Digital radicals on the Swahili coast.

Author:Goldsmith, Paul
Position:Cover Story: TERROR IN AFRICA

Youth radicalisation and recruitment into jihadist groups is on the rise. States maintain that extremists are the product of externally-financed Salafist ideologies; little is said about the histories of exclusion and marginalisation fuelling recruitment, argues Paul Goldsmith.

The Swahili coast used to be Kenya's comfort zone: multicultural, cosmopolitan and hospitable, it was both the favoured holiday destination for the upcountry elite as well as an enticing destination for the adventurous entrepreneur or the young-bloods looking to re-invent themselves. In a relatively short period of time it has turned into a security nightmare that now eclipses Kenya's endemic hotspots of Northern Kenya and Nairobi's slums. It has been a remarkable, dizzying transformation and one that has direct ramifications for Kenya's economic ambitions.

Just as Kenya was stereotyped as an island of stability within a turbulent region, the Coast, Kenya's most peaceful province, offered living proof of Kenya's potential for multicultural harmony in a nation simmering with ethnic animosity and corruption. The sudden rise of a secessionist movement, the Mombasa Republican Council in 2010, coincided with the accelerating spread of Islamist extremism and shattered the peace. But the problem goes far beyond the public's growing anxiety around the issue of security.

The potential casualties of the new instability include LAPSSET, a $24bn infrastructure project featuring a new deep-water port in Lamu with transport links extending to Ethiopia and South Sudan. LAPSSET has been touted as the centrepiece of Kenya's Vision 2030, a comprehensive blueprint for the country's makeover into an emerging economy. The proposed corridor of roads, railway, and oil pipeline is also designed to open the remote hinterland of northern Kenya to economic activity.

The current crisis has been some time in coming. As multi-party politics were re-introduced in 1992, agitation at the Coast for the registration of a new party, the Islamic Party of Kenya, triggered riots perhaps for the first time since independence. Even so, the State preoccupied with fighting off the populist opposition and dealing with the local and international blowback from the ethnic clashes it had itself instigated in the Rift Valley--paid scant attention to the political developments at the Coast.

In the eyes of the State's managers, Coastal people continued to embody the sense of equanimity that often characterises cosmopolitan but no longer powerful societies. This is a backhanded way of noting the deep historical roots of the Coast's contemporary problems.

After almost 200 years in power, the beginning of the end for the Sultan of Zanzibar--the head of an Omani empire that had ruled the East...

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