Securitization of Northern Kenya
For easy control the British colonial government locked communities into geographical boxes that disrupted their pre-colonial fluid movement. Additionally, Northern Kenya served as a buffer zone against the Italians and French, which reduced to a pawn of big power strategic calculus.
During the Lancaster conference, to compensate for their ill treatment of the region, the British cynically accepted the region should decide its fate through a referendum on whether it want to be part of Kenya or join their co-ethnic group in Somalia. The British was well aware Kenyatta will not countenance such a move despite 75 % of the Somalis voting they wanted to join Somalia
Once they realized secession was untenable via a referendum, the Somalis, with the help of Somalia government launched an insurgency, popularly known as the Shifta (bandit) War (1963-1967). But the Kenya’s deliberate appropriation and framing of the entire community as bandits cast what was a genuine grievance about a second-class treatment of the community as a treacherous effort to annex Kenya by Somalia.
The Kenyan regime also reckoned by keeping Somalis in Kenya, they were establishing a democratic multiethnic nation. But to the Mogadishu government then, the secession attempt is an effort to right a colonial wrong- it portrayed it as a struggle by an oppressed people to regain freedom and create a pan Somalia state Somaliweyn (Greater Somalia).
The Kenyan government brought down the insurgency using a brutal military intervention. In the eyes of the government, since then, the people from Northern Kenya effectively became renegades bandits- Shifta. This treatment was given a veneer of legitimacy through the passage of Emergency Law of 1963. The law suspended any rule of law, and it enforced by the provincial administration- who acted as the judge, jury and the executioner. Little wonder most the military facilities by and large are concentrated in the Northern Kenya, and indiscipline civil servants are sent to Northern Kenya where they are given hardship allowance. The law was lifted until 1991.
Despite defeating the insurgency, the government did little to address the underlying longstanding grievances that prompted the secession in the first place, and little effort was dedicated at reconciliation.
Regardless of having a huge security presence, the state has been unable to prevent cross border and internal cattle rustling which has over the years been transformed from socially sanctioned cultural activity into a large scale commercial undertaking executed using sophisticated weapons, in some cases conducted with government’s implicit support, as a response to the spiraling insecurity the community, especially those living along the common border self-armed by purchasing easily available arms.
But the government’s response to insecurity involved a mixture of counterintuitive efforts- scorched earth policy of carrying out intermittent security operation, and wrong-headed directives- voluntary disarmament. In order to win the hearts of minds of the population, you need to be seen to be on their side- they will not be keen to provide you with useful intelligence information when you roundup women and children and beat them senselessly. Asking the community to voluntarily disarm without addressing the core reason why they were armed in the first place- lack of the police response in the event of cross border rustling, was ill advised.
The arrival of War on Terror in the Northern frontier has placed the region on the throes of another “militarization” of their problems. However, this uncritical embrace of the counterterrorism project coupled with sending Kenya Defense Forces to Somalia October 2011 has exposed the country’s domestic security underbelly- its inability to police and provide adequate security domestically, especially in Northern Kenya, with severe consequences for the community’s livelihood. Because of systemic and structural problems within the security machinery, as well as lack of sophistication of the country’s security managers in the face of the ever-shifting security ecosystem, counter terrorism has become the lowest hanging fruit and a new arc of security management.
The consequences of intervention in Somalia have been an increasing blowback of insecurity in North Eastern, particularly a series of grenade attacks against government targets, public meeting spaces, and churches. While Al Shabaab has claimed responsibility for some of the grenade attacks, others are likely to be the work of opportunistic criminal groups. Amidst all that the primary impact of insecurity is the people of Northern Kenya who are target by both the government and the Al Shabaab. Additionally, the intervention has been accompanied by increased ethnic profiling of the Somalis, in particular, and Muslims, in general, by the police.