Heinous acts call for desperate measures. The killing in cold blood of 147 Kenyan students at Garissa University was done by a handful of terrorists sent by al-Shabaab from Somalia. The shock, rage and anguish felt in Kenya shook even the most venal politician and a series of possible solutions to halt ongoing al-Shabaab attacks across Kenya were proposed.

Heinous acts call for desperate measures. The killing in cold blood of 147 Kenyan students at Garissa University was done by a handful of terrorists sent by al-Shabaab from Somalia. The shock, rage and anguish felt in Kenya shook even the most venal politician and a series of possible solutions to halt ongoing al-Shabaab attacks across Kenya were proposed.

One of the solutions proposed is the building of a border wall separating Kenya from Somalia, thus penning in al-Shabaab terrorists who want to continue their string of horrific attacks in Kenya.

According to the political scientist, Robert Pape, the most promising way to reduce terrorism in a given country – particularly suicide terrorism – is to reduce the terrorists’ confidence in their ability to carry out attacks against a target society. Pape’s research shows that neither military offensives nor concessions to terrorist groups will yield positive results. Rather, states who confront persistent terrorist attacks like Kenya should invest significant resources in border defences and other means of security.

Al-Shabaab Attacks in Kenya

After the attacks at Garissa University in April 2015, Kenya’s government apparently took Pape’s advice to heart. Though building a border wall was announced as early as March 2015, Kenya’s government made the firm decision to construct an anti-terror security wall separating Kenya and Somalia after the attacks at Garissa. Somalia, of course, is the base and refuge of the al-Shabaab terrorists who have repeatedly attacked Kenya.Terrorist attacks planned in Somalia, often involving Kenyan terrorists and home-grown attackers, have been an ongoing problem in Kenya and it is a problem that has only intensified in recent years. According to one study, since 2008 – when al-Shabaab launched its first attack in the country – Kenya has experienced more than 200 attacks at the hands of al-Shabaab terrorists in places ranging from Nairobi and Mombasa to Mpeketoni and Mandera.

Desperate Measures Required: What about a Border Wall?

The border wall, depending on which report you read, will extend over 700 km from border point one in Mandera County at the country’s northeastern tip to Kiunga in Lamu on the Indian Ocean. The proposed border wall has been described as a series of fences, ditches, and observation posts rather than a true wall. Kenyan officials say the security wall will provide a long-term security solution to securing the border, adding that once the wall’s construction is completed, it can only be crossed by entering through the appropriate border points.

The wall will cost an estimated US$ 2 million (approximately KES 200 million) per kilometre, according to Homeland Security Analyst Richard Tuta. Interior Ministry Spokesperson, MwendaNjoka confirmed that figure in June 2015, stating that this figure was exclusive of maintenance costs. This means the proposed 700 km wall will cost KES 140 billion with an unidentified sum for maintenance accruing on a daily, monthly and yearly basis ever after.  This is approximately the same cost as Israel’s “separation barrier” that separates Israel from the Palestinian West Bank. Its construction cost an estimated US$2 million per kilometre, with an additional cost for maintenance at US$ 260 million, per year.

Reports about costs and construction of Kenya’s wall are conflicting, however. In May 2015, Kenya’s Interior Secretary, Joseph Nkaissery stated that the wall – initially estimated to cost KES 20 billion – was not being built along the entire 700 km border with Somalia and Kenya. Rather, Mr Nkaissery told a parliamentary committee that a security barrier is being constructed on a small portion of land around Mandera town to help control and screen people crossing into Kenya. Mr. Nkaissery’s statement is at odds with previous statements of other Kenyan government officials (see above), as well as those of Immigration Services Director, Gordon Kihalangwa, who has been nominated to serve as principal secretary for Interior and Co-ordination of the National Government. It is also at odds with statements made by Deputy President William Ruto. Both Kihalangwa and Rutohave gone on record stating the proposed wall will be built along Kenya’s entire 700 km border with Somalia.

Do Good Fences make Good Neighbours? 

It is unclear whether walls, such as the Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall, the US-Mexico border fence or Israel’s separation barrier actually work. Often described as unparalleled engineering feats, these walls may not keep out unwanted and undesirable people such as terrorists, but they do effectively separate populations. The wall in Kenya will definitely separate the people of two states who often share cultural ties that many locals say should not be disconnected.

