Conflicts over clan dominance, loss of revenue from cross-border smuggling and infighting in Al-Shabaab in Somalia are behind the current surge in attacks and kidnappings targeting Kenyans and foreigners on the Kenya-Somalia border.
The upsurge in attacks, according to an intelligence brief, has been mainly linked to the upcoming elections in Jubaland, Somalia, in August. The Marehan, the numerically superior clan in southern Somalia, wants to dominate from Gedo to Kismayu.
Gedo, near the Kenyan border, is a hub for the lucrative illegal trade and human trafficking. It is predominantly occupied by the Marehan and is one of the remaining regions over which Al-Shabaab has control.
The terrorist group, which has been losing control of the port of Kismayu, has capitalised on the clan dynamics and the porous border in Gedo to run numerous illegal businesses that fund their operations.
But the government has in recent months cracked down on the illicit trade in the northeastern region and has intensified efforts to curb the movement of goods and people.
And with sustained pressure from the African Union Mission in Somalia, Al-Shabaab has decided to create insecurity on the border through targeted kidnappings and killings.
The unrest also includes the recent destruction of a border wall erected by Kenya. Al-Shabaab receives taxes from businessmen involved in cross-border smuggling and has been overtaxing Kenyan traders and forcibly taking their animals or goods.
Intelligence sources have gathered that the increasing attacks are meant to create insecurity and coerce Kenyan clans into agreeing to the terms of business set by Al-Shabaab. The current attacks are being ordered by Abdirahman Fillow, Al-Shabaab’s commander in Gedo.
Fillow is also behind the execution of several Kenyan Al-Shabaab fighters accused of being spies.
He hopes that by creating insecurity, the Kenyan government will soften its stand on illegal border trading. This is why the recent attacks are only targeting security officials from clans inside Kenya that are not sympathetic to the terror group’s ideology.
“The Somali Marehan militants aim to use the Kenyan clans as pawns through instigating clan wars on the border, manufacturing unrest against the Kenyan government and carrying out selected kidnappings and killings in order to agitate for their agenda of softening the stand of the Kenyan government,” says the intelligence brief.
“Additionally, the Marehan militias are reported to be planning further attacks against the Kenyan clans in the area. They are said to be planning to carry out kidnappings of Kenyan Somali teachers, medics and government workers. The militia are also said to be planning to raid hospitals in the area for medical supplies.”
On Monday last week, Kenyan security forces killed three Al-Shabaab terrorists who had raided a border patrol unit in Yumbis, Garissa County.
Intelligence sources have also identified three of the 13 police officers killed on June 15 when a police pickup truck ran over a home-made bomb in Khorof Arar, Wajir, as coming from the Degodia clan. One was from the Ogaden clan. The two clans are said to have refused to cooperate with Al-Shabaab, thus making them a target.
And while the Marehan militia is focused on Kenyan towns bordering the Gedo region, the Galjeel militia has also started a similar offensive in Garissa County.
On June 17, six Galjeel militants abducted an Abdalla clan elder in Neqesiyaq village. Mr Mohamed Duale, alias Habashow, was kidnapped after being accused of spying on the activities of the militants and reporting them to security agencies.
Intelligence sources have also singled out the Northern Frontier District Independence Party, a mysterious movement whose members brand themselves “freedom fighters”, as being part of a propaganda machine run by Al-Shabaab sympathisers in the region.
According to the government, the secessionist outfit, which sprang up recently, has been benefiting from contraband trade on the border and is believed to be part of the reason the Kenyan government shut down its border two weeks ago.
“Fifty years of abuse and neglect is too long to endure,” said the group on Twitter yesterday. “But it is not that Kenyan Somalis don’t want to be part of Kenya. It is Kenya that does not want Somalis in Kenya.”