With increased activity of the Somalia-based terrorist group al-Shabaab within Kenya’s borders, Kenyan officials launched Operation Usalama (Peace) Watch to crack down on terrorist threats. The campaign has been controversial. Kenyan officials have allegedly targeted Somalis and Muslims, with refugees and illegal immigrants rounded up by the thousands. Here are 10 things you didn’t know about Kenya’s anti-terror campaign.
Sources: AlJazeera.com, Buzzfeed.com, AfricanArguments.org, WashingtonPost.com, News.Vice.com, HomelandSecurityNewsWire.com, Edition.CNN.com, France24.com
Kenyan officials say that the operation will help reduce terrorism by returning refugees to camps in the north of the country, specifically targeting neighborhoods with large Somali populations. Nairobi suburbs South C and Eastleigh, nicknamed “Little Mogadishu,” have both been hotspots of police attention.
Somali refugees are being returned to two refugee camps in the country’s northern desert after Somali terror group al-Shabaab committed several attacks within Kenya’s borders.
While Kenya’s police force has often been at the receiving end of distrust and hostility from residents, the new anti-terror operation has increased the mistrust to an unprecedented level with allegations of beatings, theft and rape by police officers becoming more commonplace.
Instead, most are just deported out of the country, and many bribe their way out of police charges. Hussein Khalid, executive director of human rights organization Haki Africa, estimates that the average bribe is around 10,000 Kenyan shillings, or $120 US.
Rather than just detaining potential terrorists (some say racially profiled immigrants and refugees), Kenyan police officers have been issued shoot-to-kill orders, meaning they can respond to resistance with deadly force while carrying out this operation.
A Somali woman was awaiting deportation after being allegedly detained without a warrant, and became ill while being held. Though police said she was at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and not in police custody at the time, there are conflicting stories. Police escorted her body to a Muslim cemetery after she died. The woman was thought to have had a common cold made worse by her detention.
Beyond targeting Somali refugees and illegal immigrants within its borders, Kenyan officials have also targeted Muslims, rounding up thousands of people to verify their legality. In February 2014, police raided a mosque in Mombasa saying worshippers were al-Shabaab members, sparking a riot in which a worshipper and a police officer died.
Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, and Transparency International said the campaign is discriminatory and against Kenya’s own constitution. Even the United Nations said it is uneasy with the campaign, though it has yet to condemn Kenyan officials’ efforts.
Kenya is home to more than 2.4 million people of Somali origin, along with hundreds of thousands of refugees. It made the decision to send troops to Somalia in 2011 to try to restore stability in the terror-ravaged region. Al-Shabaab’s most infamous retaliation came on Sept. 21, 2013 in the Nairobi mall massacre that resulted in 67 deaths, but the terror group has been conducting attacks in Kenya for several years.
In the 1980s, Kenyan forces launched a campaign that ended with tens of thousands of Somali Kenyans losing their (allegedly) legally obtained Kenyan citizenship. Despite claims by officials and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta that the current anti-terror campaign does not target specific groups, there’s uneasiness in the immigrant and refugee communities.