Despite early challenges from terrorism, Uhuru Kenyatta rose above it

President Uhuru Kenyatta steps out of a bunker when he visited Dhobley Military Camp somalia. [File, Standard]

Since 2013, when President Uhuru Kenyatta took power, Kenya has faced 23 terror-related attacks.

In 2014, terror suspects stormed Joy Jesus Repentance Church in Mombasa and killed seven worshippers, including a mother, Veronica Akinyi, who was with her baby Satrin Osinya. The baby sustained a gunshot wound but miraculously survived. He is ten today.

The story of Osinya portrays Kenya’s resilience, under President Kenyatta, in the face of terror attacks.

It is a story of triumph against terrorists. The war on terror was heightened after the murder of British tourist David Tebutt and the kidnap of his wife Judith on September 11, 2011.

The Tebutts’ kidnap and murder in Lamu sparked Kenya’s military incursion, code-named Operation Linda Nchi, into Somali in October 2011.

Osinya was 18 months old when gunmen killed his mother.

Doctors at Coast General Hospital said the bullet that pierced through Ms Akinyi’s body as she shielded her baby from bullets was the same that got lodged in Osinya’s head.

Three days after the attack, Osinya who celebrated his 10th birthday on May 24, emerged triumphant after doctors dislodged the bullet from his head. He was adopted by former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko.

A day after the attack, Deputy President William Ruto told reporters in Mombasa that Uhuru had sent him to pass a message to terrorists, “We will torment you in the world before you go to hell.”

Security analysts say although Kenya experienced its first terror attack in 1980 at Norfolk Hotel, Osinya’s case united Kenyans in grief.

Mr Caleb Ng’wena, the executive officer of Mombasa-based Genesis for Human Right Commission, said the attack on the Mombasa church was the turning point in the war on terror.

“After the Likoni attack, Christian clerics demanded that they should be given guns to protect the church. It was a big test for Uhuru’s presidency that was barely a year old,” said Ng’wena. He added: “Uhuru got the backing of Christian and Muslim clerics, political leaders and traders in Mombasa. He had the goodwill which he rode on to launch a full-scale war against terror.”

“The cultivation of the national will and getting the full support of the citizenry was critical in the war on terror. His shift from the use of soft to hard power shows his flexibility which is important in any war,” said Mr Byron Adera, an ex-Kenya Special Forces officer.

Mr Adera, the spokesman of the Association of Corporate and Industrial Security Management Professionals of Kenya, said terror attacks have since 2013 reduced.

“Most insecurity hotspots have been pacified. The creation of multi-agency security team addressed gaps that existed in acting on hot intelligence,” he said.

Dr Mustafa Ali, the chair of Horn International Institute for Strategic Studies, said Uhuru became more surgical in the operation against terrorists and their sympathisers.

Uhuru had during the 2013 campaigns promised to deploy de-radicalisation programmes to tame the spread of jihadism that breeds terror cells.

Osinya’s ordeal appeared to have jolted him to adopt hard power in the war against terrorists and their sympatisers.

“In 2013, the fall of Islamic State (Isis) saw an influx of terrorists into Africa, especially into Uganda, Mozambique and Somalia. Kenya was able to repel them, “he said.

Dr Mustafa said the establishment of the National Counterterrorism Centre to de-radicalise the youth and integrate them into society also helped to reduce the number of sleeper cells.

He said the Al Shabaab offshoots that were responsible for a myriad of terror attacks in Mombasa before 2014 have been crushed but warned against laxity.

“If I compared President Kenyatta’s tenure to what has happened in say Tanzania, Uganda and Somalia, I will give him an eight out of ten in the war against insecurity,” said Dr Mustafa.

Mr Odera and Dr Mustafa said during the September 21, 2013 Westgate Mall terror attack the security agencies were exposed as a team that lacked strategy and coordination to tackle tourists.

The gunmen linked to Al Shabaab shot 67 people dead in the Westgate Mall in Nairobi. “This called for Uhuru’s government to review the security agencies’ strategy,” said Odera.

But as the government heightened its vigilance in major town of Mombasa and Nairobi, Al Shabaab offshoot Jaysh Ayman backed by foreign jihadists stormed Lamu.

