Why are Terrorists Attacking Kenya?
When people imagine Kenya, most think of safari parks filled with lions, leopards, and wildebeest. That may change, however, if Kenya continues to be the scene of sickening terror attacks. Tourist numbers are already down. People are worried that the lions won’t be the only predators they encounter on their trip.
In the past decade, terrorists have killed hundreds in Kenya. The two worst attacks were those on the Westgate shopping mall in 2013 (67 dead) and on Garissa University in 2015 (148 dead).
Most of the attacks have been claimed by Al-Shabaab, an Islamic group based in the neighbouring country of Somalia. Al-Shabaab is committed to waging war in God’s name until it turns East Africa into an Islamic state. In Somalia, this has meant vying for power in the country’s lengthy civil war. In Kenya, Al-Shabaab’s method has been a series of terror attacks on the civilian population.
The main reason why the terror group’s leaders dislike Kenya is simple. In 2011, when Al-Shabaab controlled Somalia’s capital and looked poised to dominate the country’s future, Kenya dispatched its army to remove them.
But there’s more to Al-Shabaab’s terrorism than resentment. That can be seen in whom they target. At Westgate, they killed people shopping at an upscale mall. At Garissa University, they spared the Muslim students and shot Christians. In Nairobi in 2019, militants attacked a hotel and office complex frequented by foreigners.
Al-Shabaab fighters believe that God wants victory over Western materialism and Christianity. They attack churches to dissuade people from going. They attack foreigners and their businesses to make them to go home. They also oppose Western influence in the Middle East, expressing anger at the American decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
To fully understand Al-Shabaab, however, one needs to ask why thousands of young men are joining the movement—in Kenya as well as Somalia. Part of the reason is that they agree with Al-Shabaab’s rejection of Christianity, greed, and the West. But they are also frustrated by a lack of other opportunities. Education and good jobs are hard to come by in Somalia, which has been a failed state for decades. In Kenya, youth unemployment stands at 25%, and is worse for those who do not come from one of the country’s dominant ethnic groups. That includes Somalis, who make up 6% of Kenya’s population. Some have fled from war and famine in Somalia and live in refugee camps—ideal recruiting ground for Al-Shabaab. Even those who aren’t in camps live in the underdeveloped north of Kenya. These Somalis feel so alienated that when travelling to the capital, Nairobi, they say that they are “going to Kenya.”
This is not just an issue for Somali immigrants. Kenyan politics has long been dominated by a few ethnic groups who have run the country for the benefit of their own people at the expense of everyone else. That’s similar to what the British did when they ran their colony in Kenya. Kenyans suffer because their leaders haven’t found a better way to govern.
The only winners from the terrorist attacks are the leaders of Al-Shabaab. The killings scare away tourists and investors, damaging the economy and perpetuating the poverty that pushes young men towards the terrorists’ training camps. Kenya’s government is having to spend more on security and intelligence in an attempt to neutralize the threat. But more money needs to go into education and job creation, which are better long-term solutions to the problem of human predators in East Africa.