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Demystifying Disengagement | Citizen Support


In the spirit of staying vigilant in the prevention of counter violent extremism, PCVE, best practice around the world has shown that it is important for governments to have structures or programmes that accommodate and address the needs of men and women who elect to exit from violent extremist organisations. This process of exiting is referred to as disengagement. Disengagement is usually done concomitantly with deradicalisation, rehabilitation and reintegration, but this article will mainly address itself to disengagement. Disengagement is not understood by the public, with most being unaware and some very wary of the amnesty declared by the Kenyan government in 2015 that is still ongoing, yet there is need for support of such strategic initiatives to break the cycle of violence in PCVE.


Disengagement can be loosely defined as change of behavior by refraining from violence and withdrawing from a radical organization. John Horgan, a violent extremism scholar, notes that there are two types of factors that lead to disengagement: psychological factors like disillusionment and physical factors like imprisonment. There is also conditional disengagement which involves receiving something in return, such as, amnesty or resettlement and selective disengagement which refers to the degree of variance in the disengagement, whether partial, complete or otherwise.


The National Strategy to Counter Violent Extremism, NSCVE, provides for disengagement of previously radicalised individuals to encourage, facilitate and educate the radicalized individuals to forswear violence and violent extremist ideologies. It outlines the different approaches that it takes to engage the different categories of radicalized individuals and groups as follows:


· Those that are radicalised and on the brink of joining violent extremist organisations;


· Members of violent extremist organisations who have not committed or facilitated violent attacks in Kenya or abroad, or for whom there is no evidence of such crimes;


· Individuals who have voluntarily left violent extremist and terrorist organisations with the wish to no longer support violence or radicalisation, and those who have left such groups in response to an amnesty offer;


· Individuals convicted of terrorist-related crimes and who pose a risk of radicalising fellow inmates or who voluntarily seek to assist de-radicalisation efforts while serving their sentences.


Individuals ordered by courts to participate in de-radicalisation and reintegration efforts.

According to the NSCVE, disengagement can be carried out either through targeting organisational change by disrupting violent extremist networks and the groups or targeting individuals who are willing to exit from violent extremism. Disengagement in and of itself is behavioural and not necessarily psychological or a change of heart and radical ideologies. Various scholars are split on the efficacy of disengagement solely in preventing counter violent extremism because it does not address the fundamental problem of ideological change. But, I agree with the school of thought that portends that while an individual’s personal beliefs may be appalling to the mainstream society, it is only the person’s actions that truly cause harm. Consequently, focusing on altering the behavior of terrorists is very integral as it provides an inroad into changing their ideological beliefs that would take much longer to achieve. Half a loaf is better than none, huh?


Rehabilitation often closely follows successful disengagement, where rehabilitation is a process that aims to ensure that demobilised and de-radicalised violent extremists and terrorists, particularly returnees from Al Shabaab and similar groups, are given counselling, critical reasoning skills, and knowledge to enable them to be peaceful and law- abiding citizens. It is achieved through: psychosocial and mental health support for the affected individuals; reconciliation efforts through dialogue with the affected individuals, their families, their social networks, and communities; identifying skills and talents with the view to leveraging them to empower those affected. There are many complexities and prevailing realities associated with disengagement, rehabilitation and reintegration back into normal life which requires concerted efforts from the society to lower stigma and promote acceptance of reformed individuals and the broader networks that their lives influence. We are all required to play our part as this very important work requires good will and cooperation from all citizens in order to make our society a much safer place for all of us to live in.

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