A “problem” bigger than Kenya

By Charles Onyango Obbo

The Daily Nation reported on Tuesday that Lamu residents have urged Interior Cabinet Minister Fred Matiang’i to clarify the night curfew status in the region.

Matiang’i on January 5 this year declared a month-long dusk-to-dawn curfew in some parts of Lamu, following a spate of terrorist attacks linked to the Somali militant group al-Shabaab and its affiliates.

The month has ended but Lamu residents say police are still using the curfew excuse to shake them off.

Perhaps the good people of Lamu sense it, but cannot yet put their finger on the changing political fortunes of their region. The terrorist activity in Lamu, the curfew, appears to be part of a larger geopolitical reality along the entire East African coast.

In September last year, President Uhuru Kenyatta opened Manda Bay Forward Operations Base (FOB) after expanding it into a full-fledged naval base. The base played a key role in the 2012 Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF) capture of Kismayo in Somalia

Lamu Port South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET) project.

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At the event, Defense Forces chief Gen. Robert Kibochi said the government would invest more in the base to house other national and “international agencies.”

In mid-December, President Kenyatta was back on shore, this time in Mombasa, to commission the Mombasa Shipyard at the Kenya Navy Base (KNB) in Mtongwe. The Kenyan Navy has become the center of attention. In early February, the peace-loving Danish government gave him a submersible

Last week, the French Defense Attaché in Kenya, Colonel Marc De Block, urged Kenyan Navy Deputy Commander Brig Lawrence Gituma to break the bread.

A major sign of change came last December when the unpredictable US President Donald Trump, after dramatically increasing the bombing of Somalia, said he wanted America out.

It was reported that US forces that had withdrawn from Somalia were being transferred to America’s massive military base in Djibouti and their base in Manda Bay, which had earlier suffered a major attack by al-Shabaab militants in which an American One soldier, two contractors, and an unknown number of Kenyans were killed. They also destroyed airplanes.

Reading these movements from the outside, several factors seem to be at play. The rapprochement between Israel and the Gulf states appears to be changing the importance of the US base in Djibouti and the strategic role of the Gulf of Aden. The Israel-Gulf Axis can now secure the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

The strategic anchor point of many international power players, particularly Western ones, has shifted south to the Kenyan coast, particularly to Lamu (and the Mozambique coast). This creates a horseshoe that faces China more directly across the Indian Ocean.

For its part, China announced last year that it would set up a permanent military base in West Africa. It is likely that the base will be in Equatorial Guinea. That would be China’s second base in Africa after Djibouti and its first permanent military presence in the Atlantic. And just as a move to the Kenyan coast gave America a direct line of sight to China, China would now have a direct line of sight to the US.

To the north, the waterline has shifted from the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea to the Mediterranean, where Russia has pushed into Libya and Sahel countries beset by Islamist militants like Mali into the Central African Republic.

This appears, for lack of a better word, to downgrade Ethiopia’s strategic importance, which has been exacerbated by the recent two-year Tigray War.

“International interests” of the hard security sort, if one may say so loosely, seem to be more focused on the East and Central African heartland.

It’s a shift that could see Uganda’s strategic currency surge, allowing it to do things like move to the DRC to fight Islamist militants, as it is currently doing, and Rwanda, to Mozambique to go to help a regime weakened by corruption in Maputo, smash the jihadists who had besieged the country’s oil-rich northern province of Cabo Delgado for nearly five years.

With the Uganda-Tanzania oil pipeline now expected to land in the port of Tanga in at least 2025, as well as the new Lamu port, expanded Dar es Salaam and Mombasa, the modernized Mamba Bay naval base and others, the value of assets along the East African coast is increasing increase heavily. The reward for enemies like al-Shabaab and his friends is that the attack on them will also be great, so they will be more motivated to try and states will invest more in their protection.

The Lamu are therefore dealing with a complicated situation. Their neighborhoods have become even more problematic for an otherwise good reason – their economic and political value has increased.

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