openSecurity

Fears of influx of militants prompts Kenya to tighten security on Somali border

Kenya tightens security on its north-eastern border with Somalia. Troops deployed as violence intensifies in Karachi. Clinton denies rumours of US-Iran prisoner swap. Rwandan opposition candidate attacked by mob in Kigali. Curfew declared in Srinagar, Kashmir, after days of violent protests. All this and more in today's briefing.
Josephine Whitaker
4 February 2010

Kenyan authorities are to tighten security on Kenya’s porous north-eastern border with Somalia, ahead of an expected offensive against al-Shabaab by the Somali government.

Al-Shabaab, an Islamist militia that has been waging an insurgency against the transitional government of President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed in Mogadishu since 2006, now controls much of southern Somalia, including the border with Kenya. Al-Shabaab’s presence in this poorly patrolled border region, currently suffering from a prolonged drought and high unemployment, has long been a cause for concern in Kenya, where the militant group has been recruiting young Kenyans to join its ranks.

Local authorities report that they are stepping up security measures on the Kenyan side of the border because “the threat from the other side is higher now”. It is feared that the forthcoming government offensive against al-Shabaab strongholds in the south might push Islamist fighters across the border into Kenya, where it is already thought that militants are hiding among the thousands of Somali refugees currently living in the Dadaab refugee camp complex.

The openSecurity verdict: Since an al-Shabaab statement released earlier this week announced it had joined forces with al-Qaeda in a move analysts have long suspected, the international community has focused on the link between Islamic extremism in Somalia and Yemen, which are separated only by the narrow Gulf of Aden. But the international community would do well to keep its sights trained on the south as well: lawlessness in Somalia is not only spreading north, it is also threatening to spill over into the neighbouring countries of east Africa, via Kenya.

Kenya is currently facing two distinct problems in this regard. Firstly, although it is now widely seen as a vital frontline against extremism in the Horn of Africa, and has long been the closest ally of the US and UK in east Africa, recent steps to increase security along its north-eastern border reflect ongoing concerns about infiltration of Somali militants into Kenya. Several reports last year suggested that al-Shabaab militants were slipping easily across this border, indistinguishable from Somali refugees. There are also growing concerns that Kenya has become a transit point for foreigners coming to fight for al-Shabaab.

Secondly, last summer, the Kenyan government become a key supporter in the region of the Mogadishu government, which is widely accepted as having little control outside of the capital. However, recent domestic unrest in Kenya has brought the strained relationship between the two neighbours into sharp relief, as well as stoking fears of al-Shabaab penetration of Kenya’s Muslim minority.

Protests by Muslims in Kenya against their government’s attempts to deport a controversial Jamaican imam turned deadly last month, when at least five people were killed after the police used live ammunition against demonstrating crowds. The Kenyan Interior Minister George Saitoti, in a statement released after the government crackdown, said that the government believed that al-Shabaab had infiltrated the protests.

The incident stoked communal tensions across Kenya, and subsequent government crackdowns on illegal immigrants have led to the arrest of hundreds of Somalis in Kenya, who allegedly hold forged papers. The national media has reported that several prominent Somali officials, including two army generals and eleven MPs of the Federal Transitional Government (FTG) were among those arrested.

This has led to a marked rise in tension between the two countries. On Tuesday, forty Somali MPs signed a parliamentary grievance motion against the Kenyan government, alleging abuse and harassment of Somalis in Kenya at the hands of the Kenyan authorities. The motion, which was published in Mogadishu, also urges the transitional government to cut diplomatic and trade ties with Kenya, and called on international agencies to move their bases in Kenya to other locations in the region.

Accusations that the Kenyan government is recruiting Kenyan-Somalis and Somali refugees living in Kenya to fight against al-Shabaab in southern Somalia have provoked both threats from al-Shabaab, as well as some criticism from the Somali government. Meanwhile, there are also reports that al-Shabaab is trawling towns in impoverished northeastern Kenya to recruit fighters to its ranks.

