Columbia International Affairs Online: Policy Briefs

CIAO DATE: 05/2015

Why Mpeketoni matters: al-Shabaab and violence in Kenya

David Anderson

September 2014

Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre


The massacre at Mpeketoni in June 2014 signalled a new departure for al-Shabaab in its violent attacks on the Kenyan state. Justifying the attack as retaliation for the extrajudicial killings of Muslim leaders and the general oppression of Muslims, and as an act of war, al-Shabaab demonstrated a keen awareness of the sensitive political position of Kenya’s Muslim population. Having been founded in a nationalist context in Somalia, al-Shabaab appears now to be reinventing itself in the context of Kenya’s troubled domestic politics. Claims that the Mpeketoni violence was based on local politics only underline the success of al-Shabaab’s “reinvention.” The Kenyan state has done little to win support amongst its own Muslim population for its current invasion of southern Somalia. Its efforts to contain al-Hijra, an al-Shabaab franchise now operating in Kenya, has involved heavy-handed policing, most recently in Operation Usalama Watch, and has seen the killing and “disappearance” of more than 20 Muslim leaders. Kenya’s government now needs to rebuild trust with Muslim communities in its north-eastern border areas, and elsewhere, and to seek a consensus against radicalisation. This should involve a reconsideration of policing methods, the creation of opportunities for political dialogue with Muslim leaders, and a more sensitive, culturally appropriate and equitable approach to Muslim communities in general.