Al-Shabab Threat Rising in Kenya’s Northeast

Friday marked two years since al-Shabab terrorists attacked the Dusit D2 hotel in central Nairobi, killing 22 people. The anniversary comes as Kenya's Mandera, a county bordering Somalia, is seeing increased attacks from the Islamist militants amid fears they are gaining control of the area.

The county's governor, Ali Roba, said Friday he can no longer be silent on the militant group's activities in his area.

"Why do I keep quiet when out of 295 primary schools, 129 are not literally open? How do I keep quiet when no private investment is happening? In Mandera, the only source of employment is the county government because of insecurity. How do I keep quiet when we cannot attract special skilled personnel to come and work for us in the hospitals and other departments from other counties because of insecurity?" he said.

Last year, the teachers service commission that hires and deploys teachers withdrew them from Mandera County due to insecurity. And Monday, al-Shabab militants attacked a bus in Mandera and kidnapped three people, according to government security officials.

Roba alleges al-Shabab fighters have access to half of its county roads, an allegation denied by Kenyan security officials.

"I, as the Mandera County governor not any other ordinary person mandate to run the affairs of this county, do categorically and authoritatively state that more than 50 percent of these counties' roads are under the control of al-Shabab," he said. "Now, you can choose to conveniently say it wasn't me, it's not there and that story is not true. There are isolated cases. Ever since I made that report, we've had four incidents of terror attacks. We are discussing areas that al-Shabab have never previously accessed."

Abdullahi Halakhe, a security expert in the Horn of Africa, says Mandera County has many security challenges that need to be addressed.

"It's not just al-Shabab, we have seen few running battles a few months ago but we are speaking of a region that generally has historical insecurity issues, be it clan dynamics or even politics from elsewhere spilling into (Mandera), so I think Mandera then becomes really important problem that need to be solved," he said.

In late December, clashes between forces of Somalia's federal government and Somalia's Jubaland state spilled over the border into Kenya.

Richard Tuta, a security expert based in Nairobi, says the government will need to work with the community to overcome the insecurity.

"It takes a network to beat a network, so what is required is to change the approach and engage more on the community," Tuta said. "Remember this is an asymmetric war — you are fighting people who do not have a physical address, who do not have a uniform, people who do not follow the rules of engagement. So, the best thing is to engage more on the community leadership and the public itself."

Al-Shabab has carried out attacks in Kenya for a decade, ever since Kenya sent troops into Somalia to assist the African Union mission mandated to protect Somalia's government and population from the militant threat.

Source: Voice of America