Kenya shudders at the prospect of a surge in terrorist attacks against the backdrop of potential political changes in neighboring Somalia.
The fears came to the surface in Nairobi amid reports about the expected withdrawal of the African Union Mission in Somalia, which is widely known by the acronym AMISOM.
The mission’s withdrawal will leave a huge vacuum behind in the country, one that will surely be filled by terrorist groups active there, especially the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab movement.
Kenya is also afraid that the strengthening of radical organizations in neighboring Somalia will embolden radical groups inside it.
In recent years, Kenyan authorities traced the presence of a strong Takfiri current among Kenyan Muslims. Some of Kenya’s Muslims have already joined in al-Shabaab.
This report will throw some light on the evolution of the Takfiri current inside Kenya in the past years as well as the effects of the presence of this current on security and stability in this important African state.
First, conditions of Kenya’s Muslims
Muslims make up a minority in Kenya. Some estimates put them at 35% of the population of the African country. However, official Kenyan sources put Muslims at 11% only of the population of 51 million.
Kenya’s Muslims are mostly concentrated in the coastal area, especially in Mombasa. Some of them are Sunnis and others are Shiites. There are around 12,400 Muslim Shiites in Kenya.
Kenya’s Muslims suffer marginalization, both at the political and economic levels. Kenyan authorities also back the work of missionary groups among Muslims, which provokes the ire of Muslim leaders.
This suffering is giving rise to some radical movements that pretend to be there to defend the rights of Kenya’s Muslims. The same radicals say they want to establish an Islamic state in the Kenyan coast.
Second, extremism popping up in Kenya
In one of his studies, Hassan Juma Ndzovu, a lecturer in religious studies at the University of Moi, says extremism started popping up in Nigeria in the mid-1980s, specifically with the emergence of Ansar al-Sunna Group. The group said it wanted to apply Islamic law in Kenya and also preserve the teachings of Prophet Muhammad.
Extremist Islamist thinking, Ndzovu says, is foreign to Kenya’s Islamic culture. Some of the Muslims of Mombasa, he adds, were affected by some Islamist movements that took root and grew in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. Islamist currents appeared in Kenya for the following reasons:
Sending Kenyan Muslims on scholarships in Islamic states contributed to sowing the seeds of Islamist thinking in Kenya. Kenyan students learned the Islamist ideology in the countries they were sent to. They went back to their country with a desire to apply the same ideology at home.
Al-Qaeda was keen to gain presence in East Africa since its appearance. Al-Qaeda staged its earliest operations by bombing US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in August 1998. Al-Qaeda also succeeded in recruiting some Kenyans who carried out the operation.
- Stage for Islamist rivalries
East Africa was at the center of the evolution of Islamist movements. The area produced some of the most important Islamist movements.
Marginalization was the prime cause behind the appearance of Islamist movements in Kenya. Ndzovu says in his study that the Islamist movement was born in Kenya at the hands of Kenyan Islamist Sheikh Abdulaziz Rimo.
Third, Sheikh Rimo and putting political violence in context
Sheikh Rimo was born in the Kenyan coast region in 1949. He was influenced by the extremist ideology and worked to spread it among Muslims in Kenya.
Sheikh Rimo was keen to use religion to serve his political goals in Kenya. In 1990, he called for initiating political changes in the country. This caused then-Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi to order his imprisonment for six years.
Ndzovu says Sheikh Rimo was not implicated in any acts of violence. Nevertheless, he adds, his ideas created a fertile soil for the growth of radical thinking. He always accused Kenyan institutions and the Kenyan government of being a “bunch of disbelievers”, Ndzovu says.
Fourth, Rogo and the evolution of terrorism in Kenya
Rimo’s disciples translated his ideas on violence into action. Aboud Rogo was the most outstanding of these disciples. He called for the establishment of an Islamic state in Kenya. He also expressed backing of al-Qaeda in East Africa.
Rogo justified terrorist operations in Kenya, including attacks against churches. He said these attacks were part of resistance by Islamists against political marginalization and the work of missionary groups.
According to some reports, Rogo was related to the perpetrator of the bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. He was also accused of being involved in the bombing of the Kikambala hotel in 2002.
Fifth, al-Shabaab and the last jihad
In one of his sermons at Masjid Musa in Mombasa, Rogo defended al-Shabaab movement. He described the actions of the movement as the “last jihad”. He even called for joining the movement so that Muslims could die for the sake of God. Rogo also criticized the position of the Kenyan government toward al-Shabaab. According to some Kenyan sources, Rogo visited Somalia in 2009 and joined al-Shabaab there.
Sixth, mysterious end
The year 2012 was dramatic for the Islamist movement in Kenya. At the beginning of the year, Rogo was accused of possessing arms and joining terrorist groups. He, however, succeeded in evading these charges and was acquitted on bail.
On July 25, 2012, Rogo was included in a sanctions list by the United Nations Security Council for offering financial and logistical support to al-Shabaab. He was also banned from travelling outside Kenya. A month later, he was shot dead as he drove his car on the street.
Kenyan authorities were accused of killing the man. The authorities claimed that Rogo was killed by a rival Islamist group.
The Islamist movement in Kenya can best be termed as a volcano ready to erupt. The success of al-Shabaab in making contacts with Islamist movements inside Kenya will make this eruption so soon. This is why Kenyan authorities are afraid of the withdrawal of AMISOM from Somalia.