Kenya: New tactics of al-Shabaab and the answer of the Kenyan government

Kenya: New tactics of al-Shabaab and the answer of the Kenyan government

13.04.2015. The latest attack of the terrorist group al-Shabaab at the university campus in the Kenyan town of Garissa proved that al-Shabaab has acquired new tactics which poses a serious threat to the unity of Kenyan society and good relations between the dominant religious groups in Kenya - Muslims and Christians. The answer of the government should be an increase of transparency of their operations and respect for human rights of Muslim population. Otherwise radicalization of Muslims and hostility between the religious groups can increase.


Al-Shabaab in Kenya and its new tactics

Al-Shabaab is a terrorist group which was established after the system of Somali Supreme Islamic Courts Union in Somalia was defeated by Ethiopia and allied forces in 2007.  It operates mostly in Somalia and neighbouring countries. In 2007 the African Union, with the approval of the United Nations, established a peacekeeping operation AMISOM with the aim to fight against al-Shabaab and to stabilize the country.


In 2012 Kenya joined AMISOM and since then the frequency of attacks carried out by al-Shabaab on its territory has intensified. Most of the attacks have taken place in the north-east of the country and on the coast what has caused serious loss of profit from tourism. The objects of attacks have been very various – Christian churches, government institutions, police stations, bars but also moderate Muslim clerics. The last two big attacks – the attack on the Westgate shopping mall in 2013 and the latest attack at Garissa university campus on 2nd April 2015 were different from the previous. In both attacks al-Shabaab divided Christians and Muslims and directed their violence at Christians. In their statement the terrorist group also stressed that they will carry on with the attacks and will try to expel Christians from north Kenya as they, in their view, occupy Muslim lands.


The aim of this new tactic is quite clear – al-Shabaab wants to create divisions between Christians and Muslims in Kenya and tries to identify the north of the country as an exclusively Muslim land.


Muslims living in the north of the country for now strongly oppose the violent campaign of al-Shabaab and radical Islam is foreign to them. After the Garissa attack Muslim clerics in Kenya were among the first who condemned the attack. Muslims also took place in the protest against terrorism and al-Shabaab and called for the unity of the society and friendship between the religions. 


Security forces in Kenya

After the last deadly attack in Garissa, in which 148 students were killed, a huge wave of criticism of the security sector arose. Security forces of Kenya have been for a long time criticized for their lack of transparency, corruption and inflexibility. But, what is not stressed so often, the security sector has also problems with respecting human rights, mostly of the Muslim population. Reports from the Human Rights Watch often stated that police raids on the mosques very often lead to unexplained killings and torture. Activities of the anti-terrorist forces are also focused mostly on young ethnic Somalis living in Kenya. These harsh practices of the army and the police can create grievances and strengthen the existing mistrust of the Muslim population towards the government. Thus anti-terrorist police force can be counterproductive and even motivate young Kenyan Muslims to join the radical group.


Kenya´s answer

It is difficult to identify what the Kenyan government should do to overcome another huge attack in the future. Of course, reform of the security sector is essential. But this reform should not be focused solely on the fight against corruption and should concentrate also on possibilities how to develop cooperation with Muslim communities in the north of the country. Good relations and cooperation with Somalis might be a more effective tactic in identifying possible Islamist radicals than violence. The government could also consider the direct support of cooperation of Muslims and Christians in the north of the country either by creating grants supporting common cooperative projects or by creating local mixed Christian-Muslim watchdog forces.


Government has to stop its harsh actions against the Muslim population. Otherwise, by its counterproductive activities, it can contribute to the radicalization of young Muslims on its own land and could face not only external but also internal terrorism threat in the future.


Mária Kučerová