Media YouTube channel have gotten more than 100 views. Taqwa Media’s Facebook page only has 32 followers and virtually no likes or comments on content it had posted since 12 August. The Twitter account has made efforts to directly engage its audiences in its tweets, but has struggled to gain the attention of Kenya’s vibrant Twitter community.
The viewing statistics show that so far these social media campaigns have not succeeded in reaching Kenyan audiences — which increasingly use mobile phones for Internet access — in a potent way.
One contributing reason may be that “Taqwa Media” appears to be a newly created vehicle for disseminating these messages rather than a known or trusted religious authority. Secondly, the Operationa Linda Boni Twitter account is inherently affiliated with Kenyan security services, which undoubtedly have very little moral ground to stand on due to consistent human rights abuses.
The commission…documents 120 cases of egregious human rights violations, including 25 extra-judicial killings and 81 enforced disappearances. The vast majority of these alleged abuses occurred since December 2013, with a significant upward spike since al-Shabaab’s attack on the Garissa University College in April 2015.
Just this week, a Kenyan court warned the Anti-Terror Police Unit against arbitrary and prolonged detention of terror suspects because police often do not collect credible evidence before arrests and rely on permission for extended detention to look for proof of criminal activity.
Kenya’s anti-radicalisation social media campaigns probably can only be successful if the narratives of credible religious leaders are amplified and security forces address abuses that either reduce communities trust in the government or contribute to radicalisation directly.