Amid Flurry of Al-Shabab Strikes, Kenya’s Top Challenge Remains Its Own Politics

Amid Flurry of Al-Shabab Strikes, Kenya’s Top Challenge Remains Its Own Politics
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, right, speaks with Deputy President William Ruto at a ceremony marking the opening of a railway, Mombasa, Kenya, May 30, 2017 (AP photo by Khalil Senosi).

The attacks have been small in scale, but they’ve come at a steady pace: On May 24, eight security officials were killed in a pair of roadside bombings in eastern Kenya. A week later, seven officers and one civilian died when their armored personnel carrier hit an improvised explosive device in Mangai, near the coast. And last week, the victims were four aid workers driving near the Dadaab refugee camp.

In all, according to the Associated Press, at least 34 people, 20 of them police officers, have died in a recent string of explosions near the border with Somalia claimed by the al-Shabab extremist group. The situation has grown so unnerving that, last week, a group of lawmakers in the northeast vowed to instruct their constituents to purchase weapons to defend themselves if security didn’t improve. “Why are you not giving us guns?” asked MP Bare Shill, who accused security forces of offering a lackluster response to the threat posed by the militants. “If you don’t want to protect us, we will cross over to Somalia and buy guns.”

The past few weeks certainly represent an escalation of al-Shabab violence—one that is in keeping with the group’s tendency to step up attacks during Ramadan, says Murithi Mutiga, Kenya analyst for the International Crisis Group. At the same time, however, the reliance on improvised explosive devices and other hit-and-run tactics points to the group’s reduced strength in Kenya, and its need to adapt to a reality where it can no longer hold significant swathes of territory from which to launch major attacks. Though it has proved remarkably resilient over the years, al-Shabab is considered less capable of orchestrating a strike in Nairobi or another major Kenyan city on the scale of the horrific assault on the Westgate shopping mall in 2013. This is in contrast with Somalia, where the extremists seem determined to make a mockery of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s vow to eradicate them within two years. Just yesterday, the group claimed an attack on the Pizza House restaurant in Mogadishu that left 31 dead and dozens wounded.

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