Security Experts Split on Kenyan Barrier Wall
The Kenyan government is taking dramatic new steps to secure its border with Somalia by erecting a wall designed to keep out militants after a series of cross-border raids by al-Shabab militants. But experts are divided on whether the initiative is the long-awaited solution to Kenya's security problems, or a misguided effort.
Northeastern Kenya borders both Ethiopia and Somalia. For more than two decades - since the collapse of Somalia's central government in 1990s - the region has suffered incursions from Somalia, and more recently, frequent raids by the al-Qaida-linked terrorist group al-Shabab.
With danger increasing, Kenyan officials are working on building a wall along parts of the border - while keeping roads open for trade and easy access for security officials to respond to any attack.
Interior Ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka tells VOA the intent is to improve security in areas where the danger is greatest, and open routes for people to safely cross the border.
"There are specific entry points and specific exit points. So there are certain areas we may have to put physical obstructions, in other places we may need [a] wall or fences … but it's not a wall that runs the entire 700 km of the border," says Njoka.
The county government says al-Shabab militants have killed more than 100 people in Kenya’s northeastern Mandera county in the last four months.
The Somali Islamist group vowed, and delivered, multiple revenge attacks against Kenya after Nairobi sent troops into Somalia in 2011 to fight alongside an African Union force.
The insecurity has also crippled education in northeastern Kenya, where hundreds of teachers have refused to go back to their schools after militiamen attacked a bus carrying educators late last year, killing 28 people.
Security analyst Andrew Franklin says building walls will help in the face of scant border patrols.
"It’s a comprehensive solution. Putting up a barrier whether they are physical or electronic - is nothing without humans…. it’s not only the primary answer because right now we don't have enough staff, we don't have enough personnel to man the entire border that is completely open and what we want to do is try to restore order along the border with Somalia," says Franklin.
Kenya media reports some leaders from northern Kenya have welcomed the initiative saying it will reduce the number of terrorists crossing and it will also help curb illegal border trade.
But others warn the wall is not the complete solution as it won’t help against al-Shabab sympathizers already in Mandera county.
Independent security analyst, Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad, says security in the north can be improved if officials and civilians work together - otherwise the project means little.
"What is the significance of building the wall right now? Are they going to minimize al-Shabab who are now crossing into Kenya so nobody knows? Kenya must gain the hearts and the minds of the northern people so that, together, they can defeat al-Shabab, otherwise building a wall doesn't help the matter," says Abdisamad.
The militant group has lost ground in the last couple years in the face of a concerted military effort by African Union troops and Somali forces, but al-Shabab has continued carrying out suicide and hit-and-run attacks.