Jaysh Ayman group that was commandeered by battle-hardened British national Thomas Evans, Anthony aka Abdul Hamid, butchered more than 60 between 15 and 17 June 2014.

In September 2015, President Uhuru launched the largest internal military operation code-named Operation Linda Boni to flush out militants from Boni forest.

Mr Odera said other than the ‘might of the gun’, the military operations in Somalia and Lamu involved the construction of roads, hospitals and schools “to win the hearts and minds of the locals”.

“Uhuru and his commanders carefully crafted the strategy to win the hearts and minds of the indoctrinated youths and communities because the jihad is won at the altar of ideology. He also rallied the world to back the African force in Somalia,” said Mr Odera.

In an early interview, security expert Dr Werunga Simiyu and Malindi Catholic Bishop Willard Lagho said the attacks in Lamu could have been because of local issues like land conflicts.

A security consultant at Kenyatta University Abdi Daib said some of the attacks in Lamu were due to political issues and had nothing to do with Al Shabaab terror group.

“These are tribal clashes camouflaged as Al Shabaab attacks. Uhuru has done well in the war against terrorism. One has to look around our neighbours to appreciate that,” said Daib.

In 2015, a UN report warned that the Al Shabaab offshoot Jaysh Ayman had the capacity to hold territory in areas north of Lamu. The county has been declared a “disturbing area”.

After the June 14 and 15, 2014 attacks in Mpeketoni, families described how Evans who came to be known as the “White Beast” celebrated after cutting the throats of his victims.

Kenya’s military again emerged victorious in its war against the Thomas-led Jaysh Ayman. Thomas who came to be known as the “white beast” was among the militants who were killed in a hail of bullets on June 14, 2015, during a foiled terror attack on Kenya Defence Forces KDF camp at Baure.

Mombasa’s Sheikh Juma Ngao said one of Uhuru’s legacy in the Muslim circles is the removal of radical clerics and committees from several mosques.

“Uhuru took over the country during the era of hostile takeovers of mosques by radical clerics who openly called for the killing of Christians and for youth to join Al Shabaab,” said Sheikh Ngao.

He added: He instituted an intelligence-based recruitment of the committees and appointment of moderate clerics which has brought sanity in our mosques and madrass.”

In 2014, Mosques at the Coast and Nairobi hit the headlines for the wrong reasons after some were identified by security agents as havens for radical Islamists.

On November 17, the same year, security agencies temporarily closed down Musa, Sakina, Swafaa and Minaa mosques to weed out jihadists who they said were behind terror attacks.

Suspected radical youths also tried to takeover Umar Ibn al-Khattab, Liwatoni and Mbaruk mosques but were repulsed security agencies averted the move in a night-long vigil.

The biggest battle for mosques was witnessed on February 2, 2014 when police raided Masjid Musa to stop a jihadists conference. This led to the death of four people including a police officer.

Moderate sheiks

The raid followed the killing of Abubakar Shariff Ahmed, also known as Makaburi, who described himself as Osama bin Laden soul mate, who hailed Westgate attack as justified.

Makaburi who was killed on the Fools Day in 2014 was seen by jihadists as a replacement of Sheikh Aboud Rogo. Police had claimed that Makaburi was behind the assassination of moderate sheikhs.

On June 10, Sheikh Mohamed Idris, Makaburi’s main ideological adversary, was killed by unknown assailants as he walked out of his house in Likoni to go to the mosque for morning prayers.

In December last year, Sheikh Idris, the then chairman of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya, was ejected from Masjid Sakina by a mob who accused him of being an infidel.

Another moderate cleric and a vocal critic of jihadists, Salim Bakari Mwarangi, was killed in a similar manner. Both had expressed fear for their lives.

On July 13, 2014, Mombasa transport magnate Shahid Butt was shot dead as he left Moi International Airport. Butt had been arrested for financing radicalisation and terrorism.

“The next government that will take over from Uhuru should increase the number of Islamic Religious Education in schools and stop the extrajudicial killings,” said Sheikh Ngao. 

“Uhuru won the war against jihadists and protects our religion and mosques.”  

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