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Kenyan Student Leaders Say Universities Prime Target for Radicalization

Linda Ochiel, commissioner of Kenya's National Cohesion and Integration Commission, speaks to about 60 students from institutions around Kenya on the topic of radicalization during the University Student Leaders Summit, held at the University of Nairobi on Nov. 23, 2016.

For Kenyan college students, the university experience involves more than just term papers, final exams and all-night study sessions. A group of university leaders is meeting in Nairobi this week to discuss issues affecting college students, including violence, organized crime, radicalization and violent extremism.

“It’s not mad people who become radicalized; it’s people like yourselves. People who dress neatly every day like I have dressed, are the people who get radicalized. It is not those people who you think, for example, have not gone to school. It is people like us who get radicalized,” said Linda Ochiel, Commissioner of Kenya’s National Cohesion and Integration Commission.

Ochiel was speaking to about 60 university leaders from around Kenya who assembled at the University of Nairobi Wednesday, to discuss issues affecting college students. Radicalization and violent youth extremism were key topics.


“Radicalization is a result of the disappointment that young people are going through,” said Victor Uhuru, founder and president of the Youth Advancement Initiative, the group organizing the three-day event. “That’s why they are vulnerable to these violent groups. So we feel that if these young people are also helped, because the economic opportunity has also become so small, we want them to learn other ways of survival.”

Delegate Susan Mwangi said that in Kenya, university students have felt the effects of terrorism first-hand, citing the April 2015 Garissa University College attack that killed 147 students; but, she said there are other implications of such terror.

“Yeah, if you lose a loved one, it affects us,” said Mwangi. “It also affects our economy, it affects the image of our country, to the rest of the world. When every television news [program], is talking about Kenyans, terrorism attacks, it affects us. Even more when we lose our friends.”

Ochiel urged university students to remain vigilant against propaganda, the exploitation of religious teachings, and ethnocentrism.

“Some of the targets of radicalization and violent extremism... these people, recruiters, they go to institutions, formal institutions like universities,” said Ochiel. “And you know what they are doing right now? They’re looking for the brightest students. So you guys are actually a target.”

Ochiel said radicalization does not just happen with terrorist groups like al-Shabab and Islamic State. Politicians and others incite young people to violence against different ethnic groups when it suits their political purposes, especially during election periods, she said.

Kenya’s elections are scheduled for August 2017.