Hassan Hussein, a local elder in Mandera County, noted that citizens from both the countries have intermarried, and the wall will affect family ties due to immigration complications. These complications include the need for travel documents to cross the proposed wall, which many locals do not possess and have previously not needed.

The wall also runs the risk of reviving old border disagreements between Kenya and Somalia dating from the time of independence for both countries. Indeed, recent disputes over Kenya’s and Somalia’s maritime border led Somalia’s government to take Kenya to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. The case is ongoing and there are concerns that Kenya may attempt to draw the border in their favour through the construction of the border wall separating the two countries. Regardless of the possible geo-political and socio-economic drawback, will the proposed wallaccomplish what Kenya’s government says it will do? Will it actuallystop al-Shabaab terrorists?

In Israel’s case, many would say the 800 km separation barrier has been effective in stopping terrorist attacks. They cite figures showing that in the three years before the barrier was built, suicide bombers killed 293 Israelis; in the three years after it went up, that number dropped to 64. However, a recent flare-up in violence perhaps proves just how wrong they may be. For Palestinians, according to Rick Stevesof the Huffington Post, it was clear that if someone wanted to get through the wall (which is far from finished), it would berelatively simple.

Border walls constructed along the border of Turkey and Bulgaria have been effective in keeping some migrants out of Europe, though some still slip through. Migrants who confront a border wall like the one in Turkey often move to another border crossing point, such as taking boats from mainland Turkey to Greek islands – often with grim results.

The US-Mexico border, which is separated along certain portions by a massively expensive wall, armed agents and the latest technological equipment has also been effective in stopping some would-be crossers. However, drops in border crossings from south to north seem to have less to do with the wall than the economic downturn and recession that has plagued the U.S. since 2007. Again, those who want to cross still attempt to do so – and many make it.

Walls are only as good as their Engineers and Guards

This information highlights two very important points that will make or break the viability of the border wall – literally. First, walls are only as good as the engineering behind them. In essence, Kenya’s engineers must be consulted and brought into the process from start to finish, to include annual border wall maintenance. Though Kenya has a shortage of engineers, complaints have frequently been made that the Government of Kenya ignores the many highly-educated and trained Kenyan engineers. The Technical University of Kenya Vice Chancellor,Francis Aduol stated, “Our technicians and technologists have for years suffered employment at the mercies of a few individuals because they are not catered for anywhere in the current systems.” He noted that the government ignores Kenya’s engineers to its own detriment and that the government ends up spending more money seeking the help of foreign engineers. Even maintenance projects, such as the Thika Highway, are done by foreigners – Chinese in this case. As well as being underutilized, it is unclear whether Kenya’s government has considered tapping the expertise of its own engineers in regards to the proposed border wall.

Second, after construction, walls are only as good as the people who man them. Unless Kenya deals with the corruption that reportedly permeates every agency and ministry, Kenya’s proposed wall will be full of holes. Anglo-Leasing scandal whistleblower, John Githongo has argued that corrupt contracts that were delivered at inflated costs, were of substandard quality or were never delivered at all are largely to blame for al-Shabaab’s continuing ability to attack Kenya. Githongo stated that “The door was opened because the kit that was supposed to safeguard the Kenyan borders, to ensure national security, simply wasn’t in place to interdict terrorists. “Eaten” were the contracts for a robust immigration control system, or for basic police communication equipment.”

StigJarle Hansen, an expert on al-Shabaab, also noted that corruption was largely to blame for attacks in Kenya. “The border is totally leaky, partly because it’s huge, but partly because of the level of corruption amongst the Kenyan border services.” Illustrating this point, in 2014, two militants bribed Kenyan border guards to escort them to the port city of Mombasa. The two were later captured in the city driving a vehicle stuffed with automatic weapons, ammunition, and over 130 pounds of explosives.

Even should Kenya’s professional and competent engineers be consulted and assist in the planning, implementation building and maintenance of the border wall, walls are only as good as those controlling the gates. Any good student of history can tell you that it took just one corrupt and traitorousgeneral to open a gate in the Great Wall of China. By opening that gate, thousands Manchurian “barbarians” from the north flooded in. The Manchuwent on to conquer all of China and rule it for the next 300 years.


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