George Mwangi, 60, packed his belongings and abandoned his modest house in Mkunumbi division in West Lamu Constituency on 27 June.
“I decided enough is enough and moved my family back to Nyeri County because we risked being killed,” Mwangi tells The Africa Report. He had lived in Lamu West constituency for more than a decade after buying a parcel of land in 2010.
Al Shabaab had invaded Salama and Juhudi villages three days earlier, beheaded five people, torched houses and slaughtered farm animals.
Mwangi narrated how Shabaab militants had dragged a friend out of his house in Juhudi village with hands and legs tied, before beheading him and “[setting] his house and granary ablaze”.
“I had been contemplating moving from Lamu County next year, but his gruesome murder forced me to act sooner. Lamu West constituency is becoming insecure by the day,” he says.
It is not the first time the militants have spread terror in the county that borders Somalia to the northeast and the Indian Ocean to the south.
The attack came less than a week after the interior cabinet secretary, Kithure Kindiki, toured the county and warned Al-Shabaab that the government will deal with them.
The terrorist group recently released a propaganda video of its east African recruits attending a graduation ceremony in Jilib, commonly referred to as Shabaab headquarters, in Somalia’s Middle Juba region.
Are there people sharing intelligence with sympathisers? Have we allowed people access to sensitive areas that they should not be in? What exactly are we doing wrong?
In the video, which is in Somali language, Shabaab spokesman Ali Dhere addresses trained insurgents – who are allegedly from Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania – and singles out Kenya for criticism.
Kenya’s defence cabinet secretary, Adan Duale, lashed out during a recent security meeting in Garissa town saying:
“We cannot have the director general of intelligence coming from Garissa, the director of criminal investigations coming from Wajir, and I from Garrisa, [yet] we [are] still having Al Shabaab killing innocent people in our country. That will not happen. We will deal with them ruthlessly.”
Duale says the government will secure high-technology equipment in the next three months to effectively fight Shabaab both inside Kenya and in Somalia.
“We will buy modern high-tech equipment in the next three months that will help detect IEDs [Improvised Explosive Devices]. We are also buying more sophisticated Armoured Personnel Carriers [APCs] and other equipment critical in the war against terror,” he said.
Kindiki concurred saying the government will do what is necessary to fight and end the terror menace in the country.
“We have already set aside KSh20bn [$142m] to purchase advanced security equipment, including armoured personnel carrier vehicles, drones and other gadgets so that our security agencies can effectively fight the terrorists,” he said.
Duale accused some security officers in the affected counties of sleeping on the job warning that action will be taken against them if found guilty of flouting government rules and regulations.
“We know of some officers who never take their security work seriously and are normally engaged elsewhere. The government will not tolerate them,” he said.
While welcoming the government’s decision to upgrade its security equipment, Hassan Khannenje, the director of Horn International Institute, a Nairobi-based think tank, says good relationship with communities especially in the frontier counties is critical.
“There are a lot of ungoverned spaces in the Horn of Africa, which a few drones alone will not be sufficient to secure,” says Khannenje.
“That is why community engagement and involvement become critical because they are the first source of contact as well as the first source of intelligence,” he says.
However, political analyst Arnold Maliba maintains it is high time Kenyans start asking hard questions, arguing that there is “a lot of intelligence leakage to the militants”.
“Are there people sharing intelligence with sympathisers? Have we allowed people access to sensitive areas that they should not be in? What exactly are we doing wrong?” Maliba says.
“These are the hard questions that we must find answers to and act swiftly.”
Fear of more attacks
Last month, Shabaab killed more than 20 Kenyans in various parts of the country, as many Kenyans now fear for their safety.
The increased violence has put President William Ruto’s administration in the spotlight over the rise in attacks in the arid and semi-arid regions in the eastern part of the country.
There is an ongoing drawdown of African Union troops in Somalia and they [Shabaab] are trying to create an impression that they can take over the region.
The frontier countries of Garissa, Mandera, Wajir, Marsabit, Lamu and Isiolo have been hit with the highest number of terrorist incidents this year. Foreign embassies in Kenya have already warned their nationals against travelling to some of the affected counties unless absolutely necessary.
This increased onslaught has forced the government to delay the reopening of its common border with Somalia a month after reaching an agreement with the country’s Federal Government.
“Kenya and Somalia had agreed to reopen their common border points in Mandera, Liboi, Kiunga and other parts. There is no turning back on this issue, but since we have witnessed increased attacks from the terrorists, we will delay the reopening for a short period to enable us to deal with the militants first,” said Kindiki.
Withdrawal of ATMIS troops
In a recent interview with France 24 TV, Kenya’s President William Ruto also defended the reopening of the border, maintaining it was the right thing to do.
“There is an ongoing drawdown of African Union troops in Somalia and they [Shabaab] are trying to create an impression that they can take over the region. That will not happen,” said Ruto, in reference to the withdrawal of 2000 ATMIS troops as per resolutions 2628 and 2670 (2022) of the UN Security Council.
Some 2,000 soldiers from the five troop-contributing countries have already left Somalia: from Kenya, Uganda, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Burundi and Uganda.
Ruto said Kenya is working very closely with Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud “and we have decided as frontline states [Kenya, Uganda, Djibouti and Ethiopia] that we are going to stay this course and if necessary, extend our stay so that we do not lose what we have so far achieved”.
Despite assurances by Ruto and Kindiki, there is fear that the reopening of the common border might result in a spike in terrorist attacks from neighbouring Somalia.
In 2014, the militants attacked Mpeketoni, a well-known tourist resort, killing at least 48 people and setting several buildings on fire. The gunmen shot or beheaded anybody who was unable to recite verses from the Quran.
Mwangi lost a cousin in the attack after masked militants raided his house while he was watching a World Cup match with his family.
“They dragged him outside and shot him in the head. I suspect he was ordered to recite a verse from the Quran, but failed,” the 60-year-old farmer tells The Africa Report from Nyeri County.
I vowed not to go back to Mandera after the incident. I’d rather struggle to get another job here in my home county than go back to Mandera to be beheaded
In the neighbouring Muranga county, Jackson Theuri, a quarry worker, says he will never forget Tuesday, 13 June when Shabaab militants attacked the bus he was travelling in.
“We had just left Tarbaj town in Wajir county heading to Mandera. On a lonely stretch, a group of armed men appeared from the nearby bushes and ordered the bus driver to stop, but he defied the order and sped off,” says Theuri.
“The gunmen sprayed the bus with bullets as we hid below our seats. I am lucky to be alive,” he says, but vowed never to return to Mandera.
Theuri has been twice lucky: he also survived the December 2014 massacre, where armed Shabaab militants attacked quarry workers who were sleeping in their tents in Kormey, 15 km from Mandera town.
“I had left for Nairobi the previous night to attend to urgent family matters in Muranga, otherwise I would have been one of those non-locals who were dragged from their tents and shot at close range,” says the 48-year-old.
He says four of his colleagues were beheaded in their tents after they failed to recite a verse in the Quran as demanded by the militants.
At the time, Shabaab claimed responsibility, blaming the deployment of Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) to Somalia as the reason for the attack. Kenya has more than 1,000 soldiers in Somalia serving with the African Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), a multidimensional peacekeeping mission.
“I vowed not to go back to Mandera after the incident. I’d rather struggle to get another job here in my home county than go back to Mandera to be beheaded,” Theuri says.
There's more to this story
Get unlimited access to our exclusive journalism and features today. Our award-winning team of correspondents and editors report from over 54 African countries, from Cape Town to Cairo, from Abidjan to Abuja to Addis Ababa. Africa. Unlocked.
Already a a subscriber Sign In