Since the Westgate shopping mall in September 2013 the population of Nairobi has been strangled by fear. The Westgate attack was carried out by the notorious Somali terrorist organization al-Shabaab. The incident, which had a similar modus operandi to the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, left 67 dead and 175 injured. Al-Shabaab has stated its campaign of terror in Kenya is in response to Kenya’s military presence in southern Somalia.
The alarm felt by populations in Nairobi and Mombasa is perceived as higher than populations in its neighbor’s capitals in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda. Several factors are contributing to Kenya being a target of choice by al-Shabaab: corruption, location, and safe haven.
Nairobi has longed been gripped by crime and corruption, according the National Defense University in Washington D.C. 37% of the population has reportedly been victimized by crime. Journalists and academics routinely link crime in Nairobi to corruption within the security and judiciary sectors. Transparency International ranks Kenya at the bottom of the corruption reception index year after year. The culture of bribery in Kenya likely correlates and contributes more instances weapons, drugs, and human trafficking than many of its neighbors East Africa; thus providing avenues to exploit by terrorist.
Recent mass security roundups in Somali neighborhoods have netted hundreds refugees in an effort to curb terrorism. The security crackdowns are seen as futile according to many Nairobi residents. Somali’s from Eastleigh claim they can avoid arrest and/or deportation by paying security forces anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 Kenyan Shillings (170-220 U.S. Dollars). Somali Kenyans sometimes call the security crackdowns “Christmas” for security forces. This vilification of Kenya’s security operations could be creating larger recruiting pools for extremist organizations. Furthermore international terrorism experts have long concluded prisons are a ripe source for terrorist recruitment. Prisons provide a pool of violent disenfranchised young people. This is disconcerting given the number of people rounded up by security forces as opposed to targeted arrests based on intelligence.
Kenya’s location makes it a cross roads of regional issues. Kenya’s shared porous borders with Somalia and South Sudan propagate its security difficulties. Kenya’s land borders are comparable in length to the US-Mexico border. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates there are over 620,000 refugees and asylum seekers within its borders. The significant movement of these populations also facilitates the movement of nefarious actors.
These populations’ also provide opportune safe havens for terrorists in Kenya. Somali populations in Nairobi’s Eastleigh, South B and South C neighborhoods have experienced significant growth from Somali populations over the past two decades. Extremists have historically established safe haven within the Kenya coastal Muslim populations. In 2008, Huran Fazul, a suspect in the 1998 Embassy Bombing, escaped capture from Kenyan security forces in the coastal town of Malindi.
Politicians, like former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, are arguing for the withdrawal of Kenyan forces from the Africa Union Mission in Somalia (AMSIOM). Odinga’s argument is probably politically driven to undermine the president, as opposed to a calculated security initiative. Al-Shabaab may perceive the value of international recognition and recruiting as too advantageous to simplify cease operations in Kenya. The withdrawal of Kenyan troops from Somalia’s Lower Juba region may lead to additional ground for the terrorist organization to operate near the Somali-Kenyan border. The fragile nature of the security environment in Lower Juba means Kenya can never fully disengage along the Somali border; especially if the Kenyan government is not confident in the commitment of other AMISOM troop contributing countries to protect its border.
Kenya should consider reforming, restructuring and/or realigning its security forces to deal with al-Shabaab. The creation of new organizations will likely fail due to additional bureaucracy and a lack of funding. Devolution of government is already taking a big bite out of Kenya’s budget. Kenya already has several units for counter terrorism; however all of their efforts need to be coordinated. During the Westgate attack security forces were confused over authorities and responsibilities. Kenya could create a new agency but it may be wiser hold conferences chaired by the Ministry of Internal Security office to create standard operating procedures for various types of operations and establish official line of communications between security organizations.
Insecurity and risk has long been a staple of East Africa. The terrorist threat in Kenya will probably not dissipate as long as al-Shabaab remains under the command of Ahmed Abdi Godane; and even his demise does not assure the end of the strategy against Kenya. The conclusion of this spate of terrorism in Kenya will be dependent on the determination and resolve of those residing and invested in Kenya.
List of Terrorist Events in Kenya from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office:
On 4 May two explosive devices were detonated on buses traveling out of Nairobi. There was at least one fatality and many injuries.
On 3 May there were twin explosions in Mombasa resulting in a number of fatalities.
On 23 April a car bomb exploded outside Pangani police station in the Eastleigh suburb of Nairobi.
On 1 April the death on of a prominent cleric in Mombasa led to unrest and increased tension in the area.
On 31 March there were explosions in the Eastleigh suburb of Nairobi. A number of fatalities have been reported with many more injured.
On 23 March number of worshipers were killed during an attack on a church in Likoni, Mombasa.
On 17 March a large Improvised Explosive Device, together with some weapons, were found in a car impounded by police in Mombasa.
On 2 February 2014, police raided the Musa mosque in Majengo district of Mombasa, resulting in several deaths.
On 16 January 2014, a small explosion took place at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. There were no reported casualties. Airport services were not affected.
On 12 December 2013 a failed grenade attack on a vehicle took place in the Likoni area of Mombasa. On 14 December 2013 an explosion took place on a public bus in the Pangani area of Nairobi, in the outskirts of the Eastleigh suburb. Six were killed and a further 24 injured. On 1 January 2014, a number of people were injured in a grenade attack on a nightclub in Diani, near Mombasa.
In September 2013 a major attack took place at the Westgate shopping center in the Westlands district of Nairobi.