Nairobi, Kenya — After a recent string of improvised explosive devices (IED) attacks along the northeastern border of Kenya with Somalia that claimed the lives of up to 20 Kenyan security personnel. The government of Kenya and local regional governors have begun a robust campaign to thwart further roadside bombings.
The al-Qaeda-linked radical Islamic terror organization known as Harakat al-Shabaab al-Muhajideen (HSM) based in southern Somalia has claimed responsibility for all of the recent IED attacks upon local Kenyan security forces in and around the frontier border town of Mandera where al-Shabaab brazenly targeted the county governor and his convoy with what may have been a ‘command-detonated’ IED. Al-Shabaab additionally targeted a local Kenyan police convoy with the very same style of IED in Liboi in what looks like a guerrilla cross-border attack.
These attacks prompted a full force push for answers and solutions on many Kenyan government levels and Kenyan investigators begrudgingly reached out to the Somali National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) for help in staunching the increase in these IED attacks along their collective shared borders. Several al-Shabaab sappers were intercepted along the border and their plans of death and destruction foiled.
Al-Shabaab only promised more attacks in the near future until Kenya removes its defense forces assigned to the U.N. sanctioned African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) from Somalia and never return. Al-Shabaab operatives also claim to be conducting these attacks in retribution to the beatings, torture, and gang-rapes the Kenyan police and security forces have supposedly perpetrated against their Somali countrymen within the refugee camps in the northern counties of Kenya.
The Kenyan government of course denies these claims, however the American non-governmental organization, Human Rights Watch (HRW) begs to differ.
The disappeared ones
The town of Dadaab, Kenya in Garissa County was a small little village along the border of Kenya and Somalia. That is until the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) designated the arid hamlet for a giant refugee complex to house the massive exodus of Somali refugees fleeing famine and war in 1992.
After the end of the construction of the five camps, Dadaab became the third largest city in Kenya and the second-largest refugee complex in the world. Two decades of Somalis from the Lower Jubba and Gedo region of southern Somalia have called Dadaab home, with scores more unregistered displaced persons setting up camps around the UNHCR complex itself which HRW estimates is about 630,000 people total.
In 2011 during al-Shabaab’s height of popularity and insurgency within Somalia, the Kenyan government committed several thousand Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF) to the newly formed AMISOM mission. This lead to a sharp increase of support and recruitment from al-Shabaab sympathizers within the Dadaab refugee complex. These al-Shabaab hopefuls flocked either back to the terror group’s controlled regions in southern Somalia or to the Nairobi based Muslim Youth Center (MYC) which later became known as al-Hijra, the Kenyan based al-Shabaab.
After a string of bombings in late 2011, local Kenyan authorities within Garissa County rumored under the orders of higher Kenyan security officials went into the Dadaab camps to investigate residents with possible ties to al-Shabaab. Instead the police went in with night-sticks and indiscriminately began beating residents, destroying local businesses, and torturing people of Somali origin.
The Human Rights Watch demanded an explanation for such wanton violence from the Kenyan government only to be told that a full investigation would be conducted, which never really was. Continued reports of torture, detention, gang-rapes, and disappearances of people suspected of affiliation with al-Shabaab are still to this day largely ignored by the Kenyan government.
According to a Human Rights Watch report on Kenyan human rights abuses. Up to 34 confirmed Somali’s in diaspora have vanished with up to 25,000 reports of killings by police across the country since 2013. This report purports that Kenyan military, security forces, and even agents from the Kenyan Directorate of Military Intelligence have kidnapped, tortured, and quite possibly killed people they believed to have had ties to al-Shabaab.
In an excerpt from the HRW report, the authors allege that the; “Kenyan authorities have not acknowledged, publicly condemned or investigated at least 32 cases of enforced disappearances and 11 unexplained deaths of people last seen in state custody in Nairobi and northeastern Kenya. Witnesses observed police and military drive with detainees into military bases and camps in Garissa, Wajir, and Mandera for detention and interrogation. Two of the 34 missing people were in late July located in state custody, with one now facing terrorism related charges. Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, a statutory human rights body, documented at least 100 cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of those allegedly linked with Al-Shabab and continue to press for investigations.”
The government of Kenya still refuses to provide comment to HRW on these allegations.
So sure the Kenyan government is that the Dadaab refugee complex is a breeding ground for terrorism that the Kenyan government declared the closing of the complex in 2016 and said that the residents themselves were to return to Somalia. The then Kenyan spokesperson, Eric Kiraithe said that, “[T]he camp had lost its humanitarian nature and had become a haven for terrorism and other illegal activities.” Kiraithe added that; “The lives of Kenyans matter. Our interest in this case, and in the closure of Dadaab refugee camp, remains to protect the lives of Kenyans.”
This was all but the garnish on top of the recruitment pie needed for al-Shabaab to swell its ranks with furious Somalis forcefully returned to the failed-state of Somalia. That is until Judge John Mativo of the Kenyan High Court overruled the Kenyan government’s closure decision in early 2017. Mativo said the decision to close Dadaab was in fact “null and void.” adding that the Kenyan government was in “violation of the constitutional right to fair legal proceedings.”
The government of Kenya is of course challenging the court’s decision. Kenya has also decided to build a border wall.
Shortly after his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2016, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, requested assistance from Israel in the construction of a 440-mile long border wall “to prevent Somali terrorists from infiltrating the country.”
President Kenyatta stated that “Kenya and Israel, just like other nations in the world, are facing the challenges of terrorism and today was a great opportunity to discuss ways of dealing with the issues.” Construction started shortly after.
However as of February, the border wall that Kenyatta boasted would be full of cameras, early warning devices, high-tech gadgetry, and to be made with steel and thick concrete buttresses, is nothing more than shoddy concrete poles laced with wire mesh topped with razor-wire. And due to budgetary issues, is nowhere near the 440-mile mark.
With the drought and famine hitting the region already being reported as one of the worst in Africa’s history cobbled with an all out offensive on al-Shabaab by the Somali National Army coming in the next few months. It seems once again the innocent will be tapped to suffer in what could turn into another bloody year for East Africa
Feature image courtesy of: CoastalWeek