The United Nations, for statistical purposes, defines ‘youth’, as those persons between the ages of 15 and 24 years, without prejudice to other definitions by Member States. While Kenya’s National Youth Policy defines youth as between 15-30 years and the Constitution of Kenya 2010 defines it as between 18 and 35 years. All these attests to the fact that youth is a very fluid concept that is challenging to navigate. The youth usually face a myriad of challenges as they transition between childhood and adulthood, some of these being: identity crisis, lack of a sense of belonging, lack of resources or gainful employment, frustration and anxiety over their future, victimization and lack of opportunities on account of being “too young”, introduction to drugs and other substances among others. It is a tough and delicate time to navigate, which makes the youth to be more vulnerable to terrorist radicalization into violent extremism. Angry and frustrated young men and women in search of material wealth, purpose, identity, recognition, “justice” and revenge make for good fodder for recruitment into terror groups. Radicalisation can happen through a variety of channels, with social media being the preferred mode as it enables terrorist to reach a wider demographic at no cost with the youth being the highest population of social media users globally.
Herbert Hoover once said that “older men declare war, but it is the youth that must fight and die”. This is especially true in terror organizations where the leaders rarely go out to carry the attacks, the stay safely tucked away in their hideouts while the youth strap bombs to themselves and willingly march to their deaths and those of innocent people globally. Being that youth is also an impressionable time where one can easily be swayed, concerted efforts to educate teenagers on the dangers of radicalization are imperative, this can be through schools or even informal settings like churches, mosques and youth groups. The youth also need to read up on broader subjects in order to open up their minds to greater possibilities beyond their current circumstances so that they do not let despair and desperation drive them into making wrong decisions.
Sports and arts have been known to boost confidence and self-esteem among the youth and this can be pivotal in character building and provide a much-needed outlet for some youth who may not be very vocal but still need a way to vent their frustrations.
The youth will also do well to organize themselves and reach out to mentors and organizations that can equip them with the skills to empower themselves not only economically but also on the socio-psychological front, whereby their need for belonging and identity will be satisfied and they can then build a strong sense of community that they would be willing to protect. The role of education cannot be overstated whereby education can be used as a tool to help the youth understand that conscription into violent extremism is not all it has been made out to be and it is not the solution to all their grievances but only the beginning of a definite fatal end. Safe spaces for the youth to vent on the issues that plague them can also be a good outlet for pent-up anger and frustrations that is the vagaries of youth.
The youth can also leverage sports and arts to reach out to fellow youth and spread positive messages through social media and even physical interactions. Sports and arts have been known to boost confidence and self-esteem among the youth and this can be pivotal in character building and provide a much-needed outlet for some youth who may not be very vocal but still need a way to vent their frustrations. All of these efforts will culminate into a crop of vibrant youthful men and women who are not vulnerable to radical ideology and are confident enough to speak up whenever they notice suspicious activities within their communities. They can also then be able to spot the signs and intervene to help their peers who may be struggling and could prevent more youth from joining terror groups.