Resurgence of Al-Shabab disrupts Kenya-Somalia border plans

Nairobi (Caasimada Online) – Kenya has yet again postponed reopening its border with neighboring Somalia, citing increased terror activity as the cause.

The country’s Interior Minister, Kithure Kindiki, announced on Wednesday, attributing a recent “wave of attacks” to the al-Qaeda-affiliated group al-Shabab.

The announcement to delay the border reopening follows a 12-year closure initiated in 2011 when Kenya undertook a military operation to counter al-Shabab’s incursion into Kenyan territory.

In May, the Kenyan Interior Minister and his Somali counterpart, Mohamed Ahmed Sheikh Ali, declared their intention to restore cross-border movement after high-level deliberations in Nairobi.

However, the recent deaths of over a dozen individuals, including eight police officers, in suspected al-Shabab-led attacks have led to reconsidering the reopening timeline.

“The government will delay the planned phased-out reopening of the Kenya-Somalia border points to facilitate comprehensive and conclusive handling of the recent wave of terror attacks and cross-border crime,” Kindiki stated via Twitter.

Understanding Al-Shabab’s influence

For over a decade, al-Shabab has been battling to overthrow Somalia’s central government and establish its own governance based on a rigid interpretation of Islamic law.

In response to the escalating conflict, Kenya deployed troops to Somalia in 2011 and has significantly contributed to the African Union peacekeeping mission in the neighboring nation.

This mission, known as the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), coordinates military operations and air strikes with the United States and local militia.

They have successfully regained control over large portions of the territory initially seized by al-Shabab.

Strained Relations

The shared opposition to the militant group has not smoothed over the turbulent relationship between Kenya and Somalia.

Accusations have flown in both directions: Somalia alleging Nairobi’s interference in its internal affairs, and Nairobi countering with charges that Mogadishu is scapegoating it for its domestic security and political issues.

A significant strain on diplomatic relations occurred in December 2020, when Somalia cut ties after Kenya hosted the political leaders of Somaliland, a region seeking independence that Mogadishu does not recognize.

This was further complicated by a maritime border dispute in 2021 when Kenya refused to accept a United Nations ruling awarding most of the contested area to Somalia.

Al-Shabab has conducted several attacks within Kenya, including the devastating 2015 massacre at Garissa University that claimed 148 lives, primarily students.

Security analysts suggest these attacks aim to pressure Kenya into withdrawing its peacekeeping forces from Somalia.

The ‘Good Neighbourliness’ initiative

The announcement of the delay in border reopening puts the “Deris Wanaag” initiative, funded by the United Kingdom, into uncertainty.

This initiative, “Good Neighbourliness” in Somalia, was conceived to secure long-term stability in the Horn of Africa region.

Earlier this year, both Kenya’s Kidiki and Somalia’s Ali expressed the need for enhanced cross-border intelligence and law enforcement to safeguard the borders.

Their aim was to facilitate the ease of trade, mobility, and the free movement of people.

The border points at Mandera, Liboi, and Kiunga on the Kenyan side were expected to reopen in phases over 90 days, an increasingly uncertain objective in light of the recent surge in terrorist activity.

This delay serves as a reminder of the profound challenges facing peace and stability in the region.