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US Institute of Peace Trains Kenyan Women to Help Fight Terrorist Radicalization Campaigns

The organization Sisters Without Borders was formed in 2014. One of its missions is to bridge the mistrust between Kenyan security agencies and families of terrorism suspects

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FILE - Kenyans walk past closed shops in the capital after an attack on a hotel complex, claimed by al-Shabab, in Nairobi, Kenya, Jan. 18, 2019. VOA

The U.S. Institute of Peace is training Kenyan women from 20 organizations to help fight terrorist radicalization campaigns. The program comes as Kenya struggles to halt the recruitment efforts of Islamist militant group al-Shabab.

The organization Sisters Without Borders was formed in 2014. One of its missions is to bridge the mistrust between Kenyan security agencies and families of terrorism suspects. The organization includes at least 20 women’s groups from Nairobi, Mombasa and Garissa, all of which have seen deadly terrorist attacks by the Islamist militant group al-Shabab.

Sureya Hirsi, a member of the sisters’ group from Mombasa, attended the conference in Nairobi. She says it is time for women to take an active role in the fight against terrorism.

kenya, terrorism, terrorist
Kenya has been prime recruiting territory for al-Shabab since 2011, when the government sent troops into Somalia to fight militants. Pixabay

“The reason I joined this sisters group, it’s because I have been affected, I have family members, people whom I know, I know youths who have been recruited, and this is happening because as a community we don’t speak up about these issues. As a woman who is lucky and also educated, I have decided to be on the frontline to help my community so that we can speak about these issues that affect our community.”

Nicoletta Barbera, a program officer at the U.S. Institute of Peace, says women can play a key role in preventing young people from going down the terrorist path.

“The women that we work with, the sisters without borders are integrated within their communities, they live, work, and serve. They are very aware of the threats that are in their homes, in their markets, in their communities. We enable them to identify those potential individuals who are prone in engaging in violent extremism and give them the skills to try to mitigate them at the very beginning when they see those initial signs of radicalization,” Barbera said.

kenya, terrorism, terrorist
The organization Sisters Without Borders was formed in 2014. One of its missions is to bridge the mistrust between Kenyan security agencies and families of terrorism suspects. Pixabay

Kenya National Counterterrorism Center Director Martin Kimani says that kind of ground-level activism is exactly what the country needs.

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“We in the security services are hunting and looking for recruiters to put them behind bars where they belong. But radicalization continues to be a problem.  That problem is going to need for the county level actions to get radicalization, to where, for example, Kenya got HIV/AIDS where everybody could speak about it, everybody knows what it is and everybody know their role in how to stop it and protect it each other from getting into that kind of life,” Kimani said.

Kenya has been prime recruiting territory for al-Shabab since 2011, when the government sent troops into Somalia to fight militants. Al-Shabab has been responsible for several major terrorist attacks, the worst coming in 2015, when al-Shabab fighters stormed Garissa University College, killing nearly 150 people. (VOA)

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Team Lioness Aims to Fight Poachers in Amboseli National Park in Kenya

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Team Lioness
Members of Team Lioness are members are seen in traditional garb on a day off from work. (Courtesy - Patrick Papatiti, Commander of the Olgululului Community. VOA

By Lenny Ruvaga

Kenya’s Amboseli National Park is home to herds of elephants that have been the target of poachers trafficking in the illicit trade in ivory. Now a program that has brought women on board in the fight against poaching is gaining traction.

At the start of another day at the Olgulului-Ololarashi Group Ranch, 23-year-old park ranger Purity Amleset, the leader of this all female ranger unit, sets out the day’s plan with her team, ensuring that each member has her orders correct.

Today’s task: locating an elephant and her newborn calf.

Team Lioness

Dubbed “Team Lioness,” the ranger unit is made up of eight women whose core duties involve protecting wildlife within the 1,230 square kilometer stretch of parkland that surrounds Amboseli National Park.

They are chosen for their academic achievements, physical stamina, integrity and discipline.

Amleset says joining an all-female ranger unit has been beneficial to the traditionally patriarchal Maasai community.

She says her community held the view that women and girls were the weaker sex and that girls could only do menial jobs and housework, which included only raising a family. However over the course of time, the female rangers have been showing and telling them the importance of being a ranger just like the menfolk.

Team Lioness
Female rangers of the TeamL Lioness at the Olgulului-Ololarashi Group Ranch pose for a group photo with their male colleagues. VOA

Gateway for poachers

The Olgulului-Ololarashi Group Ranch’s proximity to the Amboseli park makes it a likely gateway for poachers who may seek entry into the national park to hunt illegally.

Patrick Papatiti, the commander of the Olgululului Community Wildlife Rangers has about 76 rangers under his charge. He says integrating women has not been easy.

“We have the same mentality even within the male ranger unit, the same mentality that ladies cannot do it. But surprisingly we have the best young women who can run, who can move faster than these guys, who can go long(er) distances than these guys,” he sad. “So from that, working together helped us to clear the norm that these are the same ladies the same girls that you see in the village.”

Despite the challenges, in the end James Isiche — the regional director for East Africa from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) — says starting an all-female ranger unit was a risk worth taking.

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“Communities in Kenya are male-dominated, but this particular one is extremely male-dominated,” he said. “So getting young ladies to engage in what is seen as a man’s job is a huge success and what we (are) seeing is that it’s encouraging other girls to step up and say that ‘when I finish school I also want to join the female lionesses.’” (VOA)