Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Kenya Fortifies Border with Somalia After a Bloody 2014

By Blake MichaelPublished March 13, 2015

The conflict between Al-Shabaab and the Kenyan Government has escalated dramatically since 2011. The increase in cross-border attacks, with the Westgate Mall Shooting serving as the most internationally well-known example, has prompted the the construction of a massive wall separating the two.
By Blake Michael, 03/13/15

When poverty and instability combine to cause a state to fail, the ensuing chaos is often the perfect environment for militancy. Such is the case in Somalia, where decades of governmental decay have permitted the rise of Al-Shabaab, a violent militant group aimed at attacking nations it perceives to be anti-Islamic and pro-West. Al-Shabaab gathered enough strength that East African nations were able to successfully lobby for a massive African-Union Peacekeeping force, which included a military component charged with attacking Al-Shabaab strongholds in southern Somalia. Over twenty thousand African soldiers are currently fighting to liberate Somalia, but their efforts have not been sufficient to prevent a spillover of violence into neighboring Kenya.

Kenya ordered 2,000 troops into Somalia in 2011 to squash the insurgents. While some nations considered this move premature, the Kenyans were very much concerned about the future of stability within the region should Al-Shabaab be successful in weathering the AU onslaught and establish a viable militancy. In October of 2011,  then internal security minister George Saitoti declared that violent incursions into Kenya would not be tolerated, justifying the invasion by saying, "Kenya has been and remains an island of peace, and we shall not allow criminals from Somalia, which has been fighting for over two decades, to destabilize our peace."

The Kenyan military advance, much like the African Union's mission, severely complicated Al-Shabaab's ability to operate; however, it was unsuccessful at preventing cross-border attacks. On September 21, 2013, militants tied to Al-Shabaab opened fire in a Nairobi shopping center, killing 67 people and demonstrating their potential for operation even within Kenya's most affluent centers. Understandably shaken and unwilling to bow to terrorism, Kenyan forces redoubled on their efforts to combat the group.

2014 was a particularly bloody year for confrontations between the two, with a deadly back and forth escalating in the year's close. In late November, 28 non-Muslim Kenyans were murdered by Al-Shabaab in an attack on a bus. The following day, Kenyan officials ordered the military to cross into Somalia in order to carry out a raid, using both air and ground support, on the stronghold in which the attack was designed. Over 100 Somali insurgents were killed, causing the group to promise retribution. They took revenge on December 2nd, when quarry workers were separated along religious lines before 36 non-Muslims were executed.

Kenyan authorities were stunned, calling for the resignation of the national police chief. The following week, a report was released explicitly connecting poverty with militant recruitment among Kenyans. One young man explained that he traveled from Kenya to Somalia to join Al-Shabaab after they offered him a thousand dollars to do so. Officials across the country have repeatedly condemned recruitment within Kenya, and have promised to continue to combat extremism in order to protect Kenyan lives regardless of where it may hide.

This month, a new solution has risen to prominence among politicians. Rather than attempt to end the danger vis-a-vis incursions across their extremely permeable shared border, officials have announced a new plan to build a wall effectively sealing the border. While many critics claim that the cost incurred would be better spent addressing the root problems, others point to the decrease in deaths following the construction of Israel's wall separating it from West Palestine. Regardless of how successful the wall will be, construction will be completed at an accelerated pace, with the entire wall to be completed before the dawn of 2016.