Within two days of each other, recent attacks in Kenya have left at least 64 people dead. On June 15 in Mpeketoni, Kenya, at least 49 people were killed and another 12 women were abducted by the attackers. The very next day a similar attack took place in the nearby town of Lamu and killed another 15 people. These events immediately led to protests by those living in Mpeketoni, claiming that the government had been ignoring them, thus highlighting a general lack of security in Kenya.
Kenya has been increasingly targeted by the al-Shabab militant group, as the extremist Islamic group has claimed responsibility for some of the most recent attacks that have taken place in the past months. However, there are a couple of characteristics that make these most recent attacks stand out from the others, most notably the location and nature of the attack. Mpeketoni is a farming village, not known to be a tourist attraction, unlike many of the previous targets of similar attacks.
Representatives from al-Shabab have claimed credit for the attack. According to al-Shabab, the attack was done in retaliation against the Kenyan troops that had been placed in Somalia and the subsequent Muslim deaths at their hands. However, the attacks that took place in Mpeketoni and Lamu are noticeably different from other attacks launched by al-Shabab. Not only was the attack directed at a village instead of a larger town or city, but only men were killed and women were abducted. This is in stark contrast to the indiscriminate violence that the group has been traditionally known for. If it was al-Shabab that committed this crime, it could possibly be an attempt to help the group clean up their grotesque image and reputation.
The aftermath of the attacks were further complicated when Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said that the attacks were not committed by al-Shabab, but instead were politically motivated. In an official statement, Kenyatta said that the attacks were “well planned, orchestrated and politically motivated ethnic violence against the Kenyan community. This therefore was not an al-Shabab attack. Evidence indicates that local political networks were involved in the planning and execution of a heinous crime.”
What’s especially intriguing about his statement is that no specific ethnicity, organization or group was named. The government under Kenyatta’s rule has been criticized for not protecting its citizens and increasing national security. Because of this, the statement could potentially be an attempt from the government to ease the pressure it has been facing recently.
However, this statement from Kenyatta could cause more harm than good. By citing political motivations, Kenyatta could potentially reignite ethnic tensions that have been simmering under the radar for many years. The potential for ethnic conflict looms large, but there are already noticeable consequences from the attack.
The tourist industry has already plummeted and negatively affected the economy, which is a major form of income for the country. In addition to the already tallied death count, these attacks could have further humanitarian consequences. It could lead to people fleeing the area, greater insecurity in the area and potential escalation of conflict in the already tense region.
All of these remain possibilities, but the public has yet to see the full effect these events will have on the government and stability of the already fragile Kenyan nation.
— Andre Gobbo