Kenyan Somalis are pawns in al Shabaab’s reign of terror

Published: October 29, 2018

[TheStar] Terror group al Shabaab is a constant and present danger to the socioeconomic livelihood of Kenyans due to its frequent attacks in remote areas near Somalia.
While it appears al Shabaab’s main targets in the borderland regions are security agencies and non-local Kenyans, such as teachers, nurses and mechanics, Kenyan Somalis also suffer as targets of recruitment, who are used as guides and foot soldiers.
The attacks on security agencies and non-local Kenyans is double-pronged.
First, al Shabaab target the security agencies due to their frontline duties of safeguarding Kenya’s territorial integrity as well as protecting the lives of its citizens.
The duty of securing Kenya’s borders interferes with al Shabaab’s free movement, strategies and other agendas.
The attacks on non-local Kenyans drives a wedge and creates enmity between Kenyans of Somali origin against other Kenyans. The second reason is because the clan system in the Somali community protects ethnic Somalis from one another.
The non-locals are vulnerable to al Shabaab attacks due to the absence of clan-like local mechanisms in protecting them. Where ethnic Somalis are attacked, the clan is bound to seek retribution, either in form of blood-paying sacrifice (diya) or retaliatory measures.
Despite these incessant attacks, Kenya has to a large extent been successful in thwarting and reducing continuous al Shabaab attacks in its urban cities and towns, but the same cannot be said of the rural and borderland areas.
In the borderlands, al Shabaab has become resilient and adept at changing tactics. Furthermore, it has taken advantage of the globally driven narrative and agenda to embed itself in the local socioeconomic and political issues to create continuous havoc and bloodletting in Kenya.
It attracts and takes advantage of the disillusioned youth from the border communities, as well as from other major communities in Kenya.
In the border communities, many interlinked factors fuel and give impetus to the scourge of al Shabaab in both Kenya and Somalia. Prior to the 2010 constitution of Kenya, North Eastern Kenya carried the perception of marginalisation by past administrations.
Since the 2010 constitution, the government of Kenya allocates substantial resources to the region, which has opened huge potential for development.
The border communities got a chance to influence their growth agenda. However, devolution brought unparalleled and stiff political competition, which has led to conflicts that appear to be fuelled and funded by local political and business beneficiaries.
Additionally, the resource allocations and employment opportunities in the borderland counties are determined by the governor, the political allies and elders, which attracts the wrath and ire of those excluded from the devolution opportunities and promises.
The repute and integrity of county governments is tainted where injustices are perceived or real. The disillusioned locals resonate with the idea of victimhood of the long-practised clan rivalries, with al Shabaab becoming the boogiemen. They become easy targets of al Shabaab for attacks on non-local Kenyans and security agencies.
Unemployed and lowly educated youth from these counties either become victim of forcible recruitment or are wooed by the boogieman, al Shabaab. The youth either form the brigandage or guides in the attacks because of their knowledge of the local terrain, routes and water points.
Local clan rivalries for political seats, especially for the gubernatorial and National Assembly seats, mutate into serious clan warfare, where some outsource their fight to al Shabaab to annihilate the other.
The rivalry is particularly virulent during the election period. Al Shabaab mine the roads with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) along the major un-tarmacked routes to deter opponents from either organising their supporters or registering as voters.
The proximity to Somalia also contributes to al Shabaab’s menace along the Kenyan border. The absence of a stable government in Somalia provides a safe haven where al Shabaab plan, strategise and attack Kenyan security personnel who are either on patrol along the border or are on a local humanitarian mission.
The hostility between some clans at the border region continually provides a safe haven for al Shabaab. Furthermore, the hostility provides hiding places for al Shabaab attackers, especially across the border in Somalia.
The Kenyan security agencies face the preceding challenges and hence the need to gather intelligence in these border regions.
Al Shabaab takes advantage of the laxity and corruption on the part of the Kenyan security agencies. While Kenya has deployed its finest and highly trained security personnel along the border, they are at times vulnerable to attacks due to either being overconfident or fatigued.
The frontline soldiers are constantly on edge psychologically and hence susceptible to bribery, misinformation and manipulation by agents of al Shabaab.
The way forward for the government of Kenya to counter al Shabaab is to devise soft strategies that scale up the fight by investing in the goodwill of the border communities and marginalised groups.
Clan rivalries and competition for resources at the national and county level have serious exclusionary consequences. First, it alienates a large segment of the population, especially the youth in major urban centers and along the border. For example, current nominations to national and county public sector employment opportunities and contracts are dominated by the clans in power and their point men.
Hence, the government needs to take stock of clan representations in the upper echelons of power both at the national and county levels to reduce the abuse and misuse of oppressive traditional clan rivalries.
Secondly, a clear counter-narrative strategy is needed to dissuade youth (young men and women), religious leaders and community elders from joining, espousing and falling prey to al Shabaab’s extremist ideology and propaganda.
The mentioned groups are susceptible to a constant barrage of misinformation and propaganda by al Shabaab. Thus the need to counter al Shabaab’s efforts cannot be overemphasized, and the earlier the interventions are made the better.
Finally better coordination is needed among security agencies, especially along the border with Somalia. Despite the Kenya security agencies’ presence in camps and stations along the border, small groups of al Shabaab still infiltrate and cause damage inside the country.
There should be better intelligence and information sharing among and between the security agencies, as well with the local communities, to thwart and stop al Shabaab attacks.
Kenyan security agencies need to make the local communities their eyes and ears in the fight against al Shabaab. The trust and social cohesion with the border communities needs to be enhanced.

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