Comment & analysis

Inside Kenya's war on terror: the case of Lamu

15 May 2019 Thomas Nyagah, James Mwangi and Larry Attree Inside Kenya's war on terror: the case of Lamu

In this long read, Saferworld takes readers to Lamu County on Kenya’s coast. Lamu - tourist paradise, investment hub, flashpoint of ethnic and religious tensions - is a battleground in Kenya’s internationally-backed war on terror.

Hearing first-hand from local people, Saferworld helps tell the story of how violence ignited in 2014, how this violence was kindled, and what needs to be done to put the fire out.

Our research in Lamu puts the West’s focus on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) in context. It explains why, in Kenya, the shift from the overly securitised war on terror has not gone far enough. 

CVE programmes have at times made welcome efforts to address causal factors and community perspectives, but they also risk misallocating resources and fuelling violence and division. More than counter-terror crackdowns and CVE projects, Lamu needs a peace strategy, which could easily be developed by focusing on the issues local people believe could lead to conflict (rather than merely looking for ‘push and pull factors’ that could lead to ‘extremist’ recruitment).

These issues would include:

  1. A changed approach to security provision that treats all groups equally and respects rights and due process even when dealing with violent individuals.
  2. Quicker progress on providing equal access to land titles, jobs, education and political representation for all people in Lamu.
  3. Meaningful dialogue and bridge building, through which Kenya’s government – encouraged by its international friends – can demonstrate that it is listening to local people and acting decisively to address their concerns.

Read Inside Kenya's war on terror: the case of Lamu.

Read more about Saferworld's work on constructive alternatives to counter-terrorism approaches.

“ Lamu as elsewhere in Kenya, al-Shabaab was picking targets and making statements to inflame grievances and polarisation that already existed, drawing them into its struggle. ”