Why terrorists have had success in Kenya


The National Police Service has issued an alert to the effect that Al-Shabaab suicide bombers could be planning major terrorist attacks in the country.

This troubling news comes in the wake of another report attributed to the International Organisation for Migration and the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims that at least 700 Kenyans have quietly returned home after quitting Al-Shabaab in Somalia.

This turn of events begs the question why Al-Shabaab and other extremist groups have succeeded in operating in Kenya, unlike Ethiopia, which has a higher Somali population, is more involved in Somalia, and has a longer border with that war-ravaged country.

Some graduate students of Terrorism and International Security at Kisii University’s Nairobi campus came up with the following hypothesis regarding Al-Shabaab’s attacks in Kenya:


One, unlike Kenya, Ethiopia is a closed society where dissent that could undermine federal security is not tolerated.

Ethiopia’s security apparatus have more leeway to ruthlessly deal with terrorists and their sympathisers. Suspects can be held incommunicado and denied legal representation.

Two, Ethiopia’s media is not free and it is closely monitored.

Media, as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once observed, is the oxygen of terrorism.

Terrorists are likely to act if their heinous actions are captured on the news.

Kenya’s vibrant media has given Al-Shabaab the incentive to attack by signalling that the victim is vulnerable.

In Ethiopia, any terrorist attack is unlikely to make it to the front pages or prime time news.

Three, Nairobi, unlike Addis Ababa, presents many strategic, symbolic, and value-laden targets for extremist groups.

Westgate, rumoured to have Israeli connections, was a high-value target that grabbed global headlines and heightened Al-Shabaab’s profile.

The presence of the offices of international agencies such as the UN and the resultant high number of expatriates increases Nairobi’s attraction for terrorists.

Al-Shabaab is aware that it cannot get much sympathy by attacking the African Union seat in Addis Ababa.

Four, the proximity of Nairobi and other important towns such as Mombasa and Lamu to Al-Shabaab strongholds in Somalia makes it easier to plan and launch terrorist attacks in Kenya.


Addis Ababa is miles away from Al-Shabaab strongholds in central and southern Somalia.

Tourism is more developed in Kenya, making it more vulnerable to attack.

Fifth, Al-Shabaab has never forgiven Kenya for driving it out of Kismayu and cutting off its main source of revenue — exportation of charcoal to the Middle East.

This has constrained Al-Shabaab’s ability to raise funds for its operations.

Ethiopia’s incursions in Somalia have not necessarily nipped Al-Shabaab’s financial hubs and networks.

Finally, rampant corruption in Kenya’s security organs has given Al-Shabaab a new lease of life.

Al-Shabaab operatives can buy their way into Kenya.

Ethiopians do not condone corruption that can endanger their federal security and pride as an uncolonised African state.

Kenyans’ tendency to consider all matters through ethnic lenses has caused lack of nationalism and patriotism, making the country a soft target for Al-Shabaab attacks.