Kenyans more united as war against terror gains strength

First batch of bodies of Kenya Defence Force soldiers killed in an attack on their camp in somalia arrive at Wilson airport on January 18, 2016, a day after an attack by the Al-Qaeda-linked militants on an African Union base (AMISOM) in southwest Somalia.  PHOTO JOHN MUCHUCHA

When Gaga Balozi was 11 years old, he began to express a desire of becoming a policeman someday, a desire that was later demonstrated by the number of times he responded to calls for recruitment to the Kenya Police Service.

His mother, Zeituni Hamadi (not her real name) a resident of Kaloleni, Kilifi County, alleges  her son made 10 unsuccessful attempts and it was at that point in April last year that he made a decision that changed his life and that of his family.

“When they said that he had not passed, I think out of anger, my son said the system was giving him no choice but to cross the border. He said that he had resisted a life of crime but he had reached the end,” the distraught mother narrates.

That was the last time that Hamadi saw Balozi (not his real name).

GOT ARRESTED

“People told me that he got arrested but until now I do not know whether he crossed the border into Somalia or is still in this country,” she says.

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Whether out of frustration with the system, radical and extreme religious beliefs, poverty or mere curiosity, the Al-Shabaab terror group has lived up to its name, which in Arabic means youth, attracting thousands of Kenyan youths.

“The profile is mostly similar, that of poverty-stricken, desperate and overzealous youths who have become the enemy within sympathising with terrorists and actively participating in terror attacks,” says Simon Ndetei, the Officer Commanding Diani Police Station, Kwale County.

Police statistics show at least a quarter of all Al Shabaab’s 7,000 to 9,000 forces are Kenyans even as an estimated 4,000 Kenyan troops in the 22,000-strong African Union force continue to wage war against the Al-Shabaab in Somalia.

Hassan Mwanzugwe, an assistant chief in Diani, explains that unemployed youths are vulnerable and tend to grow increasingly sympathetic to terror groups.

Government statistics show every year at least 500,000 young people enter the job market and of the 19.8 million of the working age population, at least 70 per cent of them are young, aged 18 to 34 years, with about 65 per cent of these being unemployed.

Crime reports released by police show that in every two crimes reported to the police, one has been committed by a young person aged 16 to 25 years.

As a result, terrorism remains a high priority issue of concern that necessitated military action where the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF), under the operation Linda Nchi, formally joined forces with African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom), in 2011, pursuing Shabaab into Southeastern Somalia.

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A move that the terror group perceived as a declaration of war and there have been consequences.

The International Crisis Group (ICG), an international NGO that works to resolve and prevent deadly conflict states that between 2011 and 2014, “it [Shaabab] has built a formidable and secretive support infrastructure in Kenya. A tiny, but highly-radicalised, close-knit and secretive Salafi Jihadi fringe which looks up to Al Shabaab as a source of emulation.”

Kenya has previously suffered devastating terror attacks dating back to the 1980 bombing of the Norfolk Hotel where 20 people lost their lives and more than 80 were injured.

But the most devastating to date has been the 1998 bombing of the United States embassy where at least 200 people died and hundreds were injured.

In both attacks, Kenya suffered for perceived links to international agendas.

In 1980, Kenya was accused of showing support to the Israeli while they were rescuing their hostages from Uganda and so the attack was targeted at the Israelis.

The second attack targeted Americans.

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“But things have changed and now Kenya is in the line of fire. Terror gangs have been reacting to the Linda Nchi Operation going on in Somalia and many lives have been lost,” says Ndetei.

According to statistics by the Kenya National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) at least 900 lives have been lost to terror attacks since 2000 and the Al Shabaab has mostly taken responsibility.

As many as 6,200 people, including those affected by the US embassy bombing have been injured in terror attacks.

The attacks escalated between 2011 and 2014 where at least 370 people were killed and over 1,075 others injured which translates to one person being killed every three days.

Other Police statistics show that there have been at least 100 successful terror attacks since 2011.

“Out of the 47 counties these attacks have affected nine of them, with Garissa accounting for about 32 per cent of all the attacks, followed by Nairobi with 22 per cent of the attacks,” says Hussein Gullet of the National Muslim Leaders Forum in charge of Northern Kenya.

“Mombasa follows with 16 per cent, Mandera with 11 per cent and then Lamu and Wajir with 9 per cent each,” he adds.

These counties have been vulnerable due to their proximity to the Somalia border or the Indian Ocean.

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But NCTC has further revealed that there are more counties where youths are beginning to show evidence of radicalisation.

But Gerald Mongare of the National Counter Terrorism Agency explains that terrorism has also made Kenyans more united, “there is an increased sense of nationalism.”

“There is more public awareness on terrorism, detection and counter terrorism measures have become more successful and terrorists are the ones going into hiding,” Mongare observes.

The economic toll to the country is astounding. Government statistics show that at least Sh16 billion has been invested in the war against terror.

This is money spent on various police equipment and medical insurance for Kenyan troops in Somalia since 2013 among other necessities.

Government’s intended plan to build a wall along part of the estimated 700km border with Somalia is likely to cost as much as 1.7 trillion and still not comprehensively address the main drivers of terrorism.

“This is money that should be used to provide Kenyans with more basic needs like health, education and better infrastructure,” says Agatha Njoki, a peace and conflict expert in Nairobi.

Destruction of property, infrastructure and livelihoods has affected thousands of households and many are still piecing together the broken pieces of their lives as was witnessed when the Garissa University terror attack survivors marked the second anniversary on April.

But in the face of this devastating statistics the Government remains confident that the country has not lost its grip on the fight against terrorism.

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