Kenya Looks To Guantanamo To Curb Al-Shabaab

During a speech this past February, Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, revealed that the Kenyan government is considering building a prison exclusively for inmates who are considered to be highly violent and are known to have extremist tendencies.

“We will establish a new prison to hold violent, extremist offenders,” Kenyatta, said. “The truth of the matter is that we cannot allow them to spread their poison to vulnerable Kenyans.” While Kenyatta did not specify what led to this consideration, the speech suggests that he is referring to those individuals who have ties to the Somali militant group, Al-Shabaab.


The extremist group, known for its ties to Al-Qaeda, has been targeting Kenya in recent years due to the country’s military actions against the group in neighboring Somalia. The most recent attacks took place in April of 2015. 148 people were killed when Al-Shabaab gunmen stormed Garissa University in northeast Kenya. After that attack, Kenyatta introduced a new campaign focused on curbing the recruitment of radical groups and Al-Shabaab’s influence in Kenya.  The numerous attacks by Al-Shabaab has forced Kenya to become innovative in ways to combat terror.


The decision to consider building this prison is not the first proposal from the Kenyan government to fight terrorism. Early last year, Kenyatta’s administration revealed a plan to build a wall along the Kenyan-Somali border.  “Whatever it is going to cost us and whatever it will take, we are going to make sure that our country is safe,” Kenyan Vice President William Ruto explained. Despite opposition to the wall, construction has already begun.


“We must accept that we are faced with a new kind of enemy against whom the conventional methods of fighting crime will not work,” Kenyatta recently said. “We have amongst us radicalized youths who appear innocent which makes us believe that they are doing God’s work while they are busy planning evil against other Kenyans in the name of religion.”


Kenyatta believes the most challenging adversary Kenya faces is radicalization of the youth. “To deal with this enemy, we must keep improving our methods and tactics. Prevention is better than cure, and that is why we must stop them from being radicalized and we can’t do this without the complete cooperation of parents, guardians and religious leaders,” he added.


Terrorism analysts have compared the prison plan to the United States’ naval base in Guantanamo Bay. The existence of Guantanamo Bay has been controversial for years and despite U.S. President Barack Obama’s pledge to shut down the facility, it is still operational. Those who oppose Kenya’s prison plan believe that its existence will only exacerbate tension between Kenyans and Kenyans of Somali descent.


“There is a real risk that this prison for jihadists may only fuel anti-Kenyan government sentiments, especially if the majority of the prisoners in this jail are Somali Kenyans,” Ahmed Salim, a senior analyst at Teneo Intelligence, told Quartz. “Effective counterterrorism measures requires the support and buy-in from communities.”

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