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Two major ways to combat terrorism in Kenya
By Jonah Ondieki | Updated Jan 19, 2019 at 12:31 EAT
Picture taken at Dust D2 along 14 Riverside Drive

It's imperative that the Government understands the broad concept of terrorism

In a generic sense, terrorism, unlike random acts of violence, is the premeditated use of violence to achieve certain objectives

It's imperative that the Government understands the broad concept of terrorism, its particular forms and tactics, catalysts and how it is likely to change its form in order to design proper counter-terrorism policies that will stand the test of time.

In a generic sense, terrorism, unlike random acts of violence, is the premeditated use of violence to achieve certain objectives. Essentially, terrorism is – intimidation through violence. Since there are established laws to deal with terrorism, the Government views terrorism as violation of those laws.

This view of terrorism has been the premise of reactionary tactics to combat terrorism – by pursuing terrorists and sometimes victimising a community – instead of preventive measures. There is a general view of terrorist activities as morally unjustifiable. However, the perpetrators, their sympathizers and victims may have a contrary view creating ambiguity on interpretation of policies.

Terrorists always want to achieve certain objectives – usually political. As such, counter-terrorism policies should include a political dimension. The major stakeholders in this problem include the National Government which the Constitution has squarely placed the national security responsibility on (Constitution of Kenya, Section 240)), elected officials, religious leaders the media and citizens.


The following have been the Policy Alternatives that have largely been proposed.

Closure of Daadab Refugee Camp: There have been suggestions that relocation of Daadab Refugee Camp –one of the largest refugee camps in world with about 600,000 people – would be a solution to end terrorism in Kenya. Prompted by the Westgate attack in 2013 and the Garrisa University attack in 2015, the Government issued the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) a 3-month ultimatum to relocate the camp to a different place or forcefully move them back to Somalia.

The camp has been viewed as a breeding ground and a recruitment center for Al Shabaab hence if closed; it will end terror activities in North Eastern Kenya. The recent 14 Riverside Drive attack may add more impetus to these calls.


Construction of a wall along the Kenya-Somalia border: Because the border has largely remained porous since independence, there is a view that construction of wall could be the best policy alternative. Since the idea has been used by other nations such as Israel and the United States, the view is that Kenya will not be the first one to apply such a policy if it will serve to lock out terrorists and illegal refugees.


Withdraw KDF from Somalia: The Al Shabaab leaders have in multiple times demanded withdrawal of KDF from Somalia in exchange of stopping terror attacks. This is a form of a truce in good faith without a face to face negotiation. 


Giving better training and equipment to the police: This alternative would require reassessment of the police training curriculum to ensure that it trains officers who can meet the terrorism challenges once they are deployed. The police need to be supplied with adequate equipment ranging from weaponry to fast and reliable transport. 

 Invest in collection of intelligence information and police-community relations: The National Intelligence Service (NIS) should be restructured and its capacity enhanced to collect accurate intelligence information, relay it quickly for action by the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit. Include communities in the most affected areas as spies and interpreters of any terror messages. This will be easy if the police improve its relations with the community.





In terms of efficiency, closure of Daadab Refugee Camp may not bring desired results as it will cost the Kenyan Government substantial resources to relocate over 600,000 people. It would be better to invest in intelligence and the police to fish out any bad element in the camp and take legal actions against them.

Moving such masses into the Al-Shabaab territory would essentially be supplying the group with more troops. The refugees will be a disgruntled lot, resentful, vengeful and therefore easy to radicalise and have them come back in future to attack Kenya.

As such, this policy will not be adequate looking into the future. Construction of a wall may also not be an efficient strategy in terms of cost and time. For example, it has taken Israel 13 years to construct the West Bank 670-kilometre wall – which it's yet to complete – at a cost of $2 million USD per kilometre and $260 per year to maintain.

The Kenya-Somalia border is 682 kilometres long, essentially making the cost of a wall construction and maintenance similar to that of Israel. It's not a guarantee that that will stop terrorism. On withdrawal of KDF from Somalia, it would be a great strategy to have these troops stay along the border rather than far inside Somalia leaving the militants crossing over the border unchecked.

This should be a tactical withdrawal. Stakeholders would spend far much less in investing in proper training of police, collection of intelligence information and enhancement of good police community relation and achieve great results.


From a political feasibility angle, closure of Daadab camp will be a popular policy within Kenya. Kenya's population constitutes of over 80% Christians and about 18% Muslims. Christians have been the direct target of Al Shabaab thus closing a refugee camp that has been "found" to be a safe haven for terrorists will be welcome.

However, Kenya as a State has an international obligation of protecting refugees according to the 1951 Convention (relating to refugees) and its 1967 Protocol which Kenya is party. Failing to uphold this responsibility is likely to cast Kenya in a bad light internationally and potentially attract U.N. sanctions.

Construction of a wall may receive opposition in terms of appropriation of funds for the project. Withdrawal of KDF from Somalia would be seen as yielding to Al-Shabaab demands; making the Kenyan Government look weak locally and internationally.

Giving the police better training, refresher courses and better equipment would be a politically popular policy.

Tied to it, is improving the police-community relation – especially with the Kenyan Somali community – which has been unfriendly since independence.

 In terms of social acceptability, closure of Daadab Refugee Camp would be seen as an inhumane act against refugees. The Kenyan Somalis and the Somalia Somalis have interacted for centuries. Some have even intermarried. Their culture is largely homogeneous. As such, constructing a wall may not be popular to them from a social perspective. Investing in intelligence collection and police-community relations would be the best policy that is sustainable.



On the basis efficiency and social acceptability, I would like to recommend two policy alternatives. First, giving better training and equipment to the police and second, investing in collection of accurate intelligence information and police-community relations. Looking at the five alternatives proposed, it would be efficient to invest resources in the two because they can be sustainable. Once the stakeholders develop a good relationship and trust, it will be easier for the intelligence to collect information and protect the informer who currently may be feeling insecure if they provided information. 


In this analysis, I encountered a number of limitations. The biggest one was data gap. Since my analysis was on a security matter, it was practically difficult to get information of how much work is done by the Kenya Police and the National Intelligence Service that is concealed. For instance, how many terror plots are foiled before happening? Such information would have helped me make a better analysis based on efficiency. 

Jonah Ondieki – a Master of Public Policy and Administration. He’s currently the Program Manager of Project THINK at WERK.

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