As the country struggles with jihadists, two concerns may complicate the counter-terror war and thus force authorities to revisit their strategy: One, the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) is pulling out of Somalia in 2021, and two; the new terrorist is no longer the foreigner but Kenyan.
The planned military drawdown has left experts confused on what next for Somalia and the anti-terrorism war worldwide. For over 10 years, Amisom was a bulwark against terror, but the mission is now exiting without clear plans on how to secure Somalia thereafter. This development is likely to have a huge bearing on regional security. Seemingly, Kenya is yet to remodel its strategy in light of the expected military withdrawal.
Kenya is a powerhouse — politically, militarily and economically — in this part of the world. And on paper, it is governed by one of the world’s best counter-terror strategies. So, why is Kenya a sitting target for extremists?
On April 6, 2015, South Africa’s Daily Maverick posed: “Why does Kenya’s counter-terrorism strategy keep failing?”
From the outset, it is instructive to disabuse Kenyans of claims that the country is vulnerable owing to its lengthy leaky border with Somalia, and its peacekeeping role in the war-torn country.
Nothing could be farther from truth. Kenya’s military contingent to the Amisom is far less than what Ethiopia, Uganda and Burundi each have deployed in the war-torn country.
Ethiopia has 1,640km of shared border with Somalia; Kenya has just 700km.
The problem is the nexus between corruption, impunity, and political patronage in Kenya’s counter-terror strategy. The country is “leaky” because political leaders and security agents have allowed themselves to be driven by selfish interests — not national values. The counter-terror strategy is “porous” because, in practice, it’s haphazard, knee jerk, ad hoc and reactionary.
It is haphazard because it is stereotyped against the Somali and Muslim, corruption drives it, reactionary because anti-terror authorities are corrupt and always relapse to slumber until jostled by a blast here and there, and unreasonable because it evades the role of community policing.
Ideally, the public should be the key plank of any counter-terror strategy. Indeed, in Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania, community policing is the driving pillar against Al- Shabaab. Local people identify and report suspicious elements within their neighbourhoods. Not in Kenya where, as was evident in the Dusit 2 hotel raid last month, architects of evil easily operate within communities.
“The (counter-terror) strategy that Kenya uses to address terrorism (has) still not addressed preventive terrorism measures such as enhanced partnerships between government ,,, and domestic (non-state) actors to counter extremism and radicalisation,” Peter Gauitiku noted in his MA thesis at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Nairobi.
In the dusitD2 2 case, the neighbours of the plotters were suspicious of the strangers but did not alert security personnel.
Public participation apart, the legislative architecture of the counter-terror strategy is modelled on the infamous Security Laws (Amendments) Act 2014 whose approach is to serve multiple interests beyond just security: Make money; gain political mileage by emasculating media and Opposition; and deal with the terrorist.
As it were, the strategy is a distorted attempt to hit three birds with one stone.
Writing in the Daily Nation in April 2015, constitutional lawyer Maina Kiai said this anti-terror legal regime targets human rights and Opposition activists as supporters of terrorism. This, he said, “is the perfect example of misusing broad and opaque laws to settle scores, and to perpetuate impunity”.
The 2014 security laws — parts of which would later be outlawed by Judges Isaac Lenaola, Mumbi Ngugi, Hillary Chemitei, Hedwig Ong’udi and Joseph Onguto on the basis that they breached fundamental human rights — were chiefly a whimsical approach to security calls. They skirted around real solutions to security concerns. “Insecurity in Kenya is not due to absence of laws but inefficiency of public bodies mandated to secure Kenyans … Even the Attorney-General conceded during the hearing that there is corruption and lack of coordination among security agencies to curb terror threats,” the judges ruled.
Economist David Ndii, writing in the Saturday Nation, described the brains behind the security laws as “lacking in imagination and failed by their own courage”. And Constitutional lawyer Bobby Mkangi said of the infamous Security Amendment (2014) Act, thus: “they don’t address the real problem, which is the systemic breakdown of the police, eroded by corruption”.
