African politics, Asymmetrical Warfare, Book reviews, Horn Watch, Kenya Watch, Kenya-Somalia relations, Uncategorized

Confronting Violent Extremism in Kenya Debates, Ideas and Challenges

Immediately after the militarily intervening in Somalia October 2011, Kenya was hit with an increased number of violent attacks domestically. These attacks have been attributed to Al-Shabaab, the Al Qa’ida affiliated Somalia based armed group and its local Kenya cells.

Some of Al Shabaab’s high profile attacks includes the Westgate Shopping Mall attack on September 21, 2013, when four gunmen stormed the shopping mall popular with foreigners and wealthy Kenyans and killed at least 67 people using assault weapons and grenades.

April 2 2015, Al Shabaab again attacked Garissa University College, in Garissa town killing 148 students and injuring many others.

In June 2015, Al Shabaab attacked the Kenya Defense Force’s (KDF) military barrack in Lamu.

In between these attacks, there have been small-scale, yet deadly attacks.

State’s Response

As a response to these attacks, the national government launched a series of counter-terrorism security operations, primarily targeting the “Arc of Terrorism”- North Eastern Kenya, Eastern part of Nairobi with majority Muslims- Eastleigh and Majengo, and coastal Kenya.

However, these operations have been at best ineffective and at worst counter-productive, they have alienated the community and created trust-deficit between the communities and the security agencies. Additionally, there have been evidence the security agencies committed egregious human rights violations during these operations.

However, increasingly, the government is acknowledging to be successful “hard” approach has to be coupled with a “softer” approach.  As part of that, the national government launched a national Countering Violence Extremism (CVE) strategy on 7 September 2016, after years of consultation with various stakeholders.

This was followed by select counties crafting their respective CVE plans through a broadly consultative process with the national government and other none-state actors including human rights groups.

Pivot towards CVE

While there is no universal consensus on the definition of CVE, there is an emerging understanding that, it is a mix of security and development approaches provide an important platform to build bridges across divergent areas of policy and practice that focus on the prevention and mitigation of violence.

In the past security agencies saw themselves as the primary and exclusive actor in security management. In 2014, Cabinet Secretary for Interior the late Major-General Joseph Nkaissery said, “We cannot have civilians commanding uniformed people. It cannot happen, it has never happened anywhere in the world. It is only the activists and civil society which brought this law and it is what is affecting the command structure”.

But with County CVE plans, there has been discernible shift from Nkaissery’s posture to a more inclusive approach involving civilians into security management.

Localising CVE

CVE’s chief gap in Kenya is the lack of locally-generated empirical evidence to guide public policy. Most of the policy interventions crafted or suggested are hardly anchored in best practises and accompanied by tested evidence. Some verge on derogation of parts of constitution, especially those relating to individual and group freedom.

Confronting Violent Extremism in Kenya, Debates, Ideas and Challenges a compendium produced by Centre for Human Rights and Policy studies, a Kenyan think tank, is arguably the first locally produced multi-disciplinary output combining theory and praxis, in dealing with CVE.

The Horn of Africa is beset with incessant and multiplying cycles of conflict, especially Post the Cold War. However, most of the CVE discussions in Kenya hardly acknowledge the linkages between Kenya and the Horn of Africa.

Gendering CVE

 Masculine warrior culture in security discourse has exclude many women from peace and security arena, when they are involved, they cast as agency-less victims. In Countering Violent Extremism: A Gender Perspective, Nerida Nthamburi disabuses the notion women as just victims she argues they are also perpetrators of violence. In most groups, women not only play the traditional “soft” roles of cooking, and serving as sext slaves, they take part in actual combat.

Understanding of the duality of the role of women in extremist groups will help in policy and programming.

Samar Al-Bulushi & Mohammed Daghar, Rehabilitation or Indefinite Detention? A Critical Examination of an Emerging Approach to ‘CVE’  provides a good sequel, but further atomizes the role of men in violence extremism; “young Muslim men become homogenised figures who are interested only in jihad and politics; their private lives, rendered inconsequential, are abstracted from their social, political and religious commitments, and from broader historical processes”

The chapter also is a useful examination of CVE’s discourse that has been uncritically embraced spurning a subgenre of experts servicing multi-national, regional organizations and national and county government, all working on CVE. Regardless of the fact that what CVE aspires to achieve is not new, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, (DDR) in post-conflict situation was designed precisely to address what CVE is intending to do.

