Paying high price for military incursion

ISIOLO-NAIROBI, 13 January 2012 (IRIN) - Security, service delivery and economic activity in northeastern Kenya have deteriorated considerably since October 2011, when the country’s military forces deployed in neighbouring Somalia in an effort to eradicate the Al-Shabab militia, which has vowed to avenge the incursion.
In December alone, at least 15 incidents involving grenades or improvised explosive devices (IEDs) occurred in the regions of Garissa, Wajir, Mandera and Dadaab, where some 463,000 people, mostly Somalis, are housed in the world’s largest refugee complex. (See box)
In the latest incident on 11 January, at least two police officers and four civilians were killed in a raid at the Gerrile border post in Wajir area; other government officials were reported missing, presumably abducted.
Al-Shabab said on its Twitter account that it carried out this attack. Several blogs reportedly associated with the group also said one of its units was responsible for killing a refugee leader in Dadaab in December because he helped the authorities to locate IEDs there.
Confirming the Gerrile incident, the regional commissioner Wenslas Ongayo said an operation was under way to rescue the missing officials.
One local government official in the northeast, who asked not to be identified, told IRIN the insecurity had restricted his duties.
"As a senior civil servant and a supervisor, I am supposed to travel to remote parts of Mandera, some areas very close to the Somali border,” he said.
"Since my life is important to me and my family, I no longer make any field trips since the Al-Shabab killed three government workers [there] two months ago."
Aid affected
An aid worker in Mandera, on the Somali border, said thousands of hungry families who relied on food aid had been affected by the withdrawal of relief agencies.
"How can NGOs believe repeated pledges by the government that it will protect them, whereas almost a dozen of our officers in the police and army have been killed in attacks staged by Al-Shabab in Mandera this year alone?" asked the aid worker.
The police commander in Northeastern Province, Leo Nyongesa, said security measures had been stepped up.
"We are doing a lot; our forces have arrested many Al-Shabab fighters and agents and foiled a number of attacks," Nyongesa told IRIN.
Nyongesa added that the spate of grenade attacks against security personnel would not deter Kenyan security forces in their quest to fight “terrorism”.
"We shall endeavour to protect citizens, aid workers and aliens in our territory," he said in the provincial capital, Garissa, after the New Year’s Eve killing of several people in two pub attacks.
The police force, he said, had also punished some officers after they were implicated in assisting criminals disguised as refugees.
Heightened threat
Hussein Omar, a local government official in Ijara, which also borders Somalia, said the council had lost revenue because the livestock trade had come to a stop in this largely pastoralist area.
Food prices had also increased with local traders no longer able to import goods from Somalia. "Many traders have been forced to quit business after the border was closed," he told IRIN.
An education official in Ijara said hundreds of pupils and their teachers had been affected following school closures.
In addition, Kenyan authorities and foreign governments have warned of heightened threat of attack in the capital, Nairobi.
In a travel warning, the British government said: “We believe that terrorists may be in the final stages of planning attacks. Attacks could be indiscriminate and target Kenyan institutions as well as places where expatriates and foreign travellers gather, such as hotels, shopping centres and beaches.”
"Before, our work was just to guard people’s belongings but that has changed because everybody is a potential terrorist," William Wanyama, a security guard in a Nairobi supermarket, told IRIN.
At a bus-stop, Lydia Muema, who was waiting to travel out of the capital, said: "Nairobi is not Nairobi any more because the oncoming car could be carrying somebody who is planning to hurl a grenade at you.
"Now, I try to avoid crowded places as much as I can. You are always in fear even when in a tall building."
In 1998, the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam were bombed, killing 258 people. The attacks were claimed by Al-Qaeda, which has links to some elements of Al-Shabab.
George Bwana, a supermarket manager, said customer numbers had dropped.
"Many people believe the city centre is the place any terrorist would want to strike and now people prefer to shop closer to where they live," said Bwana. "If you talk to bar owners here in the city, they will tell you the same thing about a declining number of patrons in the evenings."
Click here for a map of Kenya showing locations of recent attacks
Theme (s): Conflict, Governance, Security, Urban Risk,
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]