The murder of a British man in Kenya intensifies concerns about Somalian terrorism and war spilling across the border
Kidnapping and murder happen every day in Kenya. In fact the regularity of the latter has led to the feeling that Kenyans are so used to their fellow countrymen being killed that they have become almost inured to such news (the horrific news of the death of dozens of people in a Nairobi pipeline fire adds to the sense of tragedy at the moment). But when the police commissioner, Mathew Iteere, came out over the weekend to comment on an incident in which a British tourist was killed and his wife kidnapped, Kenyans knew that the issue was not as simple as just another murder. The incident happened at Kiunga in Lamu County, which borders Somalia on the coastal belt. What made this matter apparently serious was not just because a tourist had been killed. It was the nature of the act and the people suspected to have done it. The motive of the attack was not immediately established; neither, indeed was a direct connection made between the murder and the threat of terrorism on a day when the world was marking the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. However, the fact that it touched off a major security operation aimed at rescuing the woman and capturing the attackers points to the fact that the Kenyan authorities were leaving nothing to chance. By Sunday evening top security personnel had met to discuss how to ward off the possible spillover into Kenya of the chaos in Somalia, the attack on the British tourist and its likely effect on Kenya's image abroad. The police commissioner had believed that the attackers would reveal themselves by way of demanding a ransom. But at the time of writing, no ransom had been demanded. For months now, Kenya has been living under the shadow of a terrorist group called al-Shabaab and the danger of escalation in a war between militia groups and the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (TFG). Of major concern to the Kenyan authorities is not just the threat that the bloody friction between TFG and al-Shabaab poses on the Kenya-Somalia border but, as revealed by this incident, the threat it poses to Kenya's tourist industry and indeed Kenyan nationals themselves. Tourism is one of the pillars of the Kenyan economy. But it is also a highly sensitive industry. The British government has already updated its travel advice to Britons in Kenya advising them against all but essential travel within 30km of the Kenya-Somalia border. This is not good news for an industry that relies mainly on a good name and security to thrive. The situation is not being helped by the fact that a severe famine has swept the horn of Africa affecting over 12 million people with more than 2,000 Somalian refugees crossing into Kenya every day. The Daadab refugee camp, initially designed to accommodate 80,000 refugees, is currently hosting more than half a million people. Amid charges that Kenya's borders are too porous to keep the nation safe from outside threats, there has been evidence that the government has not been taking the threat from al-Shabaab lightly. Immediately after the Lamu attack a major operation along the Kenyan-Somalia border was mounted, both on air and on the ground. But Kenya now has to deal with a multidimensional problem – how to keep the chaos in Somalia away from its borders, how to protect its fragile tourism industry and how to grapple with the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the war- and famine-ravaged Somalia. It is a daunting task for any government.