Our story now turns to how, after the 2014 attacks, Lamu became the location of intense counter-terrorism efforts, alongside efforts to counter violent extremism (CVE), supported and egged on by an international community preoccupied with Islamic radicalisation.

According to one investigation, the immediate government security response to the Lamu attacks in June and July 2014 was very slow. Police and other security agencies faced criticism for arriving on the scene of the attacks hours late, despite being posted nearby, and for being ill-prepared, with insufficient coordination and equipment. [65] Most damagingly, an official investigation later found that police had prior intelligence about the Mpeketoni attack. [66]

Nonetheless, the months following the attacks saw a significant beefing up of security in Lamu. Kenya's Defence Forces (KDF) were deployed in greater numbers, with other security agencies “using all means to flush out assailants”. [67] Parliament had not approved this as required by the constitution, making it a politically controversial approach.

In Lamu feelings about this show of force remain mixed. Officials argue that:

We have done a lot of work to ensure that the area is safe … People feel safer because of the security forces. For example, now they can sell their fish because the roads are safe. They also appreciate it because of tourism. [68]

In a mixed focus group, people stated that the presence of the KDF and other security forces had brought calm to the area: “we feel safe and cushioned”. [69] Interviewees involved in the tourist industry and other professions were especially supportive.

Others saw the security response as an inconvenience. A ban on night-fishing was harmful for fishermen, as too was the need for complex fishing permission sign-offs from the Kenyan navy. A curfew also meant that weddings, traditionally held at night, could not be carried out. Protests went on for days before this was scrapped. The requirement to carry identification and pass through security checkpoints also caused frustration.

A significant number of people we spoke to raised graver concerns. A Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Kenyan Human Rights Commission (KHRC) report into the period following the attacks states that:

[The] Kenyan Government conducted abusive operations in Tana River and Lamu counties in the aftermath of the attacks, during which security forces targeted Muslim and ethnic Somali men and boys for beatings, arrest, theft of property, and detention. [70]

Security forces arbitrarily arrested people off the road, from their houses and inside mosques, often in large groups. In Witu Town, 30 young men were arrested at once. Some men were held for weeks without charge. According to the rights groups:

Forces targeted Muslims, witnesses said, going from house-to-house searching for weapons and al-Shabaab suspects. The forces beat residents and accused them of either being al-Shabaab members or aiding in the Mpeketoni and Witu attacks. [71]

Numerous stories of arbitrary arrests by the security services in subsequent months and years emerged in our conversations in Lamu. For example, one focus group participant stated that “the security officers should protect us. Instead they arrest our men and sons without genuine reasons”. [72]

Importantly, identity-based inequality is seen as connected to the provision of security and how safe people feel. For example, one civil society activist asserted that “the immigrant communities feel safe with KDF surrounding them.” [73] A woman from Mpeketoni agreed: “For us, there is more peace of mind with the security forces here.” But she also suggested that there is a logic to this: “We Christians feel safer because we are the target.” [74]

At the same time, these dynamics of insecurity cut both ways. Although local Muslims tend not to fear al-Shabaab, because it has largely not targeted Muslims, [75] they do face another threat: as a Muslim NGO worker put it, “We don’t feel secure in Kenya’s security system.” [76] “People feel harassed for who they are”, [77] another local resident explained.

Header photo: Thomas Wheeler / Saferworld

Header photo: Thomas Wheeler / Saferworld

Muslim women raised a similar concern: “we are subjected to checking especially when travelling – it is shameful the kind of checking done”. [78] Christian women felt they did not have to undergo the same checks. A Christian woman living in Lamu explained:

Muslims feel bad because at the checkpoints some security officers are still very discriminatory. When it comes to me they hardly check, but when it is Muslims they search them very thoroughly. I feel so bad because I feel they are being humiliated, and when I get on the bus I know that [the Muslims] think that I have been favoured. [79]

Part of the problem is that most security officers are perceived to be Christian and from up-country – less by design perhaps than as a reflection of the make-up of Kenya’s security forces. According to several of those interviewed, the problem is that they are not trained to avoid stereotyping Muslims as terror suspects. One woman stated that: “it even happened with me recently, a security officer was joking that because I was a Muslim I was a terrorist. It was just a joke but I still felt branded.” [80]

