Can Kenya’s security keep up with trade?

Can Kenya’s security keep up with trade?

As economic stakes are raised, terrorism and nonproliferation require political focus and follow-through. Fortunately there are signs that promote hope for the future, and Kenya is not alone in the process. Cameron Evers provides this guest analysis.

On 17th December 2015, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta announced that the country will host the second convening of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation. The meeting, slated for November of next year, aims to align development goals between governments. 

On the same day, militants ambushed a police vehicle in the northern city of Lamu, killing two civilians in the process. Al-Shabaab, a Somali terrorist organization, claimed responsibility for the attack.

 Two narratives are unfolding out of the country: one of growth opportunity attractive to foreign investors, and another of terrorism and the Kenyan government grappling with its fight against the Somali jihadis. The benefits of Kenyan economic growth are at risk of the fallout over continued terrorism, raising the stakes for how the Kenyans proceed in their national defense measures.

Broad international efforts to assist in Kenya’s nonproliferation and counter-terrorism are ongoing, but require necessary final steps in implementation by the Kenyans themselves.

The First East African ‘Tiger’ Economy Harnesses the Power of Trade

Kenya is a regional trading power on its way to becoming a critical component of African economic resurgence. The liberalization of Kenyan trade policy during the 1980s and 1990s has narrowed the trade deficit overall and exports increased from $500 million in 2000 to $1.25 Billion in 2010.

Manufacturing is the third largest sector of the economy and makes up 11% of GDP. The sector’s performance is likely to contribute to Kenya becoming one of the ‘post-China 16’ manufacturers. Moreover, with the annual GDP growth rate of 5.7%, the nation is facing an overall positive economic outlook. According to the International Monetary Fund, this rate will hit 6% by 2016.

Mombasa, “the city of merchants,” is the largest seaport of Kenya, and is a key driver of Kenya’s economy. Government initiatives towards infrastructure modernization have maintained the city’s status as a trading hub for East Africa as well as parts of Central Africa. Mombasa’s strategic location, halfway between the Gulf of Aden and South Africa, has made the city a regional gateway: it sees roughly five million tons of goods coming through its harbors a year, handling 80% of the region’s trade. Mombasa is directly connected, via shipping routes, to over 80 ports around the world and is connected inland via a railway that runs to Uganda and Tanzania.

Within Kenya, the port is also connected by rail to two inland container ports, at Nairobi and Kisumu. A larger East African rail-line is planned, beginning in Mombasa and eventually extending to Uganda, South Sudan, and Burundi. The planning of this rail-line is part of a greater project also including the construction of a port and three international airports.

The Threat from the North

The positive factors of growing trade and manufacturing capabilities underscore the impact of security challenges on further growth and the potential for terrorists to exploit Kenya. Since 2011, when the Kenyan Defense Forces entered into the Somali conflict on behalf of the African Union, al-Shabaab has sought retribution by conducting a well-orchestrated near-weekly terror campaign across the country.

Al-Shabaab has organized car-bombings, targeted assassinations, kidnappings, and shootings. The slaughtering of hundreds of civilians in the Westgate Mall attack in September 2013, and the Garissa University College attack in April 2015, were Kenya’s largest incidents of terrorism since the 1998 Al-Qaeda bombing of the US embassy.

In 2014, al-Shabaab suffered major setbacks. “Operation Indian Ocean” clamped down on rebels throughout Somalia’s countryside and shortly thereafter, a US airstrike in Somalia killed al-Shabaab’s top leader, Moktar Ali Zubeyr (nom de guerre “Godane”). This was followed by a pledge from the European Union to train 1,200 Somali soldiers, enabling the Somali government to conduct incursions against al-Shabaab.

Yet, the worsening scenario for al-Shabaab inside Somalia has encouraged the organization to spread its terror franchise into Kenya. As the situation worsened for al-Shabaab in Somalia, its attacks intensified further south.

Beyond Kenya’s internal security issues lies regional instability in East Africa. Decades of war have left scores of armed groups roaming the frontiers and hinterlands. Both South Sudan and Somalia share borders with Kenya, making transshipment and border control issues critical. Small arms and explosives proliferation from Somalia into Kenya is presently a major security challenge facing Kenyan officials, along with smuggling from South Sudan and Ethiopia.

Alarmingly, Kenya’s first report to the United Nations’ 1540 Committee (nonproliferation committee) revealed incidents of nuclear smuggling and noted the potential risk that Kenyan territory could be used to illegally transfer WMD-related materials.

The proximity of one of the world’s most able terror organizations to Kenya’s trade infrastructure, coupled with East African instability at large, raises serious concerns about the security of the growing supply chains that connect the Kenyan economy together.

As former Director of the Center for International Trade and Security (CITS), Dr. William Keller, noted in 2012: “The potential exists [in Kenya] at any time for violence or sabotage, perhaps perpetrated by sub-state groups located near the borders with Somalia or Ethiopia.”

Robust International Efforts Signal Resolve, but Require Follow-Through

There are currently several cooperative international efforts underway. The US State Department, in conjunction with CITS, hosted several training sessions with key Kenyan delegates regarding strategic trade controls in Nairobi and Washington DC.

Many governmental, non-governmental, and private sector chemical and biological organizations have likewise cooperated with Kenya to further the creation of a strategic trade control system. Such a regime would require the involvement of a network of government ministries and trained government officials, supported by a comprehensive legal framework.

On the counterterrorism front, similar efforts have been required, but met by both Kenya and its partners in much more tangible ways. American military and counter-terror assistance programs are currently in effect, mandated to train, arm, and advise Kenyan counter-terrorism.

According to the Security Assistance Monitor, a project of the US-based think-tank the Center for International Policy, Kenya received $42.5 Million in military aid, $23.2 Million in weapons transfers, and the instruction for 264 trainees in 2014 and 2015.
The end-game is in favor of Nairobi, owing to the wearing down of Al-Shabaab which contrasts with the continued, strengthened international support delivered to Kenya. Moreover, while Kenyan institutional effectiveness will be tested and challenged by Al-Shabaab in the next years, the setbacks faced by the core structure of Al-Shabaab indicate a shorter lifespan for the insurgents than for the resilient Kenyan economy.

The effectiveness of assistance efforts will ultimately depend upon Kenya’s political will and institutional capability to maintain these initiatives long after international partners have returned home.

Cameron Evers is a journalist and analyst covering defense and politics on the African continent. He formerly served as the North Africa correspondent for the Africa Conflict Monitor, and is currently a contributor for War is Boring. He holds a master’s degree in international policy from the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs

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