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Kenya – Lamu County Attacks: Implications and Outlook

Andrea Bohnstedt, Director of Africa Assets will kick off CbI's East Africa Hardball roundtable meeting in London on 2 July by mapping out the political and economic outlook in the EAC. Andrea who lives in Nairobi and has an extensive background in political risk analysis and investment consulting in Africa will also be giving a detailed update on the security issues that have arisen in Kenya.

Other panelists at East Africa Hardball include CbI chairman Jon Marks; Head, East and West Africa Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Harriet Mathews OBE;  Africa Confidential editor Patrick Smith; Journalist & Broadcaster Richard Nield;  Africa Oil Corporation Vice President External Relations Alex Budden; and Journalist & Author Michela Wrong.
Take a look at the full East Africa Hardball agenda

Below is Andrea's analysis of recent attacks in Lamu County.

On Sunday 15 June 2014, unidentified gunmen attacked Mpeketoni, a small town on mainland Lamu in north-eastern Kenya, around 60km from Lamu Island, a popular tourist destination and World Heritage site. They reportedly reached Mpeketoni after hijacking a vehicle, raided the local police station, killed male residents and set hotels and other buildings on fire in what transpired to have been a carefully planned attack.  More than 60 people died.

Since then, there have been two further attacks: on Monday 16 June, at least ten people were killed in nearby Poromoko, and, on Monday 23 June, at least five people died in Witu, which is about 40km from Mpeketoni.

In his televised address on 17 June, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta made two claims that met with widespread criticism:

  • He stated that the Kenyan government had had prior knowledge of the attacks, but that local law enforcement in Lamu County had failed to act. Overall, he said, the ‘security forces had performed well’.
     
  • Even though Al-Shabaab later claimed responsibility for the attack, Kenyatta blamed ‘local political networks’ driven by tribal motivations, and said that this ‘therefore was not an Al-Shabaab terrorist attack’.

Kenyatta’s carefully scripted speech did not mention opposition leader Raila Odinga, or his party alliance CORD, by name, but was nevertheless understood by the vast majority of the country to be accusing both.

Local media produced extensive reporting showing how domestic security forces and the government, right up to State House, had failed to respond to any of the alarms raised by Mpeketoni residents.

Perspectives

  • As with the terrorist attack on Westgate mall in September 2013, there was no significant sanctioning of what were clearly dysfunctional security forces. Cabinet Secretary for the Interior, Ole Lenku, and the Inspector General of Police, David Kimaiyo, have long been criticised for what are widely perceived as critical failures, but are unlikely to face any consequences.
     
  • This contributes to domestic and international lack of confidence that the Kenyan government has an effective strategy to address the continued risk of Islamic terrorism. Kenya’s terrorism risk is not only driven by its proximity to Somalia, but also by coastal communities’ long-standing marginalisation and disenfranchisement. Historic land issues and entrenched corruption are factors that underlie this. Local groups, such as the Mombasa Republican Council have pursued violent and secessionist strategies, and are likely to be sympathetic to Al-Shabaab and related players. The Kenyan government’s reactions to the Mpeketoni attacks inspire little confidence that it will address these complexities.
     
  • The US and UK governments have clearly lost confidence in the Kenyan government’s willingness to address these threats, either jointly or on its own. In addition to travel advisories, the UK has closed its consulate in Mombasa, and the US is transferring a number of their embassy and USAID staff to other countries.
     
  • Kenyatta’s implicit accusation of the opposition has reinforced persistent ethnic tensions in the country. There has been a resurgence in ethnic hate speech on social media, and leaflets warning people to leave certain areas, for example.  It is notable that major media houses – well aware of the risks that violent conflict, such as that in early 2008 following the disputed elections, could break out again – have called for calm, and have investigated the attacks in detail.
     
  • The area where the attacks happened is of strategic importance for both the planned Lamu Port and the pipeline. Investors will be exposed to continued cross-border threats from Al-Shabaab, but will also be drawn into local conflicts over land rights.
     
  • A string of smaller explosions and intelligence of continued threats of larger attacks have led to the recent UK and US travel advisories that have had a significant negative impact on an already struggling tourism sector on the coast. The outlook worsened further after the Lamu County attacks. Tourism is a key provider of employment, especially in coastal areas, so this is likely to exacerbate existing radicalisation.

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