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October 17, 2022

Reintegration challenges faced by returnees of violent extremism in Kenya

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Reintegration refers to the process of re-incorporation of returnees back into society drawing on the basis of social community ties and positive participation in society. Reintegration programs are important in preventing the re-offending of returnees, reducing the threats of youth radicalization and building community resilience against violent extremism. The reintegration of returnees is a promising peacebuilding intervention in Kenya. It was introduced in 2015 as part of an amnesty program for individuals who had traveled to conflict areas such as Somalia after being recruited into Al-Shabaab. The intended aim of the government was to provide rehabilitation and the consequent reintegration of returnees into their home communities.

Al-Shabaab is able to recruit for various reasons, these include youth disillusionment with the state, widespread poverty and historical underdevelopment of some regions. Most returnees require psychosocial and livelihood support since they face a number of challenges in their reintegration process as outlined below;

Trust deficits between the returnees and government security officials are a main source of concern. The dilemma here remains whether these individuals, by accepting the offer of an amnesty and participating in reintegration processes, are fully reformed and have abandoned their violent past. This deficit relates to questions about whether they have denounced their past activities as fighters and are willing to embrace a life of peace.

There is a low onset of community acceptance for returnees. This is informed by stigma at the individual and community levels. At the individual level, perceptions exist that they have shamed their home community by their participation in support of violence. At the community level, there is collective stigma. Even in situations where returnees are reintegrated, some community members believe that they are likely to commit crimes in their communities, further complicating their acceptance. In addition, some community members nurse fears of collective punishment in the event that returnees relapse into their former violent way of life.

Gaps in the policy frameworks for reintegration in Kenya are another challenge. There is a need to progressively develop a policy or a reintegration framework that would offer a holistic guide on the reintegration process.

While security risks are genuine from a counter-terrorism perspective, there is a need to equally pay attention to how to manage and balance the security risks with the reintegration experiences and priorities.