Spreading panic

Fred­dy will return to Kenya in a while, to con­tin­ue his research. While plan­ning this, we found out that there is a lot of unrest in the coun­try. The day before yes­ter­day there was a bomb attack on a mar­ket in Nairobi.

In Sep­tem­ber last year, there was the attack on the West­gate Mall that got a lot of inter­na­tion­al atten­tion. This attack was claimed by Al-Shabab (‘the youth’), an islamist mil­i­tant group from Soma­lia that is fight­ing with the gov­ern­ment for pow­er. African Union secu­ri­ty forces are deployed in Soma­lia, and Kenyan troops are a big part of that at the moment. This is why Nairo­bi was the tar­get; ter­ror­ist attacks are the last tool for Al-Shabab, that has lost con­trol over strate­gic cities.

Map of Kenya and Somalia

The ques­tion is how the Kenyan gov­ern­ment can react to this ter­ror threat. Bor­der con­trol is weak, and ter­ror­ists can also hide in Nairo­bi itself. Young Kenyan mus­lims can rad­i­calise and be recruit­ed for Al-Shabab. After West­gate, hopes were that the peo­ple and gov­ern­ment would act with restraint, and with­in the rule of law. It looks like that has not been the case.

Last month, a Mus­lim cler­ic was killed, a con­tro­ver­sial per­son who accord­ing to the UN recruit­ed for Al-Shabab. Chances are that this was done by the Anti-Ter­ror Police Unit, a unit with­in the Kenyan secu­ri­ty forces that is fund­ed by the UK and the US. The Kenyan gov­ern­ment denies this. After this mur­der, the police in Nairo­bi detained thou­sands of peo­ple to check their iden­ti­ty: Soma­l­i’s, Mus­lims, any­one liv­ing in the wrong parts of the city.


Pub­lic trans­port is often a tar­get for bombings.

Al-Amin Kimathi, a Kenyan human rights activist, thinks that this heavy-hand­ed approach will ulti­mate­ly back­fire. Young men who have been detained while inno­cent, and hear about the Kenyan secu­ri­ty forces exe­cut­ing peo­ple with­out due process, are very sen­si­tive to ter­ror­ist pro­pa­gan­da. That clos­es the cir­cle and gives Al-Shabab exact­ly what it wanted.