|typical landscape of the kenyan savannah|
all terrorist attacks beg the question "why" [without implying that explanation = justification], but those in kenya seem particularly irrational, especially when filtered through western media. perhaps it's because the attacks- killing the poor, children and civilians while assiduously avoiding political or military targets- are so vile that even asking "why did this happen?" borders on offensive. it's also possible that people don't want to talk about these attacks because even scratching the surface gets into some very scary territory, scarier than a lot of people are prepared to deal with.
|nairobi by night|
clearly, kenya was not afraid to stand alone and against some of its closest neighbours, however the feelings stirred up by operation entebbe- as much as they might have planted a seed- are ancient history in today's conflict between kenya and al-shabaab. unlike a lot of things we've looked at here on world wide wednesdays, you don't have to look much further back than 2011 to find out why things have come to a head in kenya. that was when the kenyan government decided to intervene in what had to that point been a purely somali fight.
the aims of the al-shabaab [or "youth party"] movement were much more traditional than groups like al-qaeda or islamic state: they sought to take control of somalia and nothing else. in fact, if you'd come up with a list of places al-shabaab was likely to attack, kenya would have come near the bottom, because a significant amount of al-shabaab funding came through the ex-patriot somali community around nairobi. but between 2011 and 2013 a couple of odd things happened that threw the al-shabaab playbook out the window.
|eastleigh, the somali district of nairobi|
the joint kenyan-somali mission was more successful than most had predicted. al-shabaab was chased out of a lot of their strongholds and cut off from a great deal of their financial backing. but in their success, the kenyans made themselves a very big target. this wasn't helped by the fact that the kenyans got a bit grabby with the somali port of kismayo, formerly an al-shabaab base of operations. having driven out the terrorists, the kenyan army took control of the port operations and revenues, which one could argue wasn't really necessary since even they acknowledged that the enemy were gone. there were also accusations that kenyan forces were killing a lot of people who weren't terrorists and who had no affiliation with terrorists and no affiliation with a military group of any kind.
in the wake of their defeat, al-shabaab split into two distinct entities. the original, nationalist movement continues to exist, however another group, more interested in waging international religious warfare and who aligned themselves with al-qaeda. it's affiliates of the latter group who are responsible for the attacks in kenya.
|the largest refugee camp in the world, kenyan-somali border|
for starters, massive numbers of arrests of somalis- including a lot of people of somali descent who were born in kenya- indicate that the government is targeting an entire community, not just the terrorists who might be within it. similarly, some of the bank account seizures seem to have been focused on laying hands on any somali money, rather money intended for terrorist groups. one could argue that some innocent people will unfortunately get caught in the security net, but such things are necessary in the name of maintaining the greater good. just keep in mind: it's a lot of arrests and a lot of seized assets. [side note :: in a strange and ironic twist, some observers have said that the kenyan military may inadvertently have strengthened one source of al-shabaab funding. when they took control of kismayo, the military made the area safe for charcoal merchants who had been disrupted by the war. aside from being a nightmare for the local environment, the charcoal trade was reputedly a source of money for the terrorists, because the local charcoal merchants were sympathetic to at least the nationalist part of their cause. the kenyan military has been able to reap the benefits of selling somali charcoal, however the money they pay to acquire it may be going into the pockets of some of the people they invaded the country to defeat.]
|aftermath of a riot in eastleigh, nairobi|
what should be very, very scary, however, is not how the laws have been enforced, but the extra-legal activities in which the kenyan government is rumoured to have engaged. a string of kenyan imams have been assassinated in the last few years. rumours of significant police violence against somalis are rampant and there is even talk of government death squads. there is no question that the kenyan government is catching a lot of al-shabaab members. however, by taking a heavy-handed approach to the entire somali community, and the entire muslim community, they may be creating even more enemies in the process.
the images of the terrorist attacks in kenya are profoundly disturbing, as are the stories of somalis murdered by kenyan police, or somali refugees left to die out of fear that they may be [or become] sympathetic to al-shabaab after they are admitted to kenya. what is most disturbing, however, is that kenya's escalating war of state versus terrorist violence may be giving us the best look we've had at what it means to attack extremist groups with full force.