Losing Hearts and Minds in Kenya | Cedric Barnes (@CedricHOA)
The round-up and mass detention of Somalis in Nairobi, which began in earnest on 31 March, deliberately conflated immigration issues with counter-terrorism and has widened dangerous communal divides. Al-Shabaab and its extremist allies in Kenya will be very satisfied. What the attack on Nairobi’s Westgate mall last September failed to do – sow division among Kenyans – might well be achieved by these detentions and deportations. This month’s events brought out the worst in Kenya, from the prejudice shown, especially in social media, by ordinary citizens, to petty point scoring by the political class, to police extortion of bribes from lawfully resident Somalis, to the extrajudicial execution of the controversial Muslim preacher known as Makaburi (“graveyard”).
The terrorist threat is real enough. In March, security forces seized a pick-up truck packed with explosives, reportedly part of a planned multi-pronged attack in Mombasa. (Authorities believed the truck was one of several devices.) Soon thereafter, armed gunmen killed six worshipers at a Christian Church in the Likoni area of Mombasa. There was also a spate of grenade attacks targeting Christians, and claiming another six lives, in the Nairobi suburb of Eastleigh, where people of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds live side by side.
The Westgate mall attack killed indiscriminately and brought a unified response: private Kenyan citizens, including of Somali origin, were applauded for their individual heroism and community support, and the nation, led by President Kenyatta, stood as one. By contrast, the recent attacks were targeted and the government’s security operations in response quickly exposed divides between majority and minority communities, even between MPs within the ruling Jubilee coalition. The operations also drew a belated but firm response from the opposition Orange Democratic Coalition.
FULL ARTICLE (Crisis Group’s Blog: The African Peace-building Agenda)
Photo: REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya