A potent mix of terrorism, business rivalry and political posturing could be responsible for the numerous attacks in Kenya’s frontier county of Mandera, Sunday Standard can reveal.
Dozens have lost their lives in the county in a series of deadly attacks over the years.
At least five police officers were killed on Wednesday after a vehicle they were traveling in was hit by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in Simo, Arabia, Mandera County. The officers were part of Governor Ali Roba’s security team. Roba confirmed the officers were killed in the attack.
“I would like to inform the public that the other leaders and I are safe. Unfortunately I lost five of my security officers including my personal bodyguard at an attack on my convoy between Arabia and Fino at around 1pm,” he said.
Mandera’s location predisposes it to a higher risk of attacks from militant group Al Shabaab. But, some residents say there’s more than meets the eye.
Sunday Standard spoke to some Mandera residents who said some attacks are planned by political rivals.
For instance, Roba has for the past two years be seen as a betrayer after turning back from a previously agreed power sharing deal that was meant to see him serve only one term as governor. This, sources indicate, has made him unpopular among rivals and former friends turned foes.
The Wednesday attack, they say, was made to purely dissuade him from continuing with the current campaigns. The past three days have seen the governor slow down on his campaigns, spending time at the county offices meeting with elders.
The advantage Roba has of being an incumbent and getting State support is making it complicated for the new entrants in the political scene, the Economic Freedom Party, to dislodge him from his post.
Ambassador Mohamud Saleh, the North Eastern regional coordinator however said politics has nothing to do with the spate of violence.
“Mandera is right on the border. Its proximity to a lawless neighbour makes it conducive for terror,” Saleh said.
Other than its closeness to Somalia, dozens of Kenyans recruited by Al Shabaab in previous years chose Mandera as a place to settle and once in a while, according to security agencies, launch attacks within the town.
“Some of them came to us and have been rehabilitated while others are still hiding within the precincts of the county,” Saleh said.
Those with an understanding of the local dynamics in the Northern Kenya county say it is these returnees providing guns for hire for politicians and businessmen willing to settle scores.
“The use of terror tactics by business rivals is a new phenomenon in the county,” he said, adding that the July 2015 attacks in Mandera that killed 14 quarry workers in might have been due to business rivalries.
“Quarries are a lucrative business. Devolution has come with a construction boom. So rival quarry owners may have set each other up,” Salah said.
Traditionally, the most gruesome attacks on Kenyan soil take place during the holy month of Ramadhan that started yesterday. This year however, Ramadhan coincides with the official start of the campaigns for the August 8 elections.
Saleh, the regional coordinator, does not think all the attacks have been targeted at the governor.
“But in case anyone feels his life is in particular danger, he should write a statement at the nearest police station,” Saleh said.
The governor could not be reached for comment with his communication team saying he was holed up in meetings.