“Corruption at multiple levels” is undermining Kenya’s efforts to prevent cross-border attacks by Al-Shabaab, the US State Department says in a new report on terrorism trends worldwide.
But the assessment is partly positive in regard to Kenya, calling the country “a strong counter-terrorism partner of the United States throughout East Africa.”
The US lauds progress it says Kenya is making in strengthening its institutions, particularly the judiciary, which “continued to demonstrate independence” last year.
The report notes, however, that “allegations of corruption in the judiciary, including in the High Court, have persisted.”
The Trump administration’s first global terrorism assessment criticises Kenyan government shortcomings in terms similar to those used by the Obama-era State Department.
“Border security remained a challenge for Kenya due to vast, sparsely populated border regions and largely uncontrolled land borders,” the review finds.
“This was exacerbated by security agency and other government resource gaps and corruption at multiple levels.”
Initiatives aimed at preventing terrorists from entering Kenya were further limited by inconsistent or minimal use of monitoring tools, including biometric screening, at some border posts and airports, the US observes.
Kenya’s Financial Reporting Centre is building its monitoring capacity, the report adds, but notes that the government has not appointed a permanent director.
This financial intelligence unit is also hampered by inadequate staffing and the lack of an electronic system for analysing suspicious transactions.
In Somalia, the federal and regional governments are still proving incapable of preventing most Al-Shabaab attacks, the State Department says.
While the national army and the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) were able to maintain their hold on key rural areas in the south-central part of the country, these security forces “were unable to degrade Al-Shabaab’s ability to plan and execute attacks,” the report states.
The Islamist militant organisation is said to have “several thousand members,” the US says.
The insurgents’ resilience partly reflects their “leveraging of clan politics and exploitation of poor economic conditions to recruit fighters,” the State Department adds.
The Somalia section of the 2016 review offers a generally pessimistic perspective despite what it views as progress on the military front and in security operations in major population centres.
“Somalia remained a safe haven for terrorists who used their relative freedom of movement to obtain resources and funds, recruit fighters, and plan and mount operations within Somalia and in neighbouring countries, mainly in Kenya,” the report concludes.
The number of attacks carried out by Al-Shabaab sharply increased last year, as did fatalities associated with them, the State Department reports.
A total of 359 Shabaab attacks and 740 deaths resulting from them were counted in 2016, compared to 241 attacks and 659 fatalities in 2015.
Official corruption also hinders efforts to block terrorists from entering both Tanzania and Uganda, the US says.
“Border security in Tanzania remained a challenge for a variety of reasons, including corruption; the lack of a dedicated border security unit in the Tanzania Police Force; and vast, porous borders,” the State Department says.
In language almost identical to that in its Kenya section, the report cites “corruption at all levels of government” as a factor impeding Uganda’s ability to respond to terrorism threats.
In addition, the Ugandan government and members of the long-ruling party “at times labelled domestic political opposition as ‘terrorism’ and individuals challenging government or party interests as ‘security threats’”.
Such accusations have the potential to divert attention and resources from focusing on “core counter-terrorism goals,” the State Department says.
The Ugandan Police Force is “highly motivated,” the report observes, but points to limitations in UPF anti-terrorism operations due to insufficient funding and training.
“Further,” the State Department remarks, “UPF officials were susceptible to corruption due to low and inconsistent pay.”
Mobile money systems in Uganda can be abused to commit “a multitude of crimes, including terrorism,” the report adds.
While Uganda’s Anti-Money Laundering Act requires financial institutions to conduct comprehensive customer due diligence, it does not put the same requirements on mobile money transfers.”
Hassan Issack Ibrahim has been the force behind the hijacking of miraa vehicles on the Kenya-Somalia border.