Is Kenya a hotbed of terrorism?

Immense energy has gone into demonizing CNN over a recent report about Kenya. This report suggested that Kenya was a hotbed of terrorism and that it was not safe for the President of the United States (POTUS) to visit the country. President Obama is actually in the country to co-host a Global Enterpreneural Summit (GES) being held in Nairobi. The objectives of the summit include, among other things, empowering the youth as a countermeasure for radicalization into terrorism. So what was the problem with how CNN reported this visit?

Hotbed? Really?

One thing that Kenyans on twitter (#KOT) appeared to be incensed with is the use of the words ‘hotbed of terrorism.’ According to the CNN report President Obama was visiting ‘not only his father’s homeland…’ but a country festering under the weight of AlShabaab. The show continued by incorporating two ‘security experts’: one a former secret service agent and the other a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agent. These two experts proceeded to provide their ‘expert analysis’ about how unsafe Kenya was for Obama’s visit.

What caught my attention the most is lack of credible data as well as use of spurious facts to make conclusions that are invariably wrong and, dare I say, offensive. One of the analysts suggested that the ‘11%’ Muslim population in Kenya made the country a dangerous place for a POTUS visit. The other cemented this idea by stating that Kenya was more dangerous than Iraq and Afghanistan! Is this depiction accurate?

Is Kenya the most insecure country on earth?

When discussing matters of security, there seems to be a lack of a coherent definition of the term. Traditionaly the referent object (or the unit of analysis if you like) has been the state. Therefore matters of security have – since the cold war era – been framed within the language of state survival. It is no wonder that nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) are the mainstay of international security agendas. But is this really security?

Other schools of though have emerged to challenge this state-centric approach. These other schools focus more on the wellbeing of the human being; the person living within the confines of the state rather than the state itself. This is what is referred to as human security. The proponets of this school make their case by comparing the average number of deaths and destruction caused by phenomena other than war or state conflict. To this end their scope of security includes economic, enviromental and social factors that impact on the prosperity of people.

However, I digress from the main pont of this post. The issue here to find out whether Kenya is the most insecure nation in the world. To do this I will restrict the security issue to the deaths caused by terrorism. Although quite a narrow conceptual frame of security in academic terms, it will serve the purpose of this post by comparing the fatalities in Kenya in 2014 compared to those of Iraq and Afghanistan.

According this Global Terrorism Index report, Kenya is ranked third most affected state in Africa as far as terrorism is concerned. It comes behind Nigeria and Somalia which occupy the first and second positions respectively. Looking at the facts, Kenya has been on the receveing end of AlShabaab attacks particularly after the former’s incursion into Somali in an operation dubbed ‘Operation Linda Inchi.’

However as compared to other countries in the world, Kenya is in position 12 globally in the list of countries most affected by terrorism. The top five countries on this list include Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria in that order. Further terrorism related deaths in these five areas accounted to 82% of the global average according to the report. This means that, in essence, these are the most dangerous places on earth as far as terrorism is concerned.

Further more, comparing the number of terror related deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan with those of Kenya reveals inconsistencies between the CNN’s ‘expert analysis’ and the reality on the ground. In 2014 a reported 306 Kenyan lives were lost due to terrorism. Compare this figure with that of Iraq’s 9,929 and Afghanistan’s 4,505 and one begins to wonder how CNN came to the conclusion that Kenya is a hotbed of terrorism.

Was the framing of Kenya by CNN wrong?

I tend to think so. In light of statistics provided, the so called analysts got it wrong. Just because Kenya has been severally attacked by AlShabaab does not make it the most dangerous place on earth. Secondly, CNN erred in accepting the notion that Kenya was more dangerous than Iraq and Afghanistan without asking for substantiation. This action underscores what I have been increasingly observing in today’s media; the use of ‘experts’ whose justifications for their conslusions in arguments is nothing more than their credentials. Students of philosophy have a name for this; they call it expert fallacy.

Concluding thoughts

No Kenyan can suggest that Kenyans have not faced problems with terrorist or terrorism, unless they have been living under a rock. However the way CNN framed the issue made Kenya appear like a failed state; like terrorism is what defines the Kenyan people. This, in my opinion is very irresponsible reporting and should be shuned. It should also not be forgotten by CNN producers that Kenyans have neither forgoten nor forgiven you for this report on the 2013 general elections.

Would forcibly sending Somali refugees home improve Kenya’s security?

On 11th of April, 2015, the Kenyan Deputy President Hon. William Ruto ordered the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to close the Dadaab refugee camp within three months. This means that a total of 335,565 Somali refugees will be required to leave Kenya by end of June 2015 or the Kenyan Government will forcibly remove them. This news was jubilantly received by Kenyans, if late night news polls are anything to go by.

However few are critically and rationally reviewing the rationale of moving the refugees and its implications. This blog post attempts to do this as a way of contributing to the debate on the efficacy of such a move. The posts looks at who a refugee is and addresses the nexus between hosting them and national security in Kenya. It also looks at the implications of forcible repatriation of these refugees into Somalia. It concludes by addressing alternative means to address Kenya’s security challenge while adhering to the law governing refugee protection.

