Shabaab controls 60 percent of Mandera, Governor Adan Khalif claims

Mandera Governor Mohamed Adan Khalif

Mandera Governor Mohamed Adan Khalif during a briefing on September 25, 2022.

Photo credit: Manase Otsialo | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Local leaders now blame traders involved in illegal sugar business for fuelling attacks.
  • Mandera, Wajir, Garissa and Lamu county chiefs part of joint strategy in war on militants.

Mandera governor Mohamed Adan Khalif has disclosed that 60 per cent of the county is under the control of al-Shabaab militants, in a shocking revelation as leaders in the northern Kenya region called for a more concerted effort to fight the outfit.

Mr Khalif said the presence of the militants has affected service delivery in the county.

“We cannot leave county headquarters to sub-counties to offer services to our people in Mandera,” he said.

The governor spoke as political leaders drawn from Mandera, Wajir, Garissa and Lamu counties converged in Wajir town and pledged to rally locals in the fight against the al-Shabaab.

Under the Kenya-Somalia Borderline Counties (KSBC) banner, the leaders affirmed that there is a need to speak with one voice on behalf of their respective electorates against the terror group.

“We recognise that there is a need to collect and collate data to create a shared understanding of the threats and risks that will inform security intervention,” said Wajir governor Ahmed Abdullahi.

The governor denied reports that the current rise in terror activities in the region was due to the government’s plan to reopen the closed Kenya-Somalia border.

“The latest rise in Shabaab attacks is not about the planned reopening of the border with Somalia. Understandably it could be because of what is happening in Somalia where they are being fought by the clan militias and the government. We have forces also fighting them in Somalia,” said Mr Abdullahi.

He attributed the increase to the recent rainfall in the region, saying the environment is now conducive.

“After it rained their activities increased and they operate when they can get water and buy livestock for their survival. During the drought, we did not have as many attacks as it is now. We are sensing the rain brought in the enemy,” he said.

According to the governor, the area is suffering from terrorists because of its proximity to Somalia.

Speaking at the same event, North Eastern regional Commissioner John Otieno said the government cannot fully secure its vast border with Somalia.

“We are bordering Somalia, which is very unstable. Infiltration of al-Shabaab along the borderline is caused by the porous border. We have security personnel in several areas along the border but again our border is about 700 kilometres long, which cannot be comprehensively manned. We are calling upon members of the public to help us in terms of information and response,” he said.

Mr Otieno said the al-Shabaab activities had increased in the region but the security teams were doing their best to counter the militants.

“We will deploy all resources available, we will be using the leadership around and the members of the public to help combat the terror threats,” he said.

Mr Otieno said the government was committed to overcoming the al-Shabaab threat.

Mr Khalif said the al-Shabaab was against the plan to re-open the border since they were benefiting from illegal business.

“From day one, al-Shabaab was against reopening the border because they thrive on illegal trade. Having controlled trade means al-Shabaab will lose revenue.

“Al-Shabaab is a business entity that controls trade along the border. The more we give in to their demands the more we shoot ourselves in the foot,” said Mr Khalif.

Wajir South MP Mohamed Adow said the al-Shabaab was jeopardising devolution progress in the northeastern region and Lamu.

“We will not allow al-Shabaab to derail our plan to undo 50 years of marginalisation. Together as political leaders and security agencies, we have to ensure the al-Shabaab are stopped in their trucks,” he said.

The politicians met in Wajir just a day after al-Shabaab released an audio clip denying terrorising the region but blaming some unscrupulous business owners for hiring a section of the terror group to cause mayhem.

In the clip, the speaker says the recent attack on Wargadud Police Station and many others in the region including Lamu are sponsored by local businessmen.

The resurgence of al-Shabaab in the region has posed a grave threat to security.

The frequent and spontaneous attacks orchestrated by this extremist group have claimed more than 30 lives in less than two months.

The same has left a trail of destruction and disrupted essential services, including public transport and communication after telecommunication masts were destroyed.

Intelligence reports in the region have indicated a connection between the terror incidents and locals involved in contraband smuggling along the border.

The reports blamed sugar smugglers for funding and hiring the al-Shabaab terrorist group to carry out attacks and place improvised explosive devices on the roads.

Their ultimate goal is to ensure that the Kenya-Somali border remains closed, allowing them to continue illicit business operations without competition, said the reports.

On July 5, while in Dadaab, Garissa, Interior Cabinet secretary Kithure Kindik announced the delay of re-opening the border with Somalia because of a “wave of attacks” by the Al Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab militants.

In May, Kenya and Somalia had agreed to reopen within 90 days several border posts including Bula Hawa (Mandera), Liboi (Garissa) and Kiunga (Lamu), which have been closed since 2011 when Kenya sent its forces into southern Somalia to help fight al-Shabaab.

“By deliberately instigating insecurity and terror in northern Kenya, these individuals (sugar barons) seek to dissuade the government from opening the Kenya-Somali border. The closure of the border enables them to maintain a stranglehold on the sugar market and monopolise the industry.

“They fear that re-opening of the border would attract legal investors who would import sugar through legal channels, thus undermining their control and profits,” said Adan Omar, a resident of Wajir.

Mr Omar maintained that the resurgence of Al-Shabaab in the region is not a random occurrence but a result of calculated actions by influential figures involved in contraband smuggling and the sugar trade.

“Their interests lie in maintaining a closed border, which allows them to continue their illicit activities without competition,” he said.

In a press conference early this month, Mr Otieno said locals were working with members of the al-Shabaab group to terrorise the region.

During the Friday meeting in Wajir, the political leaders agreed on the need to upscale investment in local community security to supplement the existing security measures to serve as a deterrence.