Kenya’s foray into Somalia sows seeds of backlash at home
As Kenya attempts to pacify the Islamist Al Shabab movement in Somalia, issues of poverty and security may go unaddressed back home, says guest blogger Alex Thurston.
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Another potential area of fallout stemming from Kenya’s operations in Somalia concerns the quality of life in northern Kenya. This region has long suffered from crippling drought and poverty, and is home to hundreds of thousands of refugees from Somalia. Human Rights Watch reported this month on the abuse of civilians by security forces currently going on in parts of the region:Skip to next paragraph
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The Kenyan police and military have been responsible for a growing number of serious abuses against civilians since the Kenya Defence Forces entered southern Somalia in October, with the stated aim of eliminating al-Shabaab, an Islamist militia. The same month, suspected al-Shabaab sympathizers initiated a series of attacks against police, military, and civilian targets in Kenya.
In response, members of the security forces have been responsible for rape, beatings, looting, and arbitrary arrests of civilians. The crackdown has largely targeted Somali refugees and Kenyan ethnic Somalis, but residents of other ethnic backgrounds in North Eastern province have also been victimized.
This kind of treatment of civilians could leave bitter memories among civilians, memories that outlast Kenya’s mission in Somalia. Those memories could further weaken the legitimacy of the Kenyan government in the north.
Let me be clear: I am not saying that Somali communities in Kenya are inherently a security threat. Far from it; almost all of these people are simply struggling to survive and to build normal lives. What concerns me more is the possibility of greater political division in Kenya, and greater regional fragmentation within the country. As Kenya attempts to pacify its neighbor, the risk grows that core issues of poverty and security will go unaddressed back home.
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