Mandera County, Kenya –
Last week, the Governor of Kenya’s northeastern Mandera County, Mohamed Adan Khalif, revealed that 60% of his county has al-Shabaab’s presence. He made the remarks when speaking to the media during a security conference on tackling the jihadist group. The frank admission sparked consternation across the public in both Kenya and Somalia, pushing the Governor to clarify his statement a day later. It appears that the clarification was not successful.
“I can confirm that in our counties, a huge chunk of the area is now being partially controlled by al-Shabaab. … Al-Shabaab presence and sightings are more than 60% of the Mandera County,” Mr Khalif said last Thursday, making headlines in practically all regional media outlets. The Governor also said the county administration could not provide services due to al-Shabaab’s operations and is only confined to the county headquarters.
The Governor made the controversial remarks when speaking to journalists during a security event in Kenya’s Wajir County. After being quoted by numerous East African news outlets, which did not hide shock by this frank revelation of the security reality in Kenya’s Northeast, Mr Khalif rushed to clarify his words.
Most media outlets interpreted Mr Khalif’s remarks as warning that al-Shabaab controls 60% of Mandera County, which, according to Mr Khalif, was misquoted and portrayed inaccurately.
“It has come to my attention that my statement regarding Al-Shabaab’s presence in Mandera at the Kenya Somalia Borderlands conference has been inaccurately portrayed by the media. During the conference, I explicitly stated that ‘Al-Shabaab presence and sightings are more than 60%,'” the Governor repeated his original quote.
Media misquote or play on words?
“Regrettably, the media misquoted me, falsely claiming that I said ‘Al-Shabaab controls 60% of Mandera county.’ This misrepresentation is entirely false and misleading,” he added, sparking backlash under the social media post. Some commenters pointed out that, in terms of substance, there is no difference between “al-Shabaab in control of more than 60% of Mandera County” and “al-Shabaab present in more than 60% of Mandera County”, accusing the Governor of just playing with words.
Both cases mean that al-Shabaab exerts considerable power in the region, and the county government is unable to counter the group’s influence and provide necessary services to residents. Others pointed out that even if al-Shabaab’s presence were just 1% of the Mandera County territory, even that would mean a serious threat to the local people. Most commenters, therefore, found his defence attempt baseless.
Conference on al-Shabaab
Last week, the Wajir security meeting gathered regional commissioners and county intelligence committee members from four counties situated along the Kenya-Somalia border: Wajir, Mandera, Garissa and Lamu. They discussed security issues in the region, especially those related to the al-Shabaab threat. The attendees emphasised, among other measures, the need to strengthen cooperation and intelligence sharing among security agencies to respond quickly to emerging threats.
The conference has been convened in response to the increased malicious activities of al-Shabaab in the Kenya-Somalia borderlands. The jihadist group has been targeting both civilians and security personnel in the affected counties almost daily, delaying the planned reopening of the Kenya-Somalia border and pushing Nairobi to send security reinforcements to the Northeast region.