US offers Sh61m for Kenya initiative in war on Shabaab

Kenya's military in Somalia.  FILE PHOTO | NMG
Kenya's military in Somalia. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The US State Department is offering to fund a nearly $600,000 (Sh61.74 million) programme addressing a perceived link between Kenyan male identity and vulnerability to recruitment by Al-Shabaab.

“Kenyan society, while diverse in its ethnic and cultural composition, is uniformly patriarchal and highly prescriptive of gender expressions and identities,” states a funding opportunity notice posted on Saturday by the State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism. “Socially, males are expected to be tough, heterosexual, aggressive, unemotional and achieving.”

Pressures to conform with these “ideals of masculinity” can be immense, the notice adds.

Al-Shabaab exploits consequent vulnerabilities and offers opportunities to fulfill the roles of Kenyan male identity, the programme prospectus states.

A separate research study being commissioned by the State Department and cited in the notice will “explore gender identities of boys and men in Kenya and how ideals of masculinity relate to attitudes about violent extremism in Kenya.”

Up to $592,500 (Sh61 million) will be available for the proposed programme that will encourage “male-to-male dialogue and training on issues of gender and encourage stronger social and familial support structures,” the notice says.

The programme should involve “creative approaches to developing healthy gender identities for men and boys as a resilience against VE [violent extremism] threats,” the prospectus states.

To reflect an understanding of the hierarchical nature of Kenyan communities, the notice adds, the programme should take an inter-generational approach. “Fathers and male community leaders will be equipped to better recognise the signs of radicalisation and intervene more effectively,” the announcement says.

The State Department estimates that Shabaab has “several thousand members,” with a small but significant share said to be recruited inside Kenya.

Eligibility for administering the proposed programme is limited to NGOs based in the United States and other countries. For-profit firms may not apply, the notice stipulates.

The deadline for submitting applications is February 26. The programme is expected to run for up to two years starting this June.