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Kenya - Anti al-Shabab Barrier

The fencing of three kilometers of the Kenya-Somalia border was completed 01 December 2016 after the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) took over its construction over two months earlier. The fencing was not intended to lock anybody out of Mandera but it is about security by restricting human access only through identified entry and exit points. The project, initiated by the Ministry of Interior in 2015 as a wall project, was switched to wire fencing along the porous border. Concrete poles joined with barbed wire, wire mesh and razor wire have been erected on the three-kilometre stretch. The project, initiated after the terror attack on Garissa University College, stalled after the National Youth Service (NYS) personnel working on it downed their tools, saying they had not been paid for their work.

Northeastern Kenya borders both Ethiopia and Somalia. For more than two decades - since the collapse of Somalia's central government in 1990s - the region has suffered incursions from Somalia, and more recently, frequent raids by the al-Qaida-linked terrorist group al-Shabab.

The militant group had lost ground in the last couple years in the face of a concerted military effort by African Union troops and Somali forces, but al-Shabab has continued carrying out suicide and hit-and-run attacks.

The Kenyan government announced dramatic steps to secure its border with Somalia by erecting a wall designed to keep out militants after a series of cross-border raids by al-Shabab militants. But experts were divided on whether the initiative is the long-awaited solution to Kenya's security problems, or a misguided effort.

With danger increasing, Kenyan officials began work on building a wall along parts of the border - while keeping roads open for trade and easy access for security officials to respond to any attack. The areas to be secured include Ishakani and Ras Kamboni in Kiunga. This was where immigrants have been arrested trying to cross into the country.

Interior Ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka said in March 2015 the intent was to improve security in areas where the danger is greatest, and open routes for people to safely cross the border. "There are specific entry points and specific exit points. So there are certain areas we may have to put physical obstructions, in other places we may need [a] wall or fences but it's not a wall that runs the entire 700 km of the border," says Njoka.

The Somali Islamist group vowed, and delivered, multiple revenge attacks against Kenya after Nairobi sent troops into Somalia in 2011 to fight alongside an African Union force. The insecurity crippled education in northeastern Kenya, where hundreds of teachers refused to go back to their schools after militiamen attacked a bus carrying educators late last year, killing 28 people.

Security analyst Andrew Franklin said building walls would help in the face of scant border patrols. "Its a comprehensive solution. Putting up a barrier whether they are physical or electronic - is nothing without humans. its not only the primary answer because right now we don't have enough staff, we don't have enough personnel to man the entire border that is completely open and what we want to do is try to restore order along the border with Somalia," said Franklin.

Kenya media reported some leaders from northern Kenya welcomed the initiative saying it will reduce the number of terrorists crossing and it will also help curb illegal border trade. But others warned the wall is not the complete solution as it wont help against al-Shabab sympathizers already in Mandera county.

Independent security analyst, Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad, said security in the north can be improved if officials and civilians work together - otherwise the project means little. "What is the significance of building the wall right now? Are they going to minimize al-Shabab who are now crossing into Kenya so nobody knows? Kenya must gain the hearts and the minds of the northern people so that, together, they can defeat al-Shabab, otherwise building a wall doesn't help the matter," Abdisamad said.

Somalia's president urged Kenya to avoid drastic measures as it tries to stop cross-border attacks by al-Shabab. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud spoke exclusively to VOA Somali on 05 April 2015, three days after al-Shabab gunmen massacred scores of students at Kenya's Garissa University College. Mohamud objected to calls by some Kenyan politicians to deport all Somali refugees or to build a wall along the Kenyan-Somali border.

"We are fighting against an ideology, not fighters or soldiers that have bases," he said. "A separation wall can not stop an ideology. The Kenyan government has not officially notified us about the plan, but if they do, we will share with them about our experience about that. We do not believe a wall can stop al-Shabab hostility."




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