Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Kenya battling terrorist strikes, ethnic divisions

  • Print

Two nights of terror attacks on Kenya’s coast on June 15 and June 16 left at least 65 people dead, prompting the Shabab, a Somali militia of extreme Islamists, to boast that it had turned the country into a "war zone."

The killings mark a change of Shabab’s focus. Previously the group mainly has committed sporadic acts of cross-border terror. Its latest massacres come closer to resembling a domestic insurgency. Nonetheless President Uhuru Kenyatta seems to be blaming his political opponents at home for encouraging the violence.

The attacks began at night, when dozens of gunmen struck Mpeketoni, a grubby town on the mainland across from Lamu, an island that is popular among Westerners. Some 50 locals were slaughtered, many of them said to be members of Kenyatta’s Kikuyu tribe. Witnesses spoke of militants flying the banner of the Shabab and targeting non-Muslims.

While the authorities scrambled to respond, the Shabab carried out another wave of attacks nearby the next night, adding 15 more to the death toll. Some reports also suggested that a dozen women had been kidnapped.

The attacks echo those perpetrated by Boko Haram, the extreme Islamist insurgents in northern Nigeria, whose large-scale raids and the abduction of women and girls have grabbed international headlines and humiliated the government.

In the aftermath of the attacks on Mpeketoni, the Shabab achieved both aims. Kenya’s tourism, which has provided 15 per cent of the country’s GDP in recent years, is in tatters. Last month warnings by the British and other foreign governments prompted flustered tour companies to evacuate clients from Kenya’s coastal tourist hub, Mombasa. The luxurious resorts and hotels on Lamu island stand virtually empty. Operators admit that it could take years to restore confidence.

The response of Kenya’s government has baffled observers as much as the slaughter has shocked them. After nearly two days of silence, Kenyatta declared on June 17 that the Shabab was not involved. Instead he blamed the attacks on "local political networks," in an apparent effort to deflect hostility onto his domestic opponents at a time of rising tension between his ruling Jubilee coalition and the main opposition, which he narrowly defeated in an election a year ago.

"The attack in Lamu was well-planned, orchestrated and politically motivated ethnic violence against a Kenyan community," the president said, "with the intention of profiling and evicting them for political reasons. This therefore was not an al-Shabab terrorist attack."

The implication was that the opposition was keen to see Kikuyus targeted.

So far Kenyatta has ignored the demands of the opposition, the Law Society of Kenya and other influential organizations to fire Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku. No high-level officials have been sacked as a result of the disastrous handling of September’s assault by the Shabab on the Westgate Center, a smart shopping mall in the capital, Nairobi, in which at least 67 people were killed.

Since then the Somali militants have switched to softer targets such as commuter buses and open-air markets. This has left the government open to accusations of not caring about ordinary Kenyans, a claim that wins a sympathetic hearing among Kenya’s impoverished coastal people, most of whom are Muslim.

The Shabab says that its campaign is a response to the continuing presence of Kenyan troops in southern Somalia, where they have occupied the port city of Kismayo and its surroundings since 2011, when they invaded in an effort to defeat the Shabab, which still controls swathes of Somalia.

It also says that the latest attacks are an answer to three recent drive-by shootings of prominent radical preachers in Mombasa. Local human-rights groups allege that the imams died in extra-judicial killings arranged by the authorities, a charge the Kenyan government denies.

In any event, this wave of violence, together with the disenchantment of coastal people and the apparent eagerness of the ruling class to exploit ethnic and religious divisions, is gravely threatening Kenya’s stability.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Downtown BIZ Watch patrol along Main Street

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press. Local- WINTER FILE. Snowboarder at Stony Mountain Ski Hill. November 14, 2006.
  • Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press. Local- Weather standup. Sundog. Refraction of light through ice crystals which caused both the sun dog and and fog along McPhillips Road early Wednesday morning. 071205.

View More Gallery Photos


Are you concerned about the number of homicides so far this year?

View Results

Ads by Google