The Horn of Africa’s volatility is increasingly a cause for concern
Al-Shabaab (the youth in Arabic) are a group of Somali-based militants with close ties to al-Qaeda. They are really starting to infuriate Kenya.
Seven people were wounded when two grenades were thrown into a club in northeastern Kenya on 24 December. One person was killed and 20 injured in a similar attack in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, in October. A Kenyan man has been found guilty of the first deadly act and is serving a life sentence for that crime and for admitting being a member of al-Shabaab. And, also on 24 December, two men, Sylvester Owino Opiyo and Hussein Nderitu Abbas, handed themselves in to the police. Kenyan authorities suspect them of being linked to al-Shabaab.
The group have been carrying out more and more daring attacks in the region and Nairobi has taken a tough line with both its own citizens who have been involved with the gunmen and the militant Somalis themselves.
In October, Kenyan troops deployed to their unruly northern neighbour although they are operating under the African Union (AU) flag. Thousands of soldiers from Burundi and Uganda (along with a mere handful each from a selection of countries from the west of continent) have been stationed in Somalia for the AU since 2007. Where the Kenyan mission differs is that it has come in response to attacks on its people and property at beautiful hotspots for foreign tourists.
Somalia’s other border nations, Djibouti and Ethiopia, have ordered military detachments over the frontier to try to counter the growing terrorism amongst al-Shabaab-controlled areas. Djibouti has sent Somali-speaking soldiers in a bid to win hearts and minds.
Having had no functioning Mogadishu-based government for the last twenty years, there are many hands in the Somalia pie. Kenya is the most determined player at the moment, launching air strikes and ground attacks against militants. The other AU troops are holding weakly onto areas of the capital.
In October, the Kenyan government blamed the kidnapping of two Spanish aid workers from Dadaab refugee camp on al-Shabaab. The British PM David Cameron has stated he is willing to lead more concerted international action in Somalia. And Ethiopia has just jailed two Swedish journalists for 11 years. Addis Ababa accused them of supporting terrorism after they travelled with a separatist group to the Ogaden area of country – a region with a restive Somali minority. Moreover, there is the serious issue of piracy in the Gulf of Aden exacerbating the situation.
The dire domestic problems of Somalia have proved hard to resolve. It is worrying that deadly attacks are spreading across local borders and that governments’ appetites for military intervention seem only to be growing stronger.