Who is a refugee?

A refugee is a person who flees their home; crosses an internationally recognized border to seek protection from persecution (loosely defined as discriminatory treatment) or events seriously disturbing public order. According to available statistics there are about 1.6 m refugees in the world 50% of whom are under the age of 18 while 49% are women. In Kenya, the refugee population stands at about 569,772 with a majority being Somali refugees followed by Ethiopian and Congolese refugees. Most of the refugees in Kenya, like the Somali, have fled their countries of origin owing to conflict; much like the Kenyans that live in Uganda having fled the post-election violence in 2007/08.

A person becomes a refugee after an evaluation process called the refugee status determination (RSD). This process sieves genuine refugees from other non-deserving elements such as combatants and terrorists. Therefore, before a person can be granted refugee status, their refugee claim is thoroughly investigated to ensure that they are genuine. This means that refugee protection is civilian in character and its aim is to protect persons who flee their countries of origin to save their lives and limbs.

Are Somali refugees a threat to national security?

There has been a lot of talk about refugees, particularly Somali refugees, being a threat to national security. But is there any evidence to this? Recent experience shows that there is none.

In December, 2012, the Government of Kenya ordered that all urban residing refugees be relocated to the camps. The main argument presented by the government was that they presented a threat to national security and thus needed to be contained in refugee camps. A case was lodged at the High Court to challenge this argument. The government was given an opportunity to present evidence that links refugees to insecurity in the country; it failed.

In December, 2014, the Government of Kenya – through the Security Laws Amendment Act, 2014 – attempted to limit the number of refugees in the country to 150,000. A case was lodged at the High Court to inter alia challenge this provision of the Act. The government was given another opportunity to prove the causal link between hosting refugees and insecurity in the county; it failed.

These instances lead one to conclude that the government lacks evidence that links refugees to insecurity. What pervades public discourse at the moment are generalizations not based on facts. But if there isn’t evidence directly linking refugees to the current insecurity in the country, why are they being targeted? The answer to this question lies in the gaps in our security system.

The Refugee Consortium of Kenya conducted a study in 2012 that partly looked at security at the Dadaab refugee camp. One of the findings was that Somali refugees, particularly those that left Somalia in 2011, escaped forcible recruitment into al-Shabaab. Further, the report showed that even after escaping into Kenya to seek asylum from this militia, some recruiters still followed them to Dadaab to recruit their children and young men. How is this possible? How can al-Shabaab access the Dadaab refugee camp without detection?

This investigative piece appears to provide an answer: corruption and complacency. Granted that the Kenya-Somali border is porous, riddled with many unofficial routes (panya [rat] routes), however corruption poses the greater danger to our national security. This is how arms and combatants can be able to make their way from Somali, past government check points to recruit refugee children into their ranks. This is how arms and militia personnel can be able to come from Somalia past government check points and hit Nairobi’s Westgate Mall and Garissa University College.

Be that as it may, al-Shabaab operatives are not the only ones recruiting fighters from the camps. In a 2009 report, the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) stood accused of militarizing the camp. Young Somali men were openly and blatantly recruited to join the Transitional Government Forces (TGF) fighting al-Shabaab at the time. Although the exercise was later abandoned, damage had already been done as most of these fighters, with arms and training from the KDF ended up joining the ranks of al-Shabaab. This demonstrates complacency on the part of the government which is supposed to protect the lives of civilian populations in distress of terror from the al-Shabaab militia.

What are the implications of forcibly sending refugees to Somalia?

The first and obvious implication would be Kenya would be in violation of its national and international obligation to protect refugees. The law dictates that refugees cannot be forcibly taken back to their country of origin where the threat to their lives or physical integrity still exists. This is the principle of non-refoulement. In the Somali case, al-Shabaab is still a real threat for Somali refugees and this could be the reason many of them are hesitant to return home despite there being a tripartite agreement aimed at voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees in safety and dignity.

Secondly, and perhaps not so obvious, is the danger of driving fresh recruits into the hands of al-Shabaab. Forcibly pushing these refugees into Somalia would first create resentment and secondly foment desperation. Al-Shabaab would be keen to use these two ingredients to recruit this population into its ranks.

Thirdly, and most importantly, it will divert attention from the real issues affecting our security system: corruption and complacency. Kenyans know only too well that billions of shillings have been diverted from public coffers for private gain. This includes security related contracts. Before the Garissa attack, there was huge public outcry over the level of corruption in the internal security docket (as it then was).

