New Internationalist

Tension mounts as instability grips Kenya

al-shabaab [Related Image]
Al-Shabaab have claimed responsibility for the latest attack in Kenya. Wikiinpics.com under a Creative Commons Licence

Kenya, along with China, Libya and Egypt, has seen the highest rise in terrorist attacks in recent years, according to data released by Maplecroft’s Terrorism and Security Dashboard (MTSD). Areas in the southeast coastal region of Lamu County have been the worst affected, with at least 100 people killed so far. Many businesses have suffered as a result of the violence, and the security of local people has been compromised.

The latest terrorist attacks took place on 6 July in the towns of Hindi, in Lamu County, and Gamba, in Tana River; 22 people were killed. Al-Shabaab, a Somali-based militant group linked to al-Qaeda, have claimed responsibility. Previous terrorist attacks in the country have been linked to the presence of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) in Somalia, as well as to an unsettled dispute over coastal land ownership.

The KDF have been active in Somalia since 2011, on a mission to keep al-Shabaab at bay and help maintain stability in Somalia’s government. With tensions rising between the Kenyan government and the opposition, al-Shabaab have taken advantage of the situation by recruiting young Kenyans.

High levels of corruption and unemployment mean that Kenya’s borders have become porous, allowing al-Shabaab militia to pass through with sophisticated weapons.

For many years, Kenya was seen as a peaceful country, hosting many high-level diplomatic conferences as well as being the seat of UN headquarters in Africa; now, tourists and Kenyans alike are scared to be in the country.

Mohammed Musa, one of the survivors of the raids, says that the attackers use guns and machetes, among other crude weapons. ‘These militia groups target only men, sparing women and children; sometimes they ask which ethnic community one belongs to. I think locals are also involved in the raids, to make particular communities vacate the land.

‘Right now, we don’t have any jobs – the tourists who were here have left the country for security reasons. This has left the tourism sector in shambles; thousands have lost their jobs and our lives are becoming unbearable due to slow money circulation and high living costs,’ Musa explains.

The militia group has also changed its tactics by engaging local residents, who are not under suspicion by the police, to plant grenades. A spate of attacks has included grenade explosions in strategic places such as pubs, bus stations, churches, mosques, restaurants and hotels. This has increased Kenya’s insecure status, scaring away tourists; many countries have sent chartered planes to pick up foreigners from cities on the country’s Indian Ocean coast.

The Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD), the opposition party led by Raila Odinga, has urged the Kenyan government to bring KDF home, as demanded by al-Shabaab. Odinga, Kenya’s former prime minister, said the Kenya Defence Forces mission for peacekeeping had expired, according to plans made during the term of former president Mwai Kibaki.

Odinga said the KDF should come back home to beef up security in Kenya, especially in the border areas. He challenged the current government to engage with the opposition to help restore peace and security in the country.

‘We are calling upon the government led by President Uhuru Kenyatta to engage the opposition in a national dialogue because it is clear that it has failed to protect its people. There is insecurity, high cost of living, unemployment, poverty, corruption, [clan favouritism] in public office appointments – and the government is just quiet about it.’

As part of a 13-point declaration, Raila Odinga is calling for a referendum on issues affecting the Kenyan population, which the government should respond to and implement.

In reply, President Kenyatta claims that ‘there is no need for a referendum – what we want now is to deliver our promises to the people. The government is committed to provide and deliver services to its people.

‘I told Odinga, if he wants dialogue, let him come to the State House for a cup of tea – we talk, and I am ready to even offer him lunch on top of it. Now he has come with 13 points and a referendum to scare me. I am not afraid of anybody.’

The 13 points under discussion include an overhaul of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, and address insecurity, corruption, the high costs of living and nepotism in public-office appointments.

The opposition is currently collecting the million signatures required countrywide for a referendum to take place, providing another source of tension in the country.

There is now public pressure for the president to sack the Interior Cabinet Secretary, Joseph Ole Lenku, due to his lack of action regarding the arrests of members of al-Shabaab.

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