CVE’s long term success is predicated on empirical evidence, participation of local communities and customised context-specific intervention. Thus, Centre for Human Rights and Policy studies’, Confronting Violent Extremism in Kenya, Debates, Ideas and Challenges is a useful contribution to the CVE academic and public policy discussion.

One quibble, the chapters started as an inverted pyramid, starting from the macro and distilling down to the micro, but changed somewhere along the line; Paul Goldsmith Horn of Africa’s regional context was correct, but that should have been followed by “Operation Sanitize Eastleigh”: Rethinking Interventions to Counter Violent Extremism by Kamau Wairuri because, in some ways, it shows the limits of Counter-Terrorism (CT) and hence CVE. That should have been followed by Kenya: Fighting Terrorism Within and Without the Law by  Ken Nyaundi. Countering Violent Extremism: A Gender Perspective – Nerida Nthamburi and Online Radicalisation and Recruitment: Al-Shabaab Luring Strategies with New Technology – Fathima Azmiya Badurdeen, should follow each other since they are addressing specific issues.

Countering Violent Extremism: Lessons from Lamu, Kenya by Patrick Mutahi and Nathaniel Kabala and Rehabilitation or Indefinite Detention? A Critical Examination of an Emerging Approach to ‘CVE’- Samar Al-Bulushi and Mohammed Daghar and Returnees and Justice: Alternative Justice System as a Mechanism for Amnesty in Kwale County of Kenya – Steve Ouma Akoth, should have been of similar cluster.

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African politics, Asymmetrical Warfare, Horn Watch, Kenya Watch

The Fear Industrial complex

Kenyatta, the Father of the Nation?

Kenyatta’s well-cultivated myth of the unquestioned “father of the Nation” was severely tested when on 25th January 1964 African soldiers at the Lanet Barracks mutinied over discrimination by their expatriates over salaries. The African members of the Kenya Rifle broke the armory in Lanet Barracks and demanded a forum with Kenyatta to discuss their grievances. To the Mutineers, Independence heralded a new era where the Africans will determine the African destiny. Further, Kenyatta’s personality as a freedom fighter, just like much of independent African leadership, was built around fierce anti-imperialism rhetoric. And the soldiers thought he will be sympathetic to their plight, instead to resolve the problem sought British’s help, and decision, led to a series of agreements with the British by which the former colonial power agreed to provide military support in the event of any domestic or foreign threat to Kenyatta’s government. For Kenyatta, the attempted mutiny became a perfect bogeyman deployed conveniently against any domestic opponents. Kenyatta elevated the presidency by making it the be all and end all, and effectively placing it above the law. To consolidate his rule, Kenyatta employed five strategies; 1) at the party level; he purged ruling party KANU; off any dissenting voices he considered alternative centers of power. 2) He established a firm grip over the economy through strategic patronage using members of his ethnic group. 3) He deployed the full force of security and the intelligence to address both real and imagined threats. 4) He instrumentalised the liberation struggle by crafting an alternative convenient national discourse and ruling philosophy using his “gift of garb”, especially, the Swahili language. 5) He used the law. This became the template for all the subsequent administration.

Moi, Fuata Nyayo za Kenyatta

Just like Kenyatta used the 1964 Lanet Mutiny to consolidate his power, Moi used the August 1 1982 failed coup to shed his “Mister Nice” image. After the coup, detention and arrest of pro-reform movement became rampant any perceived threat real or imagine was brutally suppressed. And with it, any residual veneer of Moi being different from Kenyatta was shattered. From there on, the state laid down the marker- reform was interpreted as an underhand attempt at state capture. But Mwakenya, a progressive movement largely aligned with the progressive left was undeterred. They started organizing in the urban areas and university halls. But when the state got wind of it, they ruthlessly pursued them. Moi ruled by fiat and fear.

