From “Terrorist” to “Hero”: Kenyan NGO Helps Draft Counter-Extremism Policy

Haki Africa, a human rights activist group in Kenya, is coordinating with the government to improve the country’s counter-extremism policy, one year after the government froze its account on accusations that it supported al-Shabaab.

The organization’s director Hussein Khalid explained the consultation process in local press (via Daily Nation):

“In the last few months, [Haki Africa] have held meetings with different groups to get comments on what the strategy should entail,” he said. Mr Khalid added that the plan sought to address violent extremism, promote human rights, peace and security in [Mombasa].

“Mombasa has been at the centre of radicalisation, disappearances and extra-judicial killings for years now,” he said.

The draft, “Mombasa Counter Violent Extremism Strategy” has been submitted to security agencies for verification and input before being implemented, Haki Africa Executive Director Hussein Khalid said Wednesday.

Haki Africa is often cited by news organizations in stories detailing Kenyan security forces’ abuses and unfair treatment of  ethnic Somalis and Muslims in the country. It also works on issues impacting all Kenyans, including transparent electoral practices.

Screenshot 2016-05-02 at 3.00.59 AM

Haki Africa counter-extremism policy draft shared with Kenya’s Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU). Credit: Haki Africa Facebook Page

In April 2015, the Kenyan government froze the account of the organization on suspicions that it and other groups were “suspected to be associated with al-Shabab.” But, the government reportedly gave little warning or detail before blacklisting the organizations in a public notice.

Haki Africa denied the allegations, and the Kenyan government’s own Human Rights Commission opposed the move. By June, the High Court ruled in its favor and ordered the accounts to be unfrozen.

Flash Forward to now: Is Haki Africa back in the government’s good graces? It would not be hard to believe so.

After all, the organization had been one of the government’s trusted partners in the past. Six months before the April 2015 blacklisting, Haki Africa actually trained Kenyan police on refraining from torture and maintaining human rights — upon specific requests from the government.
This training had come after al-Shabaab’s most deadly attack ever in Kenya where it massacred over 140 people at Garissa University College in April 2014. The Kenyan government’s response had been understandably strong but also heavy-handed and discriminatory.

During the post-attack Usalama Watch security operations, thousands of people were rounded up in make-shift jails, further heightening tensions between targeted communities and the state.

As a result, some sort of training for security forces was necessary, but it may have needed to be implemented earlier and more comprehensively.

Screenshot 2016-05-01 at 12.36.22 PMJust five days after the completion of the November 2014 training, Kenyan police controversially raided a mosque in Mombasa known for harboring extremist figures. The way in which Kenyan police entered and detained suspects produced eye-opening pieces of imagery which are still used in terrorist propaganda today.

Kenya can benefit greatly from more organizations like Haki Africa. The group is fearless in its critique of the government — even in the face of possible retaliation by hawkish officials.

At the same time, Haki Africa doesn’t just throw tomatoes from the audience. It is willing to offer tangible support — whether on the ground with locals or directly with the government — to ensure that human rights and security can coexist.

Categories: Kenya

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