Kenyans are still reeling from the shock of the latest of an increasing spate of terror attacks on civilians across the country, mostly blamed on Somalia’s Al-Shabaab. On Sunday, 1 July, 17 people were killed and over 40 wounded in attacks on two churches in the northern town of Garissa. This follows several similar attacks, including the hellish Nairobi city centre bombing on 28 May, in which one person died and a dozen were wounded. While local and international security agencies collaborate in trying to identify the perpetrators, their modus operandi and modalities for addressing the crisis, a number of crucial factors seem to be the enablers for the worsening attacks. These ought to be addressed urgently in order to more comprehensively address the crisis of rising insecurity in Kenya and the region.
Monitoring the modus operandi of all the attacks since October 2011, when Kenya launched its ‘Operation Linda Nchi` in Somalia, the preference for small arms and light weapons by the attackers has clearly established the prominent role of guns, hand grenades and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). While the proliferation of weapons in Kenya, and indeed the region, is not new, the rising readiness to use them against civilian targets raises many questions as to the nature of the insecurity dynamics that may ensue if the availability of weapons is not checked with utmost urgency.
Addressing the issue of arms proliferation is particularly problematic given the numerous avenues for arms flow into Kenya. The most important challenge bedeviling dealing with arms proliferation in the country is tied to the insecurity in countries such as Somalia. Given the reality of the porous borders and ill-equipped security agencies, it is clear that real success in dealing with the crisis of arms proliferation in Kenya is as much external as it is internal. Without peace and stability in Kenya’s neighbours, it will be impossible to effectively deal with the scourge of arms proliferation.
Closely related to the arms question is the deadly trend of weaponisation of products for everyday use. The alleged role of fertiliser in the 28 May bombing in the Nairobi city centre brought this to the fore. Even though this is also not a new issue, the concurrent proliferation of do-it-yourself information on the Internet, including the availability of various radicalising manuals and videos, makes it easy for non-professionals to produce IEDs and has opened up another dimension of human susceptibility in the face of rising radicalisation. In this prevailing atmosphere in the region through the appeal of groups such as Al Shabaab and the availability of young desperadoes who are ready to join them, the vulnerability of Kenya cannot be overemphasised.
Clearly one of the most worrying aspects of this is the characteristic sporadic nature of the attacks, which makes it extremely difficult for security agencies to anticipate and contain them. The increasing preference for places of worship is also worrying because of the potential it has to set various religious groups against each other and distort the underlying variable for the on-going violence away from what it is now to cycles of inter-religious revenge attacks
It is becoming clear that for any security agency, ‘sporadicity’ is overwhelming and Kenya’s security agencies are no exception. This has sometimes called for the support of external expertise in analysing crime scenes and the nature of attackers. Practically, however, it does imply that a more internationalised or regionalised response is necessary both in pooling together expertise and in tracking the operations of those who have chosen to communicate their discontent through violence.
Given the fluid and amorphous nature of the perpetrators and the crisis, it is also only by increased intelligence gathering across the length and breadth of the country that the situation can be effectively addressed. Given the limited resources and sporadic nature of the attacks, there is the need for the implementation of strategies that urgently rally civilian support in the collection and passing on of information vital for the safety of all Kenyans.
If realistic progress can be made to stop these trends, there is the need for the sources and existing mechanisms of arms acquisition and flows to be more closely and effectively monitored and addressed. Most importantly, so should the demand for SALW’s. Current efforts have largely focused on managing the supply of SALW but the socio-economic factors driving these demands need to be prioritised in national action plans.
Related to that is the need for state security agencies to increase their visibility and patrols so as to enhance, at least, their role in crime prevention. At the moment, the security and visibility of state presence is confined to the major centres. As one moves further from the capital Nairobi, for instance, there is less and less visibility of state security structures, which is a reflection of state deficit. This is not only in terms of security provision, but also the distribution of resources and infrastructure. Such patterns have fomented feelings sympathetic to extremism amongst sections of young people who have no sense of patriotism or attachment to the country. These issues, including high levels of youth unemployment and marginalisation of communities need to be prioritised, properly addressed and effectively managed through inclusive development programmes.
Written by Irene Ndungu, Consultant, Conflict Management and Peacebuilding Division and Andrews Atta-Asamoah, Senior Researcher, Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis Division, ISS Pretoria Office