Kenya has begun construction of a wall along the long, porous border with neighboring war-torn Somalia


Kenya has begun construction of a
wall along the long, porous border
with neighboring war-torn Somalia


Kenya has begun construction of a wall
along the long, porous border with
neighboring war-torn Somalia. This is the
latest in a series of measures Kenya has
announced to try to curb al-Shabab
Although critics have dismissed the project
as unfeasible, Kenya has begun preparatory
work for the construction of a wall along
the border with Somalia. This follows the
massacre of almost 150 people at a
university college in Garissa in early April.
Kenya has also announced plans to close
down the Dadaab refugee camp (pictured
above), which houses some 350,000
refugees, most of them from Somalia. For
an assessment of Kenya’s latest security
measures, DW spoke to Andrews Atta-
Asamoah, a senior researcher at the
Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria.
DW: Kenya has started digging a ditch this
week in Kiunga, in Kenya’s coastal Lamu
district, which would stretch for some 700
kilometers (434 miles). The government
has not given any details about
construction costs. How much do you think
this will cost Kenya?
Andrews Asamoah: It will be very difficult
for anyone to hazard a guess because at
the moment we are not too sure whether
they are going to do the whole 684
kilometer stretch of the border with Somalia
or whether they are going to do certain key
areas where they think a lot of crossing and
illegal activities are happening. We also do
not know what kind of infrastructure
beyond the physical barriers will be rolled
out. Are there going to be CCTVs? How
high is the wall going to be? It is very
difficult at the moment unless the
government explicitly communicates how
much they have budgeted for this.
How realistic is this project going to be?
Does Kenya have the resources to build this
kind of a wall?
I think building a wall that long is doable if
you look at Kenya’s capacity and also its
resolve to do something about the
insecurity on its borders. But being doable
does not necessarily mean that their
intention of building the wall is achievable.
But I think it is doable because Kenya is a
very strong country economically. If you
look at the gravity of the insecurity in
Kenya, and the implications of that on
Kenya’s economic security, I think that is
such a huge concern for Kenya to try and
mobilize more and more resources. At the
moment, it is also not clear whether Kenya
will have support from its development
partners and also use its security
cooperation with other actors across the
world. But what we do know is that, looking
at Kenya’s size, resolution, ability, economic
might vis-a-vis what Kenya is trying to do, it
is really feasible from Kenya’s side.
Cartoonist Victor Ndula, in the
newspaperThe Star, criticized the project by
drawing an image of a half-built wall with a
hole knocked through it which he labeled
“corruption.” What do you make of this
He is raising a very important aspect of the
whole challenge that Kenya is dealing with.
If you look at the cartoon closely, you see
there is a huge hole in the wall which
represents the first ‘o’ in the spelling of
corruption. This can be interpreted as, even
if the wall is built and you still have
corruption – which is really a concern on
the Kenyan border side – this is going to
create a gap and make the whole wall
counterproductive in its declared intentions.
In that sense, he is spot on. Many of those
who are coming in to Kenya – I am not
talking about terrorists, I am talking about
those who are coming in as illegal
immigrants – many of them make extensive
use of corruption on the borders. And so,
unless some of those critical systemic
issues in Kenya are dealt with, issues like
corruption within the security services and
among the police in very many areas,
particularly in the acquisition of
documentation, the border alone will not
suffice in securing Kenya.
If you take a group like al-Shabab, it is not
so much the strength of al-Shabab that is
making them succeed in hitting Kenya, it is
the availability of Kenya’s weaknesses at
many levels that the group is simply
exploiting. The easier it is for al-Shabab to
exploit all these weaknesses, corruption,
disgruntled youth, unemployment, the
weaker Kenya is. So this cartoon really
sums it up very well. Unless major issues
on the Kenyan side are dealt with, the
border alone will just be a physical edifice
that will not be able to address the bigger
question of insecurity on the Kenyan side.
And as long as al-Shabab has technology to
communicate with the disgruntled many on
the Kenyan side, they will have influence
across the border.
The move has been criticized by the UN
which says it would have extreme practical
and humanitarian consequences and would
violate international law. How do you
assess the UN’s concerns?
If you look at Kenya’s role, for all these
years that Somalia has been without a
government, Kenya has been a haven for
the many innocent people who have
nothing to do with the insecurity on the
Somali side. Building a wall implies that
Kenya is ready to cut off its role in that
direction. I think the UN is more worried
about Kenya insisting that the Dadaab
refugee camp should be relocated to the
Somali side.That has a lot of legal
implications. One is that once you move the
refugees into Somalia, they are no longer
refugees, they are internally displaced
persons (IDPs). The whole range of laws
and humanitarian responses that applied to
refugees on the Kenyan side suddenly
might not apply. It has implications on
fundraising and on the willlingness of
humanitarian actors to work on the Somali
side of the border.
There is also the worrying trend of
recruitment in Kenya. If you look at the
Garissa attacks for instance, we cannot say
all of them were Somalis, there are also
Kenyans who are operating based on such
an ideology. Those recruitments will still
happen over the Internet or by phone.They
will still be able to remote control them to
act on the Kenyan side, unless the issues
underlying the insecurity on the Kenyan
side are really dealt with, because these are
related in many ways.
The question to ask is: What happens if the
Kenyans in the ranks of al-Shabab are
deployed back? What that means is that
you have a return of the Kenyan al-Shabab.
Those are not the target of the wall,
because you have Kenyans coming home
and they will still be able to act. So the wall
provides some good aspects in terms of
stopping cross-border criminality, stopping
illegal migration, helping monitor who is
coming in and who is going out. But
dealing with terror as we know it, the wall is
really not a solution.
I think that Kenya will have to partner more
with Somalia and find a consistent solution
to dealing with al-Shabab in Somalia as a
long term solution. But Kenya must also
address the very many sticking points in its
internal issues – from politics to
marginalization to land issues to
unemployment, and also bringing the
Somali community in as a partner in doing
all of this, rather than as an object for
profiling. I think that is where the answer
lies, rather than in the wall. The wall is
symbolic, it really means that Kenya is
desperate for options but it is not the


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