Simultaneously, just like Kenyatta, Moi cultivated an endearingly myth of Baba wa Taifa– Father of the Nation. And a larger than life personality was created around this myth that was celebrated in songs, institutions- schools, hospitals, universities etc, and roads named after him. Moi was always at pain to present himself as a man with his hands on the pulse of the man on the street.

Avenues of challenging the status quo were formally closed through a constitutional change. Even within the ruling party dissent was not tolerated. The party established a severe disciplinary committee to streamline the party’s operations. Unlike Kenyatta who cared little about the political party, to Moi, the party was another avenue of control-a fulcrum around which he consolidated his rule, although it was by no means the only one.  When all avenues were closed, the pro-reform movement went underground and some went into exile.

The West tolerated Moi’s domestic repression because Kenya was in the Western bloc. But the end of the Cold War changed the Western countries calculus regarding Kenya as a vanguard against communism, signaling the end of an era of tolerating Moi’s malfeasance. After years of refusing to allow multiparty despite relentless pressure, arguing, multiparty will deepen ethnic division and violence- a self-fulfilling prophecy because all the subsequent violence were state engineered, Moi begrudgingly accepted the introduction of multiparty. But before accepting multiparty Moi ensured he has created his ruling party, KANU’s exclusive electoral blocks through forceful evictions of potential opposition population in the Rift Valley and coastal Kenya, the two places that became synonymous with electoral violence.

Kenyatta II, the post-Westgate warrior?

Even ardent Kenyatta’s supporters will gladly admit his election was a protest vote against external intervention, especially the ICC. Many admit their vote was not for Kenyatta, but against the ICC. And by joining with William Ruto, Kenyatta coasted to victory on the crest of anti-ICC rhetoric. Kenyatta has always been cast as a child of privilege; his father was Kenya’s first president. And he was not “presidential” enough. But even trenchant anti-Uhuru would be hard pressed not to admire his presidential performance during the Westgate attack. Since the West gate attack Kenyatta’s statesmanship has given way to reflexive criminalization of spaces for dissent. Since his elections campaign sprung from protest against external interference, he has turned the same rage machine domestically on the two institutions that are not in his exclusive ambit- the media and the civil society. But these institutions especially the civil society faced scathing part of his election campaign rhetoric. They were called the evil society; they received external money to prevent his accession to power. In parliament Kenyatta has super majority, which has reduced the opposition into cyclic impotence outburst. Free of parliamentary censure Kenyatta turned on the media and the civil society by proposing laws that will cripple them financially. Part of the new media law proposed special quasi government body that will police the media and impose prohibitive fines are the major thrust of the media bill that was passed 5 December 2013. However, the NGO bill failed to garner the requisite number in parliament. If passed the NGO bill would have placed them under de facto government management and capped international funding for NGOs at 15% of their budgets, notably hindering a key source of cash for many rights groups and anti-corruption watchdogs. This was designed to hit the NGO’s where it matters most. The bill was defeated 83 to 73 votes, with eight lawmakers abstaining, marking the first significant defeat for the ruling Jubilee coalition.


Last week Jamal Osman of British Channel 4 had exclusive access to Al Shabaab, the Islamist militant group based in Somalia, including access to a training and graduation ceremony.

Al Shabaab emerged not as a rag tag semi-informed group, but a group with sophisticated understanding of the duality of the state; brutal efficiency in employing force and in the second order the ability to undertake state’s benign function- collecting garbage and ensuring pharmacies stock unexpired drugs. In popular state formation theories what distinguishes or indeed make a state a state is its ability to project the use of force. By being the prominent purveyor of violence the state increases the cost of anyone who wants to challenge the state violently, and also provide incentive for a group(s) to accept to be part of the state. Since its collapse, Somalia’s ability to function as a state and project the use of force has been outsourced to external actors. As a result – nature abhors vacuum, Al Shabaab or previously warlords filled in.

The group’s overarching understanding that the center of gravity for its survival rests with the citizens and not the state or external actors explains their durability; as long as they can provide security- because they are biggest source of violence anyway, and garbage is collected in areas they control, buys them legitimacy albeit through fear.

