Kenya is determined to do whatever it takes to eradicate al-Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia to prevent East Africa’s biggest economy from becoming enmeshed in fighting a Nigeria-type insurgency, President Uhuru Kenyatta said.
The government is boosting spending on security after decades of “severe underinvestment” and wants to work more closely with the international community to help defeat the threat posed by terrorism, Kenyatta, 52, said in an interview on Aug. 2 at State House in the capital, Nairobi.
He rejected calls by opposition leader Raila Odinga for the withdrawal of Kenyan forces from Somalia because he said it may lead to an onslaught similar to the one by Boko Haram militants in northeast Nigeria.
“It is those types of actions, pulling out of Somalia, that can ultimately result in a Boko Haram-type of environment in Kenya,” Kenyatta said. “That is what we are determined to ensure doesn’t succeed.”
Kenyan forces began an incursion into southern Somalia in October 2011 to combat al-Shabaab militants it blamed for a series of attacks on aid workers and tourists. Al-Shabaab threatened to retaliate unless the forces were withdrawn and in September it claimed responsibility for a raid on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi that left at least 67 people dead. The group has carried out a series of subsequent bombings and gun attacks in the country.
In Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil producer and most populous nation, the military has lost control of rural areas in the northeast despite President Goodluck Jonathan imposing emergency rule in three states in the region last year, IHS Country Risk said on Aug. 1. Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the worst-ever bombing in the capital, Abuja, in April, and killed more than 2,000 people in the first half of this year, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch.
The raids in Kenya have scared off tourists, who contribute more than $1 billion annually to Kenya’s foreign-currency earnings, the most after tea exports. Arrivals of holidaymakers fell 18 percent to 1.4 million last year.
The World Bank in June lowered its forecast for Kenya’s economic growth this year and next to 4.7 percent, from as much as 5.2 percent, partly because of the decline in tourist arrivals. Fitch Ratings said on July 25 that “rising security challenges from terrorist attacks could contain future growth” as it affirmed the country’s B+ credit rating.
As part of its efforts to improve security, the government in April began deploying an additional 7,000 newly trained police and is currently in the process of recruiting 10,000 more to boost the force. The state is also concluding a deal with Safaricom Ltd., the Vodafone Plc unit that is East Africa’s biggest mobile operator, to build a surveillance network in Nairobi and the port city of Mombasa.
Kenyatta, who is in Washington this week for the U.S.- Africa Leaders Summit, said he plans to hold talks with American companies to help improve airport security in the country.
Kenyatta has previously blamed some of the violence in Kenya, such as a June attack on the coastal town of Mpeketoni in Lamu county that killed at least 60 people, on “domestic political networks.” He described these as groups that are seeking to displace people in order to grab their land.
“Al-Shabaab definitely is involved,” he said. “But if you look for example at the Lamu situation, as much as indeed they are involved, they are working with local networks who give them cover.”
Last week, the government repossessed 500,000 acres (202,000 hectares) of land that been allocated to 22 entities in 2011 and 2012, under “dubious and corrupt circumstances,” revoking title deeds in the process, Kenyatta said.
Lamu is the site of a planned infrastructure project in which a port, an oil pipeline, roads and a railway will link countries including Uganda, Ethiopia and South Sudan to Kenya’s coast. The country’s first crude deposit was found in 2012.
The intervention by Kenyan forces in Somalia, which became part of an African Union multinational force known as Amisom, has helped stabilize southern parts of the country. Still, al-Shabaab controls large swathes of central Somalia and Amisom forces now need to be deployed in those areas to take control of the “breeding ground” of the militants, Kenyatta said.
“We shouldn’t be just content in holding the areas that have been allocated to us,” he said. “We need to up the game and see how we can now move into some of the other areas which are still occupied by al-Shabaab operatives.”
The African Union, which first deployed forces in Somalia in February 2007, currently has more than 22,000 security personnel from Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone. Kenya may deploy additional troops if necessary, Kenyatta said.
“Kenya will be prepared to work together with Amisom and the United Nations as a whole and play her part whatever it may entail, because the quicker we deal with this issue of al-Shabaab, the quicker we bring stability to Somalia, the quicker we bring security to Kenya,” he said.