Al-Shabaab Continues to Strike as Kenyan Elections Loom

As the Kenyan elections approach, Al-Shabaab has ramped up the pressure on the government to protect civilians, especially in the border regions. Elections in Kenya are usually tense affairs, as was seen during the 2007-08 election crisis , in which many were killed. It appears that as these elections approach, Al-Shabaab has seen an opportunity to increase its activity.

Al-Shabaab has targeted Kenya ever since the government sent around 2,000 troops into neighbouring Somalia in October 2011. Kenya’s actions followed a series of cross border raids by the Somali based extremist group. Since this invasion, Kenya has been the subject of harrowing attacks by Al-Shabaab, the most famous being the incidents that took place at Westgate Shopping Mall, Mpeketoni and Garissa University.

It appears that due to the rise of Islamic State (IS) the world’s media has allowed Al-Shabaab to fall off the radar. However, for those living in the border regions, such as Lamu, the threat has never really gone away. Those living in these regions have witnessed an increase in deadly attacks by the Somali group over the last couple of months.

Since mid-May there have been almost weekly attacks by Al-Shabaab in the border regions, such as Lamu, Garissa and Mandera. Al-Shabaab have employed varying tactics to carry out their attacks. Rather than their more conventional use of fighters armed with firearms, the group have started to focus on planting landmines in order to attack from a distance.

While Al-Shabaab are continuing to target the same areas of the country, the government struggles to apprehend them. For President Kenyatta this surge in attacks could not have come at a worse time, as he prepares for another heated election against his old rival Odinga. The government is under real pressure from the people living in these regions to increase security, especially considering that Odinga was the more popular candidate in most of the affected areas during the 2013 election.

People living in Lamu especially appear to have reached the limit of what they can take. Following attacks during the night on the 9th of July in which suspected Al-Shabaab fighters reportedly beheaded 9 men in a raid on a village, the people planned to protest. They feel that the government should be doing more to protect them.

How has the government responded? Well, it is common knowledge that Al-Shabaab has been using Boni Forest as a base from which to launch its attacks. So, in response to these attacks the Kenyan military has launched air strikes on Boni, as well as imposing curfew in Lamu, Garrissa and Tana River. However, Mr Marwa, the Coast Regional Co-ordinator of the response to Al-Shabaab attacks has brought politics into the situation. He has accused leaders of looking for votes and lying about the curfews that have been imposed.

If the government is unable to protect the citizens, there must be serious questions raised about the potential for an Al-Shabaab attack on Election Day. At the beginning of the year the group were suspected of stealing electronic voting kit, however this was denied by Al-Shabaab. Given the tension that already surrounds Kenyan elections, a potential Al-Shabaab attack just adds fuel to the proverbial fire.

With under a month to go until the election the timeframe for the current government to get a hold on this situation is diminishing. As the election approaches, it is likely that Al-Shabaab will continue to attempt to carry out attacks to undermine the process and the power of the government to protect its people. Hopefully the government can control the situation and prevent  further loss of life.

Featured image | Al Shabaab Flag | flickr

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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