While all external actors crave to be loved, Al- Shabaab thrives on fear. In understanding Somali’s, one has to struggle with the paradox of being at once a pastoral democrats- ready to negotiate some issues , and an unflinching republican- some relations like family are nonnegotiable. Al- Shabaab concentrated on the later part- Somali’s can trenchantly disagree over their clan politics, but regarding their sovereignty both personal and collectively, they will never negotiate- they are unrepentant nationalists, because of the state’s absence, rhetorically and sometimes symbolically Al Shabaab acts as the vanguard and the only reliable custodian of Somali nationalism and identity.

This is further entrenched by the fact most of the post-1991 government’s have not been organically constituted – they have been externally midwifed, makes Al Shabaab a formidable custodians of the Somalia identity.

While Al Shabaab has that luxury (Monopoly), the Somalia government that has to juggle so many contradicting and often competing interests- the Turks who would want to show Somalia as the testing ground for International Islamic brotherhood through humanitarian lens, the Europeans and the Americans who have mortal fear of radicalization of Somalia youth immigrants, the African Union who want to prove the dictum Africa’s solutions to Africa’s problem. Without any leverage, the Somalia president/Prime Minister is left at the mercy of all these and many actors. All the while Al Shabaab is capable of being run like a well-oiled machine The Western countries have by default reduced their footprints and focus on counterterrorism. This is guided by rational calculations; limited footprints means limited domestic political consequences, inoculate themselves against accusation of invaders. But this singular focus on terrorism by the West is akin to attempting to address the symptoms rather than the cause of Somalia’s crisis- classic Band-Aid solution.


Amisom Somalia


Turkish Somalia



The African countries are enamored by the African solution to the Africa’s problems, but they suffer from the naivety since we are fellow Africans, Somalis will welcome us with flowers at the gate of Mogadishu. Just like any other modern intervention, the window between an intervention is regarded as liberation and invasion is small, and in the case of the AMISOM they need to grasp that reality urgently, otherwise, their genuine effort of winning over Afro-pessimist could be undone. In all, everyone is in Somalia for their own success rather than Somalis, and that explains why Al Shabaab succeeds and other fail.

Another group that most external actors could learn from is the Khat/Miraa distributors in Somalia. Since the collapse of the state in 1991, Miraa/Khat- a mild stimulant popular in East Africa and grown in Eastern part of Kenya has been exported to Somalia war or peace. It is distributed more efficiently than any food aid. This efficiency beats what any economist envisages when they speak about the virtues of the unseen hand of the market. This is despite the Al Shabaab banning Miraa as Haram- forbidden.

The group that can survive Al Shabaab has an enduring lesson for all. The Miraa’s distribution network, their resiliency could be a case study on how to operate in a hostile environment. May be it is about time we undertake an unbiased case study of Al Shabaab and Miraa/Khat distributors on how to establish a state and an efficient distribution network of economic and public goods- the key pre-requisite of a state.

Asymmetrical Warfare, Horn Watch, Kenya Watch

Al Shabaab and the Miraa distributors could hold the key to resolving Somalia’s crisis.

Asymmetrical Warfare, Horn Watch, Kenya Watch, Uncategorized

Kenya needs a new Somalia policy

Kenya’s intervention in Somalia in 2011 was the inauguration a militaristic robust foreign policy, and it came with obvious costs.  The intervention was the final chapter of President Kibaki’s foreign policy record and the rationale, goal, mission, and exit plan were never clearly articulated. In fact, it is a measure of how poorly the whole operation was planned, that Kenyans were informed that the government had sent troops into Somalia, not by the president, not by the minister for defense, but by the minister for internal affairs, on a weekend.

The Al Shabaab bogeymen doctrine means, you can say anything and everything about Al Shabaab to whip public opinion on your side, and get the West’s unstinting support. The initial stated goal of the intervention was the pursuit of Al Shabaab, who allegedly kidnapped aid workers in Northern Kenya, and foreign tourists along the coast. This was a plausible reason for going into Somalia, on the face of it.

But the intervention has degenerated into a charade resembling an occupation rather than the liberation of Southern Somalia from the yolk of Al Shabaab.  It has done little to secure Kenya from Al Shabaab’s attacks- the attacks, in fact, escalated after Kenya went into Somalia, revealing Kenya’s (in) security underbelly; its inability to sufficiently police its borders.

