Al-Shabaab spokesman Fuad Shongole’s public address from Bardheere, Gedo in southern Somalia has caused a stir in the media. Shongole stated that the war in Somalia will be shipped to Kenya, Uganda and the United States.
He called on Muslims living in Kenya to take up arms against the government. Additionally he said Kenyan youth are being trained in Somalia’s Gedo Region to contribute in the insecurity in Kenya. Shongole threatened that for every girl killed by Kenyans in Somalia, a girl will be killed in Kenya.
Shongole publicly displayed a number of vehicles recently hijacked from a raid in Mandera Kenya. Then he declared that the Kenyan Air Force failed to hit its targets in recent airstrikes in Jilib.
Shongole’s statements (which lasted less than 2 minutes) were played on radio stations throughout Somalia. The main theme of the message is that Kenya is a battlefront for al-Shabaab; clearly evident from the recent surge in attacks in Nairobi. Click here for a list of recent attacks in Kenya.
What about the threat to the U.S. and Uganda?
Al-Shabaab doesn’t have to expend the resources required to bring the battle to the U.S. mainland. There are plenty of U.S. government and commercial targets around Kenya. Al-Shabaab’s threats against Uganda are probably geared towards its peacekeepers in Somalia but its interests in Kenya could be targeted as well.
The statements about threatening the U.S. and Kenya are not surprising. But the timing of the messages are likely intended to press two matters closer to a tipping point: to scare westerners out of Kenya and to cause Kenya to withdraw its troops from Somalia. Recent media reports indicate western nations may be on the verge of closing or reducing the staff of its embassies to protect its citizens. Meanwhile Kenya’s political opposition party is calling for the withdrawal of Kenyan troops from Somalia.
Al-Shabaab knows if westerners flee Kenya the country’s economy will take a huge hit, especially the tourism industry. The west also provides a majority of funding and support to aid agencies and U.N. initiatives operating in Kenya and Somalia. These issues are arising by the slate of violence in the country and is driving a compelling argument for Kenya to withdraw from Somalia.
Does anyone really believe al-Shabaab will just leave Kenya alone if Kenya’s military withdraws from Somalia?
Ceding additional space in southern Somalia to a violent extremist organization, that is according to its ideology is anti-Christian and anti-Democracy, may very well be more dangerous in the long term. Kenya will need to find a delicate way to balance its security posture to counter al-Shabaab’s violence and messaging. The real battlefield between Kenya and al-Shabaab could be the struggle over influencing the Somali diaspora in Kenya.