Another altogether darker issue has been allegations of extra-judicial killings of young men. As one civil society activist alleges, “people just disappear and the government does not share any information, they just say it is a security issue and sensitive. The KDF, and others, are ‘disappearing people’”. [81] Several focus group respondents stressed that many families have lost young men at the hands of KDF, “they are picked up and never come back”. [82] Another states that “people feel discriminated against by the security organs: sometimes people just go, and the police don’t tell you where they are”. [83] According to one interviewee, disappearances of young men, allegedly at the hands of the security services, were more frequent in the months after the Mpeketoni attacks, but have since become less common. [84]

Officials counter that the accusations are exaggerated and politicised: “when the security forces are carrying out their duties and responsibilities the people don’t like it. For example, when someone is being interrogated, they don’t like it.” [85] However, in-depth reports have alleged that the security forces are unaccountable. For example, the HRW and KHRC report:

… found that none of the victims of security abuses during the operations in Tana River and Lamu counties reported the abuses to authorities. When asked why they had not reported the abuse, they gave a number of explanations: some said they were threatened by security officers or they were ordered out of the office and threatened with arrest when they tried to voice concerns about the abuse. Others said that they did not report the abuses because they do not believe they can obtain justice for abuses at the hands of the government. [86]

Some respondents see ulterior, more cynical reasons behind the government’s heavy-handed security response. A politician claims he was arrested – and held for several days without trial – due to his political aspirations and his dealings in land. [87] One civil society group believes they were targeted for challenging the government’s investment and development plans in Lamu:

Our organisation was accused by the [Police Directorate of Criminal Investigations] of sponsoring al-Shabaab, and we were interrogated, but we know it is because of our opposition to the coal power station. [88]

Several people told us that poor security provision was economically motivated: “The land grabbers have a lot of influence – they use KDF to detain community landowners”. Others state that “the KDF are also getting land – they have a base in Hindi but they are going to make money from it, the KDF see this as a business opportunity”. [89] Another interviewee agreed: “someone somewhere is making money off this. They have destroyed [Boni forest] and are doing logging business there.” [90] Overall, many local people believe that “the KDF and government have come to Lamu to take up our land but not security”. [91]

As with the debate over who exactly was involved in the summer 2014 attacks, the truth about security force behaviour is hard to pin down. But perceptions matter a great deal. If al-Shabaab’s propaganda about an occupation of Lamu by ‘outsiders’ starts ringing true, this could spell big trouble for the county. As one Muslim participant in a focus group discussion stressed, “this feels like a punishment for us. We want security and we want security services, but we shouldn’t have to feel like we’re under suspicion.” [92] In the words of a politician, “the Kenyan government are not trying to achieve security through being smart, they are doing it through force - and this is making things worse.” [93]

Many people simply feel helplessly caught between the security forces and al-Shabaab. On the one hand, in the words of a civil society activist, “al-Shabaab threatens anyone who engages with the security agencies.” [94] On the other, as a local politician said, “people are scared to talk out about abuses by the government. They are also scared of al-Shabaab. So they just stay quiet.” [95] A journalist told us the same story:

People are scared about al-Shabaab sympathisers being among us - so we are careful on what we say […] Both al-Shabaab and the security forces are the reasons for not writing stories on these issues – but the security forces are worse. [96]

That local people see the security forces as a threat is a problem for the government. As one Muslim woman put it:

The reality is that people have some sympathy for al-Shabaab and fear the KDF. Even for me, if I had to pick between the two, I would run to al-Shabaab. [97]

Statements like these make clear that Kenya’s security services have much further to go in winning the confidence of many of Lamu’s people. Speaking of Kenya’s improved response to terrorism, the Interior Ministry stated in November 2016 that “Community policing … has also played a big role in several parts of the country. There is a lot of communication between the security agencies and community coordinators”. This, it is claimed, helps get information on terror groups. [98]

There was little evidence of such communication between the security agencies and communities in Lamu, and a lack of forums for engagement. As one NGO worker focusing on CVE notes on engagement with the security services, “Forget the KDF, I can’t even get a meeting with the police.” [99]

Another person working with community groups agrees, stating simply that “security providers and users do not communicate.” [100] Whether such community forums with security forces would be useful – and be used by people without fear of al-Shabaab reprisals – is open to question. But the need to transform a situation marked by division and distrust is clear.

