Over the last several days, I traveled to Kenya and Djibouti to discuss the United States’ shared commitment to counter terrorism and violent extremism. During my visits to the Kenyan cities of Nairobi and Mombasa and Djibouti City, Djibouti, I met with senior government officials; civil society, including women, youth and religious leaders; and local and county officials who are working to counter terrorism and violent extremism in their societies and the region . During each of my stops, I was encouraged by the progress that has been made, particularly over the last year, and was inspired by the overwhelming commitment to address violent extremism.
I last visited Nairobi with President Obama in 2015, when he announced new commitments to counter terrorism and violent extremism, including support for Kenya through the Counterterrorism Partnership Fund. Following the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) in 2015, Kenya fulfilled its pledge to host a regional CVE Summit in June 2015 and is emerging as a regional leader on this issue. During the last month, the Kenyan government introduced a national countering violent extremism strategy and appointed a senior-level diplomat to work on these complex issues. During my trip, I discussed with Kenyan officials the importance of partnering with communities and civil society and emphasized President Obama and Secretary Kerry's messages that protecting human rights and building trust in security forces is essential to preventing radicalization. Kenya can benefit greatly by working closely with civil society, religious leaders, and its international security partners to end violent extremism.
In Nairobi and Mombasa, I met with youth, women, religious and civil society leaders who are working to build community resilience, strengthen open dialogues within communities, enact community policing efforts and launch new counter-narrative efforts both offline and online. We discussed the importance of human rights, criminal justice sector reform, good governance, access to quality education, economic empowerment and equal treatment of all individuals, including LGBTI persons.
Michael Ortiz meets with civil society during his trip to East Africa. [State Department photo]
On Kenya's Coast, I had the opportunity to have tea with Mombasa elders in historic Old Town to candidly discuss the drivers of violent extremism in Mombasa, a leading city in this battle. We all agreed that while it is important for the United States, Kenya, and other countries to take national-level actions, it is even more important for local communities to be proactive in this effort. Specifically, we recognized that online recruitment and radicalization to violence are serious problems, and we acknowledged that we must do more to educate parents, teachers, and other community leaders on ways to intervene with young people before it is too late.
Local communities on the front lines in the fight against violent extremism must be empowered to stop the process of radicalization to violence. That is why the United States has helped establish organizations like the Strong Cities Network and the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund and launched initiatives like the Global Counterterrorism Forum's Initiative to Address the Lifecycle to Radicalization to Violence. The United States values our multifaceted partnership with Kenya and that is why we continue to support its efforts to counter violent extremism and terrorism. Just this year, the State Department and USAID started implementing $7.5 million to support the efforts to the Counterterrorism Partnership Fund in Kenya. Through these funds, we are working to build the capacity of local implementers and are continuously evaluating and adjusting our efforts to ensure success.
Michael Ortiz meets with civil society during his trip to Kenya and Djibouti. [State Department photo]
I also visited Djibouti to gain a better understanding of the efforts to counter violent extremism underway there. Like Kenya, its government and young leaders are working hard to address the challenges of violent extremism, and the United States will continue to support these initiatives. I had the honor of participating in the opening of the East Africa CVE Center of Excellence and Counter-Messaging Hub. This new center, which is led by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, will provide a unique platform for East Africans to share best practices, collaborate on research on the localized drivers of violent extremism, and develop innovative counter-messaging efforts. In coordination with Hedayah, the Center of CVE Excellence in Abu Dhabi, the Djibouti Center will also be able to provide support to East African nations working on developing National Action Plans to counter violent extremism, as called for by the UN Secretary General's Preventing Violent Extremism Plan of Action. The Center will certainly enhance our global efforts.
My recent trip has provided an important window into the efforts at all levels of society and leadership to address the serious threat of terrorism and violent extremism against its citizens. While we have much more to do to help our partners in East Africa and around the world strengthen their capacities to tackle terrorism and violent extremism, the United States will continue to stand ready to lead in this fight.
About the Author: Michael Ortiz serves as the Deputy Coordinator for the Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism at the U.S. Department of State.\
Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the Department's Foggy Bottom publication on Medium.com.