In an ambitious attempt to contain the Al-shabaab menace, Kenya has decided to build a 440-mile ‘wall’ along its border with Somalia. The project is shrouded in secrecy. It is assumed this will involve a concrete wall built along the whole stretch of the borderline, however some security experts counter it is the wrong approach. They propose that anything short of comprehensive security measures will not dent Al-shabaab’s forays into the country.
Regardless of how the project is implemented, given the fact that a large chunk of Northern Kenya residents practice nomadic lifestyle that requires free movement from one area to another in search of pasture and water for their animals, many have expressed concerns that the separation wall will disrupt the nomad’s lifestyle.
For the last year, Andrew Franklin, a security consultant in Kenya, has been advocating for a comprehensive security strategy between Kenya and Somalia. He proposes what he dubs the Somalia Border Control Project that will include ‘militarized instruments such as physical and electronic barriers along the entire border and the laying of properly marked and mapped mine fields’ as he puts it. Frank is a security expert on small wars and counterinsurgencies. He has lived in Kenya for the last 30 years and is currently the Managing Director of Your African Source, a security consulting firm.
Our reporter Suleiman Hassan speaks to Andrew Franklin on a wide range of security issues including the wall dubbed ‘’terror wall’.
Kenya went to Somalia to keep out Al shabaab. However, some of the worst attacks in Kenya took place after we crossed the border including the one on Garissa University College. Do you think the tragedy was appropriately handled by Kenyan forces and did we learn a lesson?
I don’t think Kenya learnt a lesson although a lot has changed after this attack. The whole response was bungled. Look at how senior officers flew to the area within minutes of the incident coming to light and the way the Recce Company had to travel by road allowing the terrorists to cause maximum damage.
Reports that some security officers slept on the job and possibly aiding the terrorists carry out the gruesome act is also disheartening.
Following the launch of “Operation Linda Nchi” in October 2011, Al Shabaab intensified its low intensity war in Kenya, do you think the government’s response is effective?
The Government has consistently refused to recognize the true nature of the Al-shabaab menace especially in these three counties – that is, a spreading insurgency rather than mere terrorism or criminal activity. Al-Shabaab has intensified its recruiting activities throughout Kenya, targeting alienated youth of all backgrounds and religious persuasions. Their strategy is to exploit to their advantage the socio-economic fault lines in Kenya. Government response should have therefore started with correcting this fault lines because Al Shabaab has tapped into the long blazing popular discontent in Mandera, Wajir and Garissa and has extended its insurgency from Somalia into these restive counties.
The Government came up with the controversial wall project. Do you think it will ward off terrorists? What is your take on the whole project?
The wall project will go a long way in curbing cross border terrorism. This is becuase will have a series of concrete barriers, fences, ditches and observation posts overlooked by CCTV stations that is expected to stretch from the Indian Ocean to the border County of Mandera.
I have advocated for a ‘Somalia border control project’ which can be fully implemented in less than two years and with a relatively smaller budget. The project will result in substantial improvements in security throughout the Frontier counties. Al shabaab’s ability to launch terror attacks against targets inside Kenya will be minimized and their network disrupted.
A comprehensive border control plan including physical and electronic barriers, four to six multi-agency reception centres and the declaration of an exclusion zone at least one kilometre wide inside Kenya along the entire internal border will do the trick.
Ultimately the Kenya government needs to reposition properly trained, well organized and adequately equipped NPS elements co-located with KDF units and National Intelligence Service (NIS) personnel in a purpose built combined arms joint operations base in the vicinity of Wajir.
Members of the Somali community and Muslims at large feel targeted by security machineries yet they are also victims of terror. How can this mistrust between security forces and the public be addressed?
Heavy-handed GOK security operations continue to radicalize already disaffected and alienated youth. Allegations of extra-judicial killings by the ATPU and state sponsored “disappearances” or illegal detentions are ineffective in curbing rising insecurity.
The government ought to fight terror while upholding the rule of law. It must avoid to be seen as propagating another form of terror. It must marshal everybody, including Muslims behind the war on terror by winning their confidence.
There are calls to withdraw Kenyan forces from Somalia. Do you think it is time to do that?
Once security measures such as the proposed ‘Somalia border control project’ is implemented, I think it will be safer for Kenyan forces to be withdrawn and deployed along the borders to supplement the project activities. For now though, unless a concrete exit strategy is devised, it will be premature to call it quits as the Al-shabaab threat is still alive.