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Africa

Critics slam Kenya's wall project

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 insurgents.

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.

Andrews Atta-Asamoah

Andrews Atta-Asamoah

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 image?

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 solution.

Andrews Atta-Asamoah is a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria

Interview: Eunice Wanjiru

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