Another monster is the complacency levels within the security structure in Kenya. How often have we heard that intelligence of an attack here or there was available and nothing was done to prevent it? How often have we been regaled by blame games following a terrorist attack and nothing seems to change? During the Westgate attack it was the lack of coordination that prolonged the siege after KDF forces shot and killed a Recce company squad leader leading the latter to retreat. Again lack of coordination cost more lives in the Garissa attack where the Recce company took more than eight hours to arrive at the scene to conduct a 12 minute operation. It should not be lost on Kenyans that these lapses, what I call complacency, is the major reason the government cannot contain the terror menace.

What alternatives are there to forcible repatriation?

The first alternative to this is to officially recognize combating corruption and complacency as a key pillar to the counter-terrorism strategy in Kenya. These are the real challenges plaguing national security in the country. So long as these two exist, Kenyans may not know any reprieve from terror attacks.

Secondly, the intelligence and operation branches of the security forces should endevour to isolate and arrest those individuals in the camps recruiting refugees into al-Shabaab. These are the real culprits and a serious threat to Kenya’s national security.

Thirdly, the Government of Kenya should focus more on the voluntary repatriation process already in place. Through this process, Somali refugees will peacefully and voluntarily relocate into Somalia without the risk of bitterness that may drive them into the hands of the determined al-Shabaab operatives.


In conclusion, it should be noted that the refugee regime is a civilian and humanitarian affair. The regime has a protective element embedded in it that segregates genuine asylum seekers from individuals involved in military operations and terrorism. Forcibly sending Somali refugees into Somali may prove to be counter-productive especially if the Kenyan Government is serious about stemming radicalization. Seriously dealing with corruption and complacency will provide a long-term efficient counter-terrorism strategy as opposed to blanket condemnation of a population in need of protection.

What does ‘African solutions to African problems’ mean?

The Government of Kenya has embarked on yet another push to lead African states away from the International Criminal Court (ICC). The rallying call is that Africa needs to pursue African solutions to African problems. In other words the ICC is perceived as being insensitiveĀ in how it approaches the so called African problems. But the question is what exactly are these African problems? To answer this question this blog post looks at the deliberations around the formation of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights that has the capacity to adjudicate on international criminal matters.

A proposal to establish an African Court of Justice and Human Rights (ACJHR) that has the competence to determine international criminal matters was tabled at the just concluded African Union (AU) Heads of States meeting. The proposal is contained in a document called the Malabo Protocol. Therein, the details of what would constitute international crimes are spelled out. Other the infamous crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, 11 other crimes have been added to the list of international crimes that the court would deal with. Among these are Terrorism, Trafficking in Persons, Piracy among others.

Another proposal that was tabled at the meeting relates to the immunity of heads of states and other ‘senior government officials’ from prosecution of international crimes. This point is particularly contentious in view of the Kenyan cases involving the Kenyan Deputy President currently going on at the Hague. The African Heads of States appeared to agree that the immunity from such prosecution was imperative for peace and security in the region. They went further to suggest that the ICC would not work in the interest of African states if it ignored peace agreements settled between warring factions if it arrested and prosecuted the leaders of these factions for international crimes during hostilities. As an example of this logic, should President Salva Kirr or Riek Machar were to be arrested and prosecuted for international crimes then it would scuttle the peace process in the country.

Funding of the ICC and the referral mechanism were also faulted as being bias. A linkage was made between funding the ICC and the cases that usually end up at the court; that those countries that fund it seldom find their citizens being prosecuted at the Hague. Further to this, there was the claim that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) referral mechanism is unfair as 3/5 permanent members are not signatories to the Rome Statute. Further to this the composition of the UNSC is deemed not to be representative enough to include an African state as a permanent member.

All this observations are accurate but in my view they miss the point completely. First to say that the ICC is on a mission to undermine the independence of African states is spurious at best. The ICC is established by the Rome Statute which all states are welcome to sign and ratify, which is what all these African states did. In addition to this, 50% of the cases handled by the ICC were referred there by African states. Further the ICC mechanism is complementary in nature which means that states have the primary responsibility to set up courts and try international crimes in their jurisdictions. It should not be forgotten that Kenya was given such an opportunity to set up such a tribunal but failed and that is how the accused found themselves in their current situation.

Secondly, I do not think that crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes are ‘African problems that need African solutions.’ If anything, these are serious crimes of international concern that are abhorred universally and that threaten peace and security in the world. In other words save for the elongated list of other crimes listed as international crimes and which are covered by other international treaties as transnational crimes, the Malabo Protocol does not list any new exclusively African problem that it seeks to tackle.

Thirdly, the fact that the issue of immunity was unanimously agreed on by the Heads of States is likely to do more harm to accountability in African politics than solve the so called African problems. The ACJHR is more likely to be used as hammer for opposition politicians now that the ‘Crime of Unconstitutional Change of Government’ is listed as an international crime. This line of argument is especially poignant when you interrogate the ease with which African Governments refer cases of their opponents to the ICC e.g. the Ugandan case.

In reality there no African problems here unless we would agree with our leaders that certain heinous crimes are African problems. Further, if we accept the so called African solutions, it will further aggravate impunity in Africa in name of harmony and stability. There can never be stability without accountability!