This Saferworld article takes readers on an in-depth journey into Lamu County on Kenya’s coast: tourist paradise, investment hub, flashpoint of ethnic and religious tensions over land, jobs and representation, and battleground in Kenya’s internationally-backed war on terror with al-Shabaab. Through the words of local people, it tells the story of how violence ignited in Lamu in 2014, how this violence was kindled, and what needs to be done to put the fire out.

Arguing that counter-terror and countering violent extremism efforts have not solved Lamu’s problems, it calls for fresh thinking to overcome the conflict risks that lie ahead. Terror attacks and the response to them in Lamu are revealing of broader dynamics in Kenya, and hold important lessons for the way the US, UK and others engage with terrorism and conflict.

Lamu’s story reflects lessons from our global work to research and explore constructive alternatives to counter-terrorism approaches. This research is based on a series of focus group discussions and interviews with officials, journalists, community members, businessmen, politicians, religious leaders and activists in Lamu.

Header photo: Thomas Wheeler/Saferworld