Since the intervention, the blowback has been evident – there is a deteriorating security situation along the border with Somalia, and in Nairobi there have been a series of grenade attacks. Whilst some of these have been the work of opportunistic criminal and business groups, others like the attack on the church in Garissa, bear the hallmark of Al Shabaab (and have been claimed as such through their twitter handle.)

Additionally, the events in the port city of Kismayo revealed that all along Kenya wasn’t interested in containing Al Shabaab, but was interested in establishing in sphere of influence via the formation of Jubaland- a satellite state, remote controlled from Nairobi. This move is counterproductive for several reasons: Ethiopia will not continence such a move because the region is largely occupied by the Ogadens, who are waging a rebellion in southern Ethiopia. This will be akin to providing them a rear from where they can launch attacks against Ethiopia. The establishment of Jubaland will also weaken Mogadishu, currently trying to delicately balance several overlapping and competing interests.  The emergence of another center of power with allegiance to Nairobi will hugely undermine the long-term stability of the country.

The winner from this standoff is Al Shabaab, who at least, rhetorically, projects a pan Somalia image that subordinates divisive clan interests. More significantly, the tug of war between Nairobi and Mogadishu, which has been exemplified by the murmurs and planned demonstrations against Kenya’s Defense Forces (KDF), and the recent report of illegal charcoal sold by the KDF, increases resentment towards Kenya.

Further, acute internal contradictions within the group are of greater existential danger than any external interventions – the pan-Somali nationalism espoused by Aweys and the transnational jihadist wing of Godane (nom de guerre of ‘Abu Zubeir’) was difficult to reconcile. The recent departure of Sheikh Aweys (regarded as the father of the jihadi movement in Somalia), the alleged killing of Ibrahim al-Afghani and the fleeing of the group’s spokesman Mukhtar Robbow, reveals a serious power struggle within the group. But what is going on in Kismayo gives the group a second chance, similar to the 2006 Ethiopian invasion. The last chapter of this struggle was last week’s killing of Alabama-born al-Shabaab commander Omar Hammami, known as Abu Mansoor al-Amriki or “the American”. With this Godane, Afghanistan-trained, has completely taken over Al Shabaab and the transnational Jihadi is the next phase of the group’s operation. The attack oo the West Gate shopping mall- the symbol of Kenya’s economic rise and security was a retaliation for the group losing their economic lifeline-the port of Kismayo, their message is; you took over Kisamyo, we shall hit you where it hurts most.

Overall, however, there is a need for recalibrating Kenya’s Somalia policy; staying the course exclusively will hardly inoculate Kenya from future attacks, but a long term policy that combines political efforts- supporting the present Somalia government, combined with a more enhanced border patrol, tracking the money sources and transfers, immigration reform and fundamental security sector reform, will be more fruitful than relying purely on a military solution. Further, a measured response anchored in law will go a long way in discrediting Al Shabaab as opposed to a robust military response.

Presently, there is an understandable palpable sense of anger towards Somalis and Somali alike in particular, and Muslims in general that precedes these attacks, and, this will heighten it especially from the security forces. But ethnically profiling Somalis could make human intel regarding Somalia incredibly difficult, and strained relations between Kenyans and Somalis will not auger well for stability. The Somali/Muslim leadership and the national and local leadership need to have interdenominational outreach mechanisms to diffuse such tension. Muslim leaders also need to come out and take a stand about this incredibly dangerous situation because Al Shabaab’s recruitment has transcended the traditional Muslim- Northern Kenya and Coastal communities, into other communities.

Asymmetrical Warfare, Horn Watch, Kenya-Somalia relations

A new Al Shabaab Video

On the Eid day which marks the end of month of Ramadhan Al Shabaab through its media wing, Al Kataib, released the video, “the path to paradise”. The almost 40 mins video chronicles the lives of young recruits from Minnesota who joined Al Shabaab.

The major theme of the video revolves around the evils the west is perpetrating on earth, and call on every Muslims to participate, as a religious duty in defeating the Kufars- infidels.