The level of mistrust among communities living in Kenya’s terror-prone counties is at a record high, a new survey shows – and recommends the disbandment of ATPU.

The government, through Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU), often targets Muslim youth after terror attacks, making the public believe they are perpetrators of all strikes.

But the study, commissioned on November by the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, deconstructs the government approach – and lay the groundwork to end human rights violations suffered by religious minorities.

The Network studied “knowledge gaps on religious literacy and constitutional rights in Kenya”, with focus on Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi, Mandera, Garissa, and Nairobi.

“The ATPU, whose hallmarks have been the systematic profiling and violations of Muslim fundamental rights should be disbanded,” the study recommends.

“In its place, the government should establish a new unit that is based on clearly established procedures and coherent guidelines and should have both parliamentary and civilian oversight to ensure state security agents do not act with impunity.”

State-inflicted cruelties

The research will advance a project – Religious Minorities: Overcoming Divides, Respecting Rights – which the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) funds.

The two-year program seeks to overcome the human rights violations suffered by religious minorities and African Traditional Religions (ATR) communities. Muhuri is the lead partner. Tangaza University College, Islamic Relief of Kenya, and the Supreme Council of Kenya (Supkem) are other partners in the project.

The Network conducted 26 Focused Group Discussions (FDGs) and over 21 Key Informants Interviews (KIIs).

Numerous challenges, the research revealed, related to abuses, religious conflicts at the grassroots level – suburbs and villages. The State, according to the findings, committed most cruelties.

“Many of these abuses go un-reported largely because there is a lack of a structured mechanism for dialogue upstream,” lead researcher Abdi Shurie said at Tangaza University College on December 11, when we validated the study.

Abdi Shurie at Tangaza University College. Photo: © 2019 Ernest Cornel/Muhuri.

According to the researcher, there is unanimity of unfair treatment of Muslim youths misunderstood as being radicalized. The research evidenced numerous forced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, and illegal detentions by state security agents against Muslims under the guise of ‘fighting’ terrorism.

“Access to services was also deemed as skewed against those from a certain religion, especially in identification documents.”

Tolerant religions

Interviewees did not perceive hostility between Christians and Muslims. Members of the faiths described the other as tolerant and honest.

“In roughly half the counties surveyed, majorities also say they trust people who have different religious values than their own… relatively few see evidence of widespread anti-Muslim or anti-Christian hostility,” the study revealed.

But the respondents acknowledged they know relatively little about each other’s faith – and Christian leaders cited instances when substantial numbers among them, considered Muslims to be violent.

“Muslims were significantly more positive in their assessment of Christians than Christians are in their assessment of Muslims,” Shurie said.

The ATPU, whose hallmarks have been the systematic profiling and violations of Muslim fundamental rights should be disbanded.

Surveyed residents expressed “great” concerns over religious extremism, creating a striking pattern.

“In counties or communities with the highest Muslims, the leaders are very concerned of the vice and see it stemming from issues around lack of productive engagement of youths, government agencies treatment of youths, peer influence, social media and extreme non-conforming preachers,” the researcher stated.

“On the reverse among the Christians, the same factors with emphasis on mushrooming of unaccountable fellowships in their communities.”

Partners implementing the Norad project. Photo: © 2019 Ernest Cornel/Muhuri.

Shurie said unemployment is problematic than the conflict between religious groups.

He said social, political, and economic triggers with spiritual overtones, snowballed into “religious confrontation”. The repeated efforts by youths to control mosques – often resulting in bloody confrontations – and the 1997 Kaya Bombo clashes at the South Coast, evidenced this position.

“We noted that religion is not so much a source of conflict as a source of hope, with religious leaders and movements being a major force in civil society and a key provider of relief and development for the needy, particularly given the widespread reality of failed service provision at the grassroots,” Shurie said.


Communities at the Coast, according to the survey, described the indigenous Kaya, an ATR, like animism, paganism, ancestor worship, or simply superstition.

But this isn’t the case – Kayas said their religion’s role is to provide for human well-being in the social and political aspects of the community.

“Without any formal coding to allow new generations to take the mantle, there is an increasing risk of the religion decimating further from its current depressed state,” Shurie said.

Social, political, and economic triggers with spiritual overtones, snowballed into “religious confrontation”.

FGDs and KIIs suggested youths are aware of community, religious and government initiatives in their localities, yet, they feel uninvolved, and lack power to influence local leadership and achieve change.

“The youths stressed even when they offer opinions or suggestions for change, their ideas are frequently dismissed or ignored,” Shurie said.

Muhuri’s Mohammed Gumo making a presentation during a specialist workshop at Tangaza University College. Photo: © 2019 Ernest Cornel/Muhuri.

When opinions offer criticism, one is even more likely to be shut out of the political and social processes, Shurie said, adding, youth are alienated in the Mosques if they attempt to challenge the status quo.

“When you oppose an idea by a leader, they see you as a project of the government or religious extremist and out to scuttle their good work.’’


The study recommended the leadership of ATR and Muslim religious organizations to form alliances with disadvantaged minority groups that have experienced marginalization and official discrimination.

“This will better serve the cause of Kenyan Muslims, as such alliances are better instruments for presenting concerns that Muslim share with other disadvantaged minority groups,” the study said.

Shurie said the government should adopt affirmative action to address the exclusion of the past.

He said the operations of the security agents should respect the law to avoid erosion of Muslim rights.