Kenya’s security dilemma in the face of terror attacks

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By Rashid Abdi Special Correspondent

Posted  Saturday, April 12   2014 at  16:58

In Summary

  • There are growing murmurs over the efficacy of the operation and fears it could potentially complicate Kenya’s counter-terrorism efforts.
  • Pressure is mounting on the government to change tack and to put the operation on a less aggravating course.

In the past two weeks, Kenya has launched one of its most extensive security crackdowns in a decade across its major cities and towns in response to a huge crime wave and an upsurge in terrorist attacks.

Thousands of National Police Service and General Service Unit personnel have been mobilised to conduct “stop-and-search” operations and, if necessary, use lethal force to disrupt terrorist cells and crime gangs.

Thousands of people, mostly Somalis, have been rounded up and are now interned at the Kasarani Sports Stadium on the edge of the capital.

The operation, which coincides with the governing Jubilee Coalition’s one year anniversary and widely framed as the Uhuru administration’s set-piece policy response to insecurity, has elicited a mixed responses, though most of the public appears supportive.

Despite protests and anger from the Somali community, Muslims and human rights organisations, the authorities seem intent to press on with crackdown.

Speaking at a pass-out parade of hundreds of new police officers at the Kiganjo Police Training College in central Kenya on April 4, President Uhuru Kenyatta issued one his sternest warnings to date, hinting that even more robust operations were in the offing to deal with the country’s mounting security problems.

“A lot has been said and we will not talk any more. All we are requesting is for Kenyans to back us in whatever were are going to do,” he said. “Extremists prefer death and destruction than discussion and compromise. They will be dealt with ruthlessly and within the law…”

Judging from the tone of the official utterances, the scale and tempo of the security swoop is likely to be sustained in the coming weeks, and may be ratcheted up and extended.

A number of Somali and Muslim politicians and other community leaders have in recent days stepped up their opposition to the operation, partly in response to the groundswell of popular anger in Muslim-dominated areas of Nairobi and Mombasa.

Some of the MPs leading the charge include leading lights in the governing Jubilee Coalition, including the parliamentary Majority Leader Aden Duale — a situation likely to strain the alliance’s cohesion.

There are growing murmurs over the efficacy of the operation and fears it could potentially complicate Kenya’s counter-terrorism efforts; inflame passions; stoke up Muslim resentment and put Kenya on a collision course with the UN, believed critical of some aspects of the exercise, especially to do with the refugee question.

The policy of locking down entire districts and conducting mass arrests may have its security utility and could, arguably, force communities to isolate criminal elements, step up vigilance and embrace self-policing. But there is risk too it may stir up resentment; catalyse radicalisation and foment greater unrest.

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