If Kenya is infiltrated by Islamic extremists, as many already suspect it has been, it threatens to leave an open door for the spread of such extremism to the rest of east Africa. Furthermore, if squabbles, such as the current wrangling over the treatment of Somalis in Kenya, are allowed to derail the relationship between Nairobi and Mogadishu, this will leave the transitional government ever more isolated in the region – something both countries can ill afford. The collapse of the transitional government would only increase the pressure on Kenya’s borders.

The dangers of ‘failed states’ destabilising neighbours has long been recognised by diplomats and scholars of international relations. In this case, Somalia's geopolitical advantages, as a point of exchange between Africa and the Arab world, threatens to become a global burden.

Army deployed to quell ethnic tensions in Karachi

Paramilitary troops have been deployed in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi by local authorities, after an intensification of communal violence over the past week left more than twenty people dead.

Ethnic violence has been increasing in Karachi over the past month, with dozens of people killed, although it has long been a feature of life in this diverse coastal city.

The most recent violence is believed to be perpetrated by gunmen from rival political groups belonging to Karachi’s ruling coalition. Ethnic Pashtuns loyal to the Awami National Party (ANP) and Urdu-speakers belonging to the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), which represents the the Urdu-speaking majority in Karachi, are believed to have clashed again over the weekend. The ANP blamed the killings on MQM activists, who have also been blamed for the killings of Baloch political activists in recent weeks. The MQM has denied its involvement in both incidents.

In response to the spiraling violence, local authorities have imposed a ban on carrying weapons in public, as well as banning public gatherings. The national interior minister, Rehman Malik, has also arrived in Karachi in an attempt to diffuse political tensions.

Clinton rejects talk of US-Iranian prisoner swap

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has denied rumours that the US is considering an exchange of prisoners with the Iranian government, after the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, suggested on state television on Tuesday that talks were already underway with the US government about releasing three American hikers detained in Iran last year in return for the release of a number of Iranian prisoners held by the United States.

The three American nationals were detained in July last year, after straying into Iranian territory whilst hiking in northern Iraq. Although their families have repeatedly claimed that the three were simply hiking, the Iranian government has accused them of spying for the US government.

Clinton emphasised that the US government believes the three American prisoners should be released immediately on humanitarian grounds, as the Iranian government has no reason for their continued detention.

Mob attacks Rwandan opposition candidate in Kigali

A potential candidate in the race for the Rwandan presidency, due to take place in August this year, was attacked by a mob in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, on Wednesday.

Victoire Ingabire, expected to run for president on behalf of the United Democratic Forces (UDF), a political party that is not yet formally registered, has been accused of playing the ethnicity card in a country scarred by the murder of 800 000 Rwandan Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus in the 1994 genocide.

Ingabire escaped unharmed, although an assistant was badly injured in the attack. Five men who assert that they are angered by Ingabire’s politics have since been arrested by local police.

Ingabire has been criticised for her comments suggesting that the Rwandan government is dominated by a Tutsi elite, although she has repeatedly denied accusations that she engages in the politics of ethnicity. She has also denied allegations in a 2009 UN report that some members of her UDF party have links to Hutu rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

There are fears, however, that this incident highlights the current government’s intolerance of freedom of speech. Although the president, Paul Kagame, who is expected to win the forthcoming election, has tried to move on from ethnic divisions and create a strong sense of national citizenship, rights groups have been concerned, among other issues, about the lack of support for free speech in Rwanda since the genocide.

Curfew declared in Srinagar after protests

Police in Indian-administered Kashmir have declared a general curfew after three days of violent protests, following the accidental death of a fifteen year old boy in Srinagar, the state capital, during an unrelated protest on Sunday.  

Protests over the killing of Wamiq Farooq, who died when he was hit by a tear gas canister during anti-Indian protests on Sunday, saw seventeen protestors and eight soldiers injured on Monday, while a general strike on Tuesday and Wednesday shut down much of the Kashmir Valley. A public mourning ceremony to be held today in Srinagar is expected to bring further violence and protests.  

 

 

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