In Summary
  • On several occasions, militants have slipped through Kenya’s porous border with Somalia and perpetrated attacks on Kenyan soil.
  • Kenya should certainly continue with elements of what has worked over the last four years: containment and thwarting and limiting attacks.

After close to four years of calm in urban areas, Al-Shabaab demonstrated its continued threat to peace in Kenya with the operation launched in an upscale apartment and restaurant complex in Nairobi.

The gun, grenade and bomb assault will raise inevitable questions about why the country has been targeted successfully so many times over the last eight years.

First, it is worth looking at some of the more positive aspects of Tuesday’s attack.

Between 2011 and 2014, Al-Shabaab seemed to have succeeded in stretching the cord that holds Kenya together to the limits.

The group deliberately sought to exploit the country’s ethnic and religious diversity and, in its propaganda, it highlighted these as offering it a chance of triggering sectarian strife.

“Thank God Kenyan society is divided and facing ethnic clashes,” said one of the group’s ideologues, Sheikh Mohammed Dulyadeyn, in a video released in June 2014.

UNITY

He urged militants to increase their attacks in the country and it was no coincidence that a wave of gun and grenade assaults targeted at churches followed, although the sectarian fighting Al-Shabaab hoped to trigger did not materialise.

Kenya has largely managed to reduce regular attacks in urban areas since 2014, although the Tuesday assault shows that the fight is far from won.

Most critically, political temperatures in Kenya are now much lower than they were during the Westgate attack in September 2013.

Wednesday’s united, and clearly coordinated responses by President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga, sent out a message of national resolve and signalled that Al-Shabaab will not succeed in tearing the country apart.

A second positive factor from this was the significant improvement in security response and coordination.

PLANNING

As was well-recorded, the response to Westgate by the security forces was a study in chaos.

Friendly fire incidents, lack of coordination and multiple delays meant a greater number of casualties drew and sustained adverse press around the world, with its inevitable effect on critical sectors of the economy.

The response to the Dusit assault was swifter and much better coordinated.

It demonstrated that efforts to improve inter-agency cooperation in the security sector, under the overall ambit of the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), have borne fruit.

On the ground, the commander was Douglas Kanja, the General Service Unit Commandant. The security forces saved dozens of lives.

SECURITY GAPS

Communication was also much better and measured than during Westgate.

The fact that many Nairobians carried on with business as usual on Wednesday was a big improvement on 2013 when the nation felt under siege.

Despite these positive elements, there will be inevitable questions about why this attack was allowed to occur.

Why does Kenya experience far more attacks than other troop-contributing countries in Somalia including Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti and Ethiopia or Tanzania, a country which, although it has not sent troops to Somalia, has been battling its own domestic militants with suspected ties to Al-Shabaab?

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