January 19, 2012
Three months into Operation Linda Nichi, the Kenya Defence Forces have made inroads in the fight against al-Shabaab in Somalia. While the consequences of the operation have some Kenyans worried about security at home, a recent survey revealed that an overwhelming majority supports the military operation.
The survey, conducted by the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Nairobi between November 4th and December 5th, indicates that 82% of Kenyans support the operation.
Head researcher Winnie Mitula said the survey questioned 2,400 residents of voting age from 44 of Kenya's 47 counties. Lamu, Isiolo and Mandera counties were not accessible to pollsters due to security concerns.
The survey found that 11% of Kenyans feel the government has handled the operation badly, while 7% are unaware that Kenyan troops entered the war against al-Shabaab.
One of the researchers, Joshua Kivuva, attributed the overwhelming support for Operation Linda Nichi to improved security conditions in Kenya since November.
"Other than the first two attacks in Nairobi soon after the war started, we have not heard any attacks in Nairobi and we think this has been responsible for the overwhelming support," Kivuva said, according to Kenya's Daily Nation.
Local authorities have raised security alerts after a series of grenade attacks and kidnappings carried out by suspected al-Shabaab fighters, and several foreign embassies have warned citizens about planned terrorist attacks in Kenya.
When Kenya announced its decision to enter Somalia in October 2011, officials tried to make it clear that Kenya is pursing al-Shabaab in Somalia, not going to war with Somalia.
"Our territorial integrity is threatened with serious security threats of terrorism," Kenya's Internal Security Minister George Saitoti told reporters at a news conference October 15th. "It means we are now going to pursue the enemy, who are al-Shabaab, to wherever they will be, even in their country."
Kenyan Defence Minister Yusuf Haji said at the same news conference, "If you are attacked by an enemy, you are allowed to pursue that enemy until you get him. We will force them far away from the border."
The al-Shabaab militia has been at war with Somalia's Transitional Federal Government since 2009. Recently, it has been expanding its operations in the region, some say with the backing of al-Qaeda.
Kenya's incursion into Somalia was prompted by several kidnappings attributed to al-Shabaab fighters inside Kenya. For example, two Spanish women working for Doctors Without Borders at Kenya's Daadab refugee camp, home to over 300,000 refugees fleeing war and famine in Somalia, were kidnapped by al-Shabaab on October 13th.
Marie Dedieu, a disabled French citizen living on the Kenyan coast, was also kidnapped on October 1st from her bed. She died in captivity and al-Shabaab is holding her body for ransom.
In September, a CARE International driver was kidnapped near Daadab refugee camp. Also in September, British tourist David Tebbutt was killed and his wife, Judith, was kidnapped while on tour in Kenya.
Kenyan police have also blamed al-Shabaab for a series of grenade attacks targeting popular restaurants, hotels and nightclubs in Nairobi and other Kenyan cities.
Most recently, five people were killed and 21 injured in a New Year's Eve grenade attack in the eastern Kenyan town of Garissa. Police said the attack was carried out by al-Shabaab insurgents or their sympathisers.
As Kenya Defence Forces push their way into Somalia to clear al-Shabaab from the south, and are poised to officially join the ranks of the African Union Mission in Somalia, al-Shabaab has launched its own military operations against Kenyan troops in Somalia and vowed to attack Nairobi.
A few days into the new year, Sheikh Ahmed Iman Ali, the self-proclaimed leader of Kenyan al-Shabaab fighters in Somalia, declared jihad on Kenya in response to the military incursion.
"If you are unable to reach the land of jihad … then raise your sword against the enemy that is closest to you," Ali said in a January 6th video produced by al-Kataib, al-Shabaab's media foundation. "Jihad should be now be waged inside Kenya, which is legally a war zone."
"You do not have to get permission from your parents," he added.
Ali, a Kenyan and former chairman of the Muslim Youth Centre in Nairobi's Pumwani area, was named as the central person in charge of recruiting non-Somalis in Nairobi to join al-Shabaab. In a July 2011 report, the United Nations said the Muslim Youth Centre was involved in recruiting, fundraising, and running training and orientation events for al-Shabaab.
The Muslim Youth Centre, which has ties to al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab, named Ali the "supreme emir of Kenya" on January 11th, and vowed more attacks on Kenya under Ali's leadership.
The next day, al-Shabaab fighters attacked a police post in Guerille in Kenya's north-eastern Wajir district, killing seven people, including three policemen. Police said the fighters abducted three local government officials and stole firearms and a government vehicle.
On January 13th, the fighters paraded two Kenyan hostages around the streets of Bardhere in southern Somalia's Gedo region chanting, "God is great", witnesses said. One week after the kidnapping, the al-Shabaab press office posted photographs of the hostages on social media with an account of the attack as told by one of the hostages.
Some Kenyans said they are feeling the effects of the heightened security alert and the threat of terrorism.
"I love going out to have fun, but I can no longer relax," Samuel Mbugua, a businessman in Nairobi, told Sabahi. "If they threw one grenade in a pub, they can do it again."
Irene Nyambura, a housewife and mother of one living in Nairobi, said watching the news makes her feel depressed and worried. "It has only been three months since Kenya started pursuing al-Shabaab into Somalia, but I feel like it has been forever," she told Sabahi.
"I worry when my daughter goes to school because you never know where al-Shabaab will strike next," she said.
Titus Maloi, who runs a tourism company in Nairobi, said he is worried about business if security deteriorates. "When the attacks first happened in the coast, we had booking cancellations. Now there is a major slowdown in bookings and many emails demanding to know whether we can guarantee security," he said.
"But how do you guarantee their security when we cannot even guarantee our own security? It is going to be a tough year on tourism."
Kenya's Tourism Minister Najib Balala downplayed the negative impact Kenya's military operation -- and al-Shabaab's retaliation -- could have on the industry.
"The military response on al-Shabaab will not affect tourism activities in the country," Balala said, adding that security measures are already in place to secure all tourist activities.
Kenyan police spokesperson Eric Kiraithe told Sabahi that frisking individuals entering public places is helping to improve security.
"The purpose of this frisking is to deny al-Shabaab opportunity and to minimise any opportunity that might present itself. When you know you will be checked before you enter a building, you are not likely to carry an explosive with you," he said.
Kiraithe called on citizens to be extra vigilant and help police combat al-Shabaab. He said police have made several arrests in connection to the attacks, including suspects with potentially useful information on al-Shabaab operations.
"The message we want to send Kenyans and others outside Kenya is: Do not be scared, be cautious," he said.
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