El Wak, Mandera County, Kenya –
Kenya’s plans to reopen the long-closed border with Somalia have hit a roadblock amid ongoing violence orchestrated by the militant group al-Shabaab and calls for increased community policing.
In a recent counterterrorism operation against an al-Shabaab camp in Mandera, northeastern Kenya, Kenyan special forces successfully neutralized 23 fighters. Kenya lost six personnel during the operation, with eight others sustaining injuries.
This counterterrorism operation followed an al-Shabaab ambush on security personnel patrolling the porous Kenya-Somalia border. The ambush left injured at least eight Special Operations Group (SOG) soldiers, but it was eventually repelled. It was just one in a lengthy series of attacks and ambushes that have been on the increase along the Kenya-Somalia border.
Much-needed “community policing”
Addressing the constant insecurity of Kenya’s North Eastern Province, the Interior and National Administration Cabinet Secretary (CS) of Kenya, Prof. Kithure Kindiki, expressed his commitment to defeating terrorism through intelligence surveillance and “community policing”. He emphasized the need to strengthen collaboration between security agencies and local communities.
This might be an issue. It is not a big secret that the relationship between northeastern Kenyan communities and the security forces has not been ideal. The Somali Digest talked to local people, who described how security agents come and round up residents when an al-Shabaab attack occurs in the area. These residents are then subjected to arrests, extrajudicial detentions, and curfews from dawn to dusk.
They are punished for crimes they didn’t commit. This trend certainly doesn’t bring the confidence needed for community policing, which expects monitoring one’s surroundings and reporting suspicious occurrences to security personnel.
Wajir County’s Governor Ahmed Abdullahi also urged locals to actively assist security agencies in their efforts to defeat the militants. Even he stressed the importance of providing information and taking an active role in combating al-Shabaab.
Indeed, community involvement is much necessary for effective countering and preventing violent extremism. But again, the security agencies need to, first of all, stop harassing locals. They need to be there for the people, not against the people.
Border reopening halted
Meanwhile, the Kenya-Somalia tumultuous relationship received yet another blow. Amid the increased violence attributed to al-Shabaab, the reopening of the long-closed border between Kenya and Somalia has been announced to delay for the time being.
The two countries have recently agreed to reopen the border points that have been closed since 2011. The decision originated from a high-level consultation meeting held between Kenyan and Somali interior cabinet ministers and ministers for defence on 15 April. Had the plan gone ahead, Mandera would reopen within 30 days of the announcement, followed by Garissa in 60 days and Lamu in 90 days.
The threat persists amid ATMIS withdrawal from Somalia
Al-Shabaab’s violent activity grew significantly in June. The group has escalated its attacks in North Eastern Kenya and along the coastline, claiming the lives of at least 25 people in a series of terrorist incidents near the Kenya-Somalia border.
The recent surge in terrorism in certain parts of Kenya was emphasized by Secretary Kindiki as well during his visit to the region. He pledged to sustain and win the war against terror while requesting patience and cooperation from the public.
Despite the worsening situation along the Kenya-Somalia border, the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) has recently completed the drawdown of 2,000 troops in compliance with United Nations Security Council resolutions. As part of this process, six Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) were handed over to the Somali National Army (SNA), while one of them — Marka Ayub — was closed down.