Kenya President William Ruto has dismissed critics claiming the decision to reopen the Kenya-Somalia border has resulted in a surge in al-Shabaab attacks.
Ruto argued the decision the government took was the best for the country despite the security challenges that have been witnessed in Lamu, Garissa and Mandera recently.
Garissa, Lamu and Mandera attack
In a span of just one month, the Somali-based terror group, al-Shabaab, has launched at least 10 attacks in the aforementioned counties, killing 22 security officers and leaving several others with injuries.
The militants have mostly been using Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) to blow up security vehicles on patrol. On Monday, June 12, eight security officers died after a vehicle they were travelling in ran over a landmine. A week later, three police officers escorting buses en route to Mandera from Banisa died after their car hit an IED.
The spike in the attacks has been recorded barely a month after Kenya and Somalia agreed to reopen borders to facilitate the free movement of people and goods to spur economic growth between Nairobi and Mogadishu.
Kenya’s Interior CS Kithure Kindiki and his Somalia counterpart Mohamed Ahmed Sheikh announced the decision in Nairobi on May 15, after high-level consultations at Harambee House.
“We have resolved that the border between Kenya and Somalia will be reopened in phases. The first to open is Bula Hawa in Mandera in 30 days. Next is Liboi (Mandera) in 60 days and Ras Kamboni (Lamu) in 90 days,” said Kindiki.
Kenya-Somalia diplomatic row Kenya closed its border with Somalia in 2011 when it launched Operation Linda Nchi, a military operation aimed at rescuing Somalia from the yoke of al-Shabaab, as well as protecting Nairobi from external threats posed by the terror group.
In 2017, former president Uhuru Kenyatta and Somalia’s Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed met in Nairobi and agreed to open the three borders in phases, but the process was undermined by a series of diplomatic feuds that followed. Ruto’s government revived the talks with Somalia and the process was actualised mid-May.
Although it has come with a fair share of security challenges, Ruto argued the decision was and still remains the best for Kenya and the Horn of Africa.
“It was, it still is the right decision because we have to confront the challenge of al shabaab and we have every chance to defeat al shaabab, “There is a drawdown of drops that is supposed to happen this month of July and al Shabaab are trying to reposition themselves to create the impression that they will take over the region, we will not allow them,” said Ruto during an interview with France 24.
Early this week Defence CS Aden Duale assured the country the government would do everything to combat terrorism. Speaking during a public baraza in Garissa, Duale said plans were underway to purchase sophisticated weapons to deal with al Shabaab. “We are investing to buy equipment in the next three months that will help even deter the IEDs that the terror groups are using. We are buying more sophisticated APCs (Armoured Personnel Carriers) in the war against terrorists. Kenya will never be intimidated by terrorists,” said Duale.
Al-Shabaab attacks in Kenya
After launching Operation Linda Nchi in 2011, the Kenyan government declared the operation over in 2012, but the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) joined the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), a regional peacekeeping mission operated by the African Union (AU) with the approval of the United Nations Security Council. The Kenyan troops have remained in Somalia since then, playing a key role in crashing the militia and raiding their bases.
However, Kenya has also borne the brunt of the clashes, losing dozens of gallant soldiers and civilians who were attacked and killed in retaliatory attacks. The Westgate Mall attack (2013), the Garissa University attack (2015) and the Dusit D2 attack (2019) are some of the worst retaliatory attacks by al-Shabaab that left a dark scar in the history of Kenya’s fight against terrorism. Consequently, a section of leaders have been vouching for the withdrawal of troops from Somalia to end the counter-attacks.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga is on record asking the government to recall the KDF to protect the country from within. In May, Ruto disclosed the Kenyan troops would start pulling out of Mogadishu in 2024 to allow Somalia to stabilise. However, with the resurgence of al Shabaab in the region, Ruto was quick to note that Kenya and AMISOM will not hesitate to prolong the military operations should the militants continue with the attacks.
“We have decided as the front right states, Uganda, Kenya and Sudan, that we are going to stay this course, and if necessary, and we think it is necessary, we are going to stay beyond the drawdown timetable so that we don’t lose what we have achieved because we have walked out of the situation and allowed al Shabab back into the equation,” said Ruto.
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has stepped up the fight against al Shabaab in a concerted effort to stabilise the country before the military drawdown.
Institute for Horn of Africa Strategic Studies chairman Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad however poked holes in AMISOM operations in Somalia arguing it has achieved little. “There is no intention to crash al shaabab because AMISOM has been ther for nearly 15 years and they have not arrested the situation. That over 22,000 military African peacekeeper force fail to defeat a militia is very questionable. In fact at some point, they were accused of supplying weapons to the al Shabaab,” argued the scholar.