Corruption — and not terrorism per se — is the biggest threat to Kenya’s security. And this explains why Kenya is a sitting duck for terror.
Each and every year, Transparency International has produced what is called Corruption Perception Index which ranks countries "by their perceived levels of public sector corruption, as determined by expert assessments and opinion surveys." Traditionally the least corrupt country appears top, number 1, on the index while the most corrupt is last, number 180.
As it were, figures don’t lie. Of Somalia’s immediate neighbours, Kenya, at position 149 in 2018, is the most corrupt. Ethiopia appears at position 118 while Djibouti is at 107. It is thus now easy to see what the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, in a report to the Security Council last November, calls “the nexus between corruption and insecurity” in Kenya.
According to this report, Kenya police officers have allowed jihadists to shuttle “with little interference” between Kenya and Somalia “facilitated by bribes to various security forces officials on both sides”.
The UN report documents a plan by a local Al-Shabaab cell to stage a “massive” raid in Kenya last year. “On February 15, 2018, Kenyan police on a routine patrol in Merti Division, Isiolo County, arrested two Al-Shabaab operatives … travelling with a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device intended for a complex attack in Nairobi. Also captured by police were five Type 56-2 AK-pattern assault rifles, 36 magazines of ammunition and 36 grenades.”
The Type 56-2 AK-pattern assault rifle is the kind used in the Dusit attack.
Members of this cell twice purchased vehicles in Nairobi in record time, turned them into bomb carriers at a place called El Adde in Somalia, and returned with the killer devices into Kenya without a hitch.
The first vehicle, a 2010 Toyota Mark X, crossed into Somalia on December 31, 2017 through El Wak, was converted into VBIED, but developed mechanical problems before reaching its destination.
Al-Shabaab immediately dispatched the same Kenyan back home to procure another vehicle, a 2003 Mitsubishi Airtrek, in Nairobi. Days later, the vehicle crossed the border into Somalia returning the following month as a VBIED.
“The plot provides an apt illustration of the nexus between corruption and insecurity; police statements from the arrested Al-Shabaab operatives show that they were able to pass with little interference back and forth across the porous Kenya-Somalia border, facilitated by bribes to various security forces officials on both sides,” UN states in the report.
Yet, it’s not just the police. A key mobile telephone company declined to co-operate with UN investigations, perhaps out of fear that its operations would be linked to terror-financing.
But more perplexing is the plan by the government to put up a wall to shield Kenya from Somali jihadists. Was it meant to deter terrorists? There are doubts.
According to reports, the 700 kilometre wall was to comprise concrete barriers, fences, ditches and CCTV stations overlooking observation posts, from somewhere in Kiunga to Mandera in the north.
Security analysts estimated it to cost Sh200 million a kilometre — Sh140 billion on completion. However, by the time authorities suspended its construction last March, only eight kilometres of barbed wire, which can hardly stop a petty smuggler equipped with dykes, had been erected. It’s not clear the amount of money it had already guzzled by the time its construction stopped.
All told, Kenya’s counter-terror architecture has a huge gap: It’s detached from the requisite community involvement, which should be the key plank in the fight against terrorism. Intelligence and military approach should merely buttress.
The envisaged approach to arm guards, whereas belated, should not form the cornerstone of Kenya’s anti-terror approach. The solution lies with communities, the people. It is in the villages, urban estates, and in the streets. The response to terrorism is in fighting corruption and entrenching community policing. Military and intelligence warfare should merely boost this line of approach.
The National Intelligence Service (NIS) is really trying to meet its mandate. But NIS should go beyond just playing the advisory role (what is called “national intelligence estimates) to carrying out operations within and without Kenya — the way renowned agencies such as KGB of Russia, Mossad of Israel, MI6 in United Kingdom, and America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) do.
Kenya can have multiple Intelligence services to include one involved in covert overseas operations in support of the country’s security.
Isn’t it time Kenya established a ministry of Homeland Security charged with, among other functions, protecting citizens from terrorism, identifying and deporting immigrants, developing the country’s readiness for emergency (terrorism, floods, hunger and other tragedies), and developing cutting edge responses based on new technologies?