Closure of Somali border will boost war against terror

Tuesday, May 26th, 2020 17:56 |
President Uhuru Kenyatta. Photo/PSCU

Edward Mwachinga 

Last week, Kenya shut her borders with Tanzania and Somalia as additional measures to contain the spread of Covid-19. 

The move was occasioned by growing rates of infection in neighbouring countries and perhaps a realisation that the countries may not have been taking adequate steps to contain the spread of infections within their borders.

While the circumstances in Tanzania and Somalia may differ, the upshot is that keeping both borders open was gravely compromising Kenya’s efforts to tackle the pandemic.

Communities living along Kenya’s borders with Tanzania and Somalia have common interests through trade, tourism, pastoralism, culture, religion and social relationships.

The Kenya-Somalia border has an additional dimension. Violent insurgents have constantly taken advantage of the long, porous Kenya-Somalia border to target communities living near the border. 

Terrorists have also crossed the border into Kenya where they have staged kidnappings and other criminal atrocities.

The Kenya-Somalia border has also posed a major threat to regional peace and security due to the influx of illegal arms that fuel insecurity, banditry and cattle rustling.

Illegal immigrants crossing through the border also pose a risk in terms of control of the disease.

Apart from halting the cross-border transmission of Covid-19, shutting down the border will, therefore, help limit terrorist incursions especially in the counties of Wajir, Mandera and Garissa, which have borne the brunt of al-Shabaab attacks.

It will also check the spillover effects of the raging internecine conflict in Somalia into Kenyan territory.

The recent violent confrontation between Somalia security forces and Jubbaland militia in Mandera town is a case in point.

And finally, the closure of the Kenya-Somalia border will also significantly boost prevention and countering violent extremism (PCVE) in northern Kenya.

This is because terrorist insurgents in Somalia are believed to have built an extensive cross border network of terror targeting youth for radicalisation and recruitment to fight in Somalia and carry out attacks in Kenya.

Shutting the border, therefore, limits al-Shabaab activities while facilitating closer monitoring of the movement of people and goods. It also protects crucial social and physical infrastructure like hospitals, schools, universities, shops, communication masts, and security posts, from attacks by al-Shabaab.

While the existing ban on large public gatherings due to Covid-19 has denied terrorists the opportunity to attack innocent communities, restrictions on movement due to the pandemic are having adverse socio-economic impacts such as loss of jobs and livelihoods.

This together with curtailment of social, cultural and religious activities is likely to fuel local grievances that extremists may seek to exploit to advance their agenda.

There is, therefore, need to step up PCVE efforts targeting communities living along the border.

It is also important for communities living along the border to complement the work of security agents by increasing vigilance against extremist networks.

The social restrictions due to Covid-19 present challenges to the conduct of PCVE activities on the ground.

This calls for creative approaches, for instance, use of social and broadcast media as well as promoting community awareness.

Social media has been identified as a powerful tool for reaching out to the youth in the fight against extremism. The youth also need to be actively involved in coronavirus related community initiatives.

Given the disruption to social and economic activities, there is also need to promote awareness of the health and security benefits of closing the border among affected communities.

This will help counter any extremist narratives preying on the problems locals are facing as a result of Covid-19.

With experts predicting a prolonged crisis, it is indeed advisable to craft a new approach to PCVE that is aligned with the existing social reality.

Sustainability of the PCVE agenda will be crucial in addressing post-Covid-19 challenges among vulnerable communities. —The writer is an Advocate of the High Court and a Partner at Viva Africa Consulting LLP — [email protected]    

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