This Saturday at least nine men were killed during an attack perpetrated by suspected Al-Shabaab militants in the coastal region of Lamu County, in Kenya. According to eyewitnesses, the militants gathered the villagers before beheading them with knives, the New York Times reported. This horrifying act is yet another in a long series of terrorism-related incidents in the region.
Last Wednesday three policemen were killed during a raid to a police post, and earlier this month, in July 1, six other people died when gunmen from the same militant group opened fire on buses in Mandera County, further north. These attacks come in the wake of the spike of violence that has plagued Kenya for the last months.
Al-Shabaab is a militant group aligned with Al-Qaeda and opposed to the Somali government. After Operation Linda Nchi in 2011, during which Kenyan and Somali troops attacked the Al-Shabaab together, the group declared it would retaliate against Nairobi’s involvement.
Since then hundreds of Kenyans have died in the wake of several attacks that hit not only the border regions, but also some major population centers. In April 2, 2015, one hundred and forty-eight people were killed during a major attack to the Garissa University College, in one of the largest terrorist actions of its kind.
The militant-related violence is indeed distressing. However, it is not the only issue of this kind faced by the Kenyan authorities, and the fears that the country might explode in a wave of brutality loom as this August’s elections draw near.
Last week the European Union Election Observation Mission to Kenya has issued a report in which it warned against the possibility of further violence during the next couple months, especially after the elections of August 8. Even before the conflict with Al-Shabaab, Kenya had a history of internal violence that caused great concern among the international community.
Such internal strife is far from unheard of in the African continent. Most African territories were carved up by the European colonial powers with little regard to the ethnic divides within those regions. This situation remained unchanged after the decolonization process, during which the now independent colonies kept the old borders and the accompanying issues.
It should be noticed that this very point is one of the catalysts of ethnic violence throughout the world. Evidently that each case retains its own complexities, and the situation in Kenya is no exception.
Ever since the country’s independence in 1963, the politics in Kenya have been largely defined by ethnic divides, with political leaders outlining their supporters and their opponents according to them.
This issue escalated during the elections of December 27, 2007, when President Mwai Kibaki won amidst accusations of electoral fraud. The opposition reacted violently and the authorities replied in kind. When the violence finally dwindled, by the end of February 2008, more than a thousand people had died.
The clashes of 2007-2008 displaced 650,000 people across the country, and left the population greatly traumatized. According to ABC News, many civilians fear that the increasing instability may cause a new surge of violence to erupt. Because of this, several people are reported to be fleeing Kenya to avoid getting caught in whatever may happen after the next month’s elections.
In an attempt to avoid such developments the authorities have arranged committees to encourage pacific interactions between the different ethnicities, although some people question their effectiveness. The Kenyan government also deployed more security personnel to the areas affected by the terrorist attacks. Troops were similarly stationed in regions where clashes between the ethnic groups are expected to erupt. Unfortunately, the security forces have been accused of brutality and abuse of power for years and inspire little trust.
The escalating violence also presents further economic ramifications. Tourism has decreased, and last week the American government issued a travel warning to everyone visiting Kenya, underlining the terrorism-related risks.
Kenya is bracing itself for a grievous election season, with several sources of potential violence spread along the borders and within. For now, only time will tell how effective the measures being put in place truly are.
[Featured Image by Khalil Senosi/AP Images]