Kenyan Interior Minister Joseph Nkaisserry has announced that Dadaab refugee camp, home to more than 300,000 Somali migrants will close by November. The plan is to repatriate the refugees who live there. Many people have been in the camp for more than 20 years, and a whole new generation of Somali’s in the diaspora were born there and have never known life outside the camp. Many tens of thousands have no intention of returning to Somalia.
The camp opened in 1991 to provide a place for those who were fleeing conflict in their home country a few miles north of the camp. Many Somali refugees are bitter that after so long they have not been allowed to integrate into Kenyan society. The Kenyan government never announced any intention of allowing integration into mainstream society.
Resentment has grown, particularly amongst the young who have been raised with no national identity, they are on Kenyan soil, but make no contribution to the country, and with the closure of the camp, will have no possibility of doing so in the future.
Many officials fear militancy has grown within the camp where the disaffected see action against Kenyan interests as a way of making themselves heard. Al-Shabab, a terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda, whose name means ‘the youth’ in Arabic, has carried out several atrocities in Kenya over recent years. No one needs to be reminded of the carnage of the Westgate and Garissa university where in total more than 200 people lost their lives and hundreds more were left with life changing injuries.
The Kenyan government hold that these, as well as attacks in Mombasa, were planned within the camp and that the ongoing security of the country is at risk if the camp remains open.
Al-Shabab are staging attacks in Kenya because the Kenyan Military are part of The African Union whose mission is to wipe out the group. They are targeting non-Sunni muslims and foreign interests in major cities across the country.
To complicate matters several known members of al-Shabab cells operating in Kenya are westerners…Brits to be precise. The two highest up the ‘most wanted’ list are Samantha Lewthwaite and the man they believe she is married to Habib Saleah Ghani.
Samantha Lewthwaite, known as the white widow is known to be working with al-Shabab and is believed to have helped plan an attack on spectators watching an international football match at a bar in Mombasa, as well as having a hand in there planning of the Westgate attack. The widow of London bomber Germaine Lindsay, she is thought to have married al-Shabab fighter, Habib Saleah Ghani, an Englishman who moved to Kenya in 2007, his mother is a natural-born Kenyan. There have been several sightings of Lewthwaite in Kenya since 2011 when she arrived in the country via Tanzania. She is very adept at changing her appearance and fits in well amongst the thousands of other white women that flood the malls of Nairobi and shops and beaches of Mombasa.
The CIA disclosed in 2012 that Lewthwaite and Ghani had rented an apartment in Mombasa close to the exclusive hotels, Sarova Whitesands Beach Hotel and The Serena Beach Hotel. A raid of the apartment failed to capture the pair but AK47 assault rifles, ammunition, and a laptop which contained plans for an attack on the two hotels were found. Finger prints found at the apartment were confirmed to belong to the couple.
Now it has been made official that the Dadaab is closing it’s likely that many will flee the confines of the camp the first chance they get. An influx of disaffected Somali’s is exactly what the Kenyan government wants to avoid and it’s likely security around the camp will be stepped up almost immediately but will it be enough?
With nothing to lose, nowhere to go and wanting the to make their feelings known a whole generation of young men and women will be ripe for the picking, fodder for al-Shabab who can afford to supply them with consumables they have only dreamed of and the promise of 72 virgins for their martyrdom. It’s a potent mix of materialism and idealism and there is no doubt that some will take up the offer.
As ex-pats what can we do about it? Quite simply nothing. When terrorism comes to town it’s totally luck of the draw if you will be a victim because you were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As usual all we can do is be aware of the risks, know where the exits are and have a plan of what we will do and where we will meet up with our loved ones should such an event occur. Situational awareness should be second nature, if a guy arrives with a bag and leaves without it get as far away from the bag as you can, leave the area immediately. Notice how Kenyan police and military hold their weapons, have a look, you’ll see what I mean. Seeing anyone doing it differently means it’s time to go before the bullets start flying. Vary the malls you visit and don’t assume that because past security alerts have come to nothing that the next one will be the same.
Kenya is a magical country, but like most places living there carries certain risks, particularly if you live in a major city. Are those risks worth it? I think so. Paris and Brussels, London and New York have all shown that attacks can come without warning. Such attacks will continue around the world as long as terrorist groups continue to attract new fighters, it’s sad but it’s a fact of life and the best we can do is hope we don’t get caught up in the atrocities they perpetrate.