Counterterrorism in Kenya
Security aid, impunity and Muslim alienation
in Non-Western responses to terrorism
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Since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, the Kenyan Government’s response to terrorism has been multifaceted. Efforts have primarily relied on civil authorities and the military, privileging the use of force over subtler means. The police have employed measures such as profiling, detention and prosecution. The military has conducted operations in Kenya and Somalia. These strategies have contributed to the apprehension of some terrorist suspects and checked Shabaab’s capacity in Somalia. Yet, Kenya’s counterterrorism efforts have been hampered by limited coordination among agencies, use of heavy-handed tactics and insufficient engagement with civil society organizations. Two defining features of Kenyan counterterrorism have emerged. First, it has clear socio-cultural dimensions. Security forces have responded to the threat of terrorism by focusing on Kenya’s alienated Muslim communities, notably in the Somali-majority north and at the Swahili-speaking coast. As a result, the government’s response to terrorism reflects communal divisions and animosity within Kenyan society that precede contemporary counterterrorism. Second, Kenya’s invasion of neighbouring Somalia created and blurred two fronts: one within Kenya and the other in southern Somalia. The actions of Kenyan policymakers and al Shabaab therefore contributed to a more complete integration of the conflict in Somalia and tensions within Kenya.

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