Meanwhile, Lamu is still affected by insecurity. In January 2016, people protested in Mpeketoni over the security situation. [101] In 2015, the Armed Conflict Location and Event Database (ALCED) tracked 11 incidents in the Lamu region involving al-Shabaab, ranging from attacks on security services to attacks on buses and schools. In 2016, there were ten more. For example, an official in the Education Ministry explained how al-Shabaab went to a school in Lamu East, looking for Christian teachers. When they did not find any, they threatened Muslim ones for not doing enough for Islam. Five schools are closed as teachers don’t want to go there now. [102]

While there have been no attacks on the scale of those seen in the summer of 2014, and the security situation has improved – thankfully for those whose livelihoods are linked to the tourism sector – there is no doubt that al-Shabaab still poses a real threat, and may be boosted by the reaction to poor and discriminatory security provision.

Al-Shabaab related incidents, Lamu, 2010-2016

(Source: ACLED)

Footnotes

65. https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/06/15/insult-injury/2014-lamu-and-tana-river-attacks-and-kenyas-abusive-response, p 15
66. https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/06/15/insult-injury/2014-lamu-and-tana-river-attacks-and-kenyas-abusive-response, p 27
67. http://kenyanewsagency.go.ke/en/security-agents-deployed-to-lamu-using-all-means-to-flush-out-assailants/
68. Key Informant Interview with county government officials, Lamu Town, 30 November 2016
69. Mixed focus group discussion, Lamu Town, 30 November 2016
70. https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/06/15/insult-injury/2014-lamu-and-tana-river-attacks-and-kenyas-abusive-response, p 33.
71. https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/06/15/insult-injury/2014-lamu-and-tana-river-attacks-and-kenyas-abusive-response
72. Mixed focus group discussion, Lamu Town, 30 November 2016
73. Key Informant Interview with civil society activist, Lamu Town, 29 November 2016
74. Key Informant Interview with businesswoman, Lamu Town, 1 December 2016
75. Key Informant Interview with journalist, Lamu Town, 29 November 2016
76. Key Informant Interview with NGO, Lamu Town, 1 December 2016
77. Mixed focus group discussion, Lamu Town, 30 November 2016
78. Women’s focus group discussion, Lamu Town, 1 December 2016
79. Key Informant Interview with businesswoman, 1 December 2016
80. Key Informant Interview with journalist, Lamu Town, 29 November 2016
81. Key Informant Interview with civil society activist, Lamu Town, 29 November 2016
82. Mixed focus group discussion, Lamu Town, 30 November 2016
83. Mixed focus group discussion, Lamu Town, 30 November 2016
84. Key Informant Interview with NGO, Lamu Town, 1 December 2016
85. Key Informant Interview with county government officials, 30 November 2016, Lamu Town
86. https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/06/15/insult-injury/2014-lamu-and-tana-river-attacks-and-kenyas-abusive-response , p 44.
87. Key Informant Interview with politician, Lamu Town, 29 November 2016
88. Key Informant Interview with civil society activist, Lamu Town, 29 November 2016
89. Key Informant Interview with civil society activist, Lamu Town, 29 November 2016
90. Key Informant Interview with NGO, Lamu Town, 1 December 2016
91. Mixed focus group discussion, Lamu Town, 30 November 2016
92. Mixed focus group discussion, Lamu Town, 30 November 2016
93. Key Informant Interview with politician, Lamu Town, 29 November 2016
94. Key Informant Interview with civil society activist, Lamu Town, 29 November 2016
95. Key Informant Interview with politician, Lamu Town, 29 November 2016
96. Key Informant Interview with journalist, Lamu Town, 29 November 2016
97. Key Informant Interview with NGO, Lamu Town, 1 December 2016
98. Cherono, S (2016) ‘War on terror being won by brain power, not gun power, Security bosses reveal’, The Daily Nation, 28 November
99. Key Informant Interview with NGO, Lamu Town, 1 December 2016
100. Key Informant Interview with NGO, Lamu Town, 1 December 2016
101. http://www.acleddata.com/data/
102. Key Informant Interview with official, Lamu Town, 29 November 2016

Header photo: Thomas Wheeler/Saferworld