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President Ruto wary of threats from al-Shabaab

Sunday October 16, 2022


The recent attacks by suspected al-Shabaab fighters are giving President William Ruto the first test on cross-border insecurity as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces while testing the administration’s mettle on whether it can withstand the pressures of dealing with the terrorist group.

Al-Shabaab, which has outlived two Kenyan and Somalia presidents since its formation in 2006 after the fall of the Islamic Courts Union, has a reputation for escalating attacks every time there is a change in power in Kenya.

President Uhuru Kenyatta had a taste of this aggression when the group launched small-scale attacks in the months that followed his taking office in April 2013, culminating in the Westgate bloodbath that left almost 70 people dead in September of that year.

Though the Kenyatta administration mounted an extensive strategy to counter terrorism in later years, he left power without eradicating the Shabaab threat.

The group has told President Ruto – like it did with his predecessor – that it will not stop attacks until Kenyan soldiers withdraw from Somalia.

Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) soldiers, who have been in Somalia since President Mwai Kibaki’s administration in 2011, are part of the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia, whose term expires in 2024.

“Know that we will continue to defend our land and people from the aggressive Kenyan invasion,” al-Shabaab said in a statement immediately Dr Ruto was declared winner of the August 9 election.

The President’s Kenya Kwanza coalition’s manifesto made little mention of terrorism or al-Shabaab.

Despite mounting attacks across the region at a rate of about 50 a month, al-Shabaab scaled down raids in Kenya in the months leading to the General Election.

Four attacks

In just two weeks, four attacks claimed by the group have been carried out in Mandera and another in Giriley near the Somalia border.

The attacks have killed seven people. Three others are missing.

More than 40 suspected al-Shabaab fighters descended on Libehiya and Alungu in Mandera East, firing indiscriminately and vandalising communication masts on Tuesday.

Northeastern Regional Police Commander George Seda said the attack by “the heavily armed militants made three Libehiya Primary School teachers escape into the darkness”.

“The teachers cannot be accounted for,” said the police chief on what happened at about 2 am.

Revellers in Mswaniki village, Lamu county, narrowly escaped death when suspected al-Shabaab militants blew away part of the roof and wall of their bar on Sunday.

The incident, barely 500 metres from Baragoni military camp,  happened days after leaflets warning locals of an attack began circulating.

Last week, the group attacked a rig belonging to a Kenyan Borehole Drilling Company in Giriley, Somalia, just a kilometre from the Kenyan border.

Seven employees of Suraw Borehole Drinking Company, including four Kenyans, were killed.

The raid came just a day after suspected al-Shabaab members poisoned a well in the same area, leading to two deaths.
Ten more people were admitted to hospital.

While the attacks may appear isolated, the fact that they are happening when a new government is settling in after months of relative peace is a sign of something wrong.

Armed fighters crossing into Kenya through Mandera have been sighted.

Contacted, Mandera County Commissioner Onesmus Kyatha said his team acts on intelligence reports received.

“We always plan defensively and offensively every time information on the militants’ movement towards our side is received,” the county chief said.

Mr Issack Ibren, a security consultant, said al-Shabaab fighters find a soft landing in areas near the border because communities there do not report their presence to relevant agencies.

The United Kingdom, which issues advisories from time to time, has told its citizens not to travel to northern Kenya and parts of the Coast region.

“There is a heightened threat of terrorism, including kidnappings, across Kenya. Attacks...could target Westerners, including British nationals. Attacks could occur at any time, including around religious or other public holidays or celebrations,” the UK said in its latest advisory which was updated on September 22.

Yesterday, President Ruto maintained that his administration is strong enough to ward off any threats to the country’s security and interests.

“Our territorial integrity relies on our defence forces. We must therefore always be prepared for every threat with the requisite tools, capabilities and motivation,” he said during the KDF Day at Laikipia Air Base, Nanyuki.

“The tip of the nation’s spear has always been and will always remain our tools, be they on land, air or at the sea.”

He added that KDF must remain professional in order to secure the nation against threats by offering credible deterrence.

While he is credited for reducing the ability of al-Shabaab to launch large-scale attacks in Kenya, the Kenyatta administration was blamed for extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances, picking up from where the Kibaki government left.

Experts say while the President has barely mentioned his security strategy, the fact that Kenya and Somalia have new administrations could herald a new dawn in the fight against violent extremism.

Reported by Vincent Achuka, Manase Otsialo and James Murimi


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