Lauren Van Metre

Community Resilience to Violent Extremism in Kenya

U.S. Institute of Peace


Focusing on six urban neighborhoods in Kenya, this report explores how key resilience factors have prevented or countered violent extremist activity at the local level. It is based on a one-year, mixed-method study led by the United States Institute of Peace and supported by Sahan Research. Despite initiatives related to Christian-Muslim conflicts in the 1990s in Kenya, a new regional security threat emerged, mainly revolving around the activities of al-Shabaab. Groups like al-Shabaab understand and use a combination of political realities, socioeconomic factors, and individual characteristics that render many vulnerable to recruitment. Qualitative studies show a relationship between heavy-handed counterterrorism operations by security forces and radicalization of Kenya’s Muslim population. A paradox has emerged, where emphasis on winning the hearts and minds of target populations has collided with the dominance of hard military and security approaches to countering violent extremism. The challenge with a concept like resilience to violence, which is both ambiguous and dynamic, is—for analytical purposes—to identify a concrete and measurable relationship.