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Understanding Socio-Economic Drivers to Radicalization | Citizen Support


The National Strategy to Counter Violent Extremism, NSCVE, outlines adverse socio-economic conditions as one of the drivers to radicalisation and violent extremism because it creates high levels of frustration and a sense of powerlessness in individuals. These are ideal conditions for persuading groups and individuals to embrace violent extremism and to oppose the political, social and legal status quo. Of course, the drivers to radicalisation and violent extremism are multifaceted and complex in nature. This article will address itself mainly to the socio-economic aspects. Research shows that in a broader framework of socio-economic and political deprivation, the societal support for terrorism and radicalism gains greater relevance.


According to Omer Tsapar, breeding grounds for radicalism and terrorist recruitment emerge not necessarily under conditions of abject poverty and deprivation, but rather when negative social, economic, and political trends converge. Previously, a large number of terrorists have been known to come from middle-class backgrounds thus throwing a spanner in the works of simplistic thinking that economic empowerment would be a one stop solution to solving the problem of violent extremism. However, this does not take away from the fact that in other acts of terrorism, while the masterminds may have been from a background of means, the foot soldiers have been known to hail from backgrounds of abject poverty

The growth of unemployment among the educated often creates a class of ‘frustrated achievers’ who may end up becoming radicalized militants looking for a political cause to hang on to.

The Brookings Institution’s Middle East Youth Initiative found that the more challenging question, particularly in the Arab world, is relative deprivation: the absence of opportunities relative to expectations. Which is similar to the Kenyan context where we have a large population of unemployed educated youth who lack access to opportunities to help them thrive and live out their full capacity. Focus on relative deprivation is important because poverty is no longer an absolute concept in the context of globalization. Globalization creates an acute awareness about opportunities available elsewhere. This leads to frustration, victimization, and humiliation among growing cohorts of urbanized, undereducated, and unemployed youth who are able to make comparisons across countries.


Graham, Carol and Stefano Pettinato, 2001 aver that the growing numbers of educated but unemployed youth are particularly alarming because it is the educated youth who have the highest political aspirations and expectations, and thus, it is they who are the most frustrated when their expectations are unmet. The growth of unemployment among the educated often creates a class of ‘frustrated achievers’ who may end up becoming radicalized militants looking for a political cause to hang on to.


Given the present reality of the high rate of unemployment, Kenya is seemingly teeming with a burgeoning number of youth who are “frustrated achievers” thereby making them vulnerable to radicalisation. The training and capacity building and political pillars in the NSCVE can be leveraged to create environments where the youth can be heard, their grievances attended to and also be trained on relevant skills that would help them to be economically empowered. It would also require concerted effort from the government and other stakeholders like the civil society and Non-Governmental Organisations to create opportunities for youth enterprise and crafts to thrive all in a bid to create a prosperous country where terrorism does not become a systemic problem.

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