Part I: Introduction

Heinous acts call for desperate countermeasures. The killing in cold blood on April 2, 2015 of 147 students at Garissa University in Kenya, by a handful of terrorists affiliated with the al-Shabaab terrorist group, has led Kenyan authorities to resort to building a wall along its border with Somalia in an effort to stem future attacks. The decision to construct a security wall occurred against a backdrop of the public rage and anguish felt in Kenya following the attack and compounded by repeated al-Shabaab attacks in the country since 2008. Kenyan authorities’ fixation with ostensibly penning in al-Shabaab terrorists and keeping them out of Kenya dominated discourse about the suitability of a border wall. Al-Shabaab’s leaders and most of its terrorist training camps are based in Somalia. The terrorists who conducted the attacks at Garissa University came from Somalia and ostensibly acted under the direction of al-Shabaab leadership.

When Kenya announced it was building a wall, questions were immediately raised regarding the effectiveness of such an expensive venture. However, the debate about constructing the border barrier did not consider or entertain key questions including the likely geopolitical repercussions such as migration in the region, separating communities and clans that have co-existed and depended on each other for hundreds of years and long-simmering border disputes with Kenya’s neighbours, some of which have periodically fed Somali irredentism. This paper utilizes international security theories and a comparative political science approach in analysing the efficacy of Kenya’s proposed border wall with Somalia as a strategy for containing al-Shabaab and preventing future terrorist attacks in the country. Existing evidence suggests that the proposed wall, if completed, will exacerbate an already volatile situation by reigniting border disputes not only between Somalia and Kenya; but could also provide precedent for other states in the region to raise claims over borders that were drawn by colonial powers. The proposed border also will artificially separate communities and clans who live on either side of the border and negatively affect existing and legitimate social, cultural, economic and political cross-border exchanges. Lastly, this paper argues that the chances of success of the Kenya/Somalia border wall (keeping out terrorists) are miniscule, given the high levels of corruption in Kenya and the fact that walls have been demonstrated throughout history to only be as good as the people who control them.

This paper discusses practical implications and offers prescriptions based on the research and comparative methods used. It highlights lessons learned from other countries such as Israel, Bulgaria and India that have attempted to build border walls to improve security. This paper will add significantly to the discipline of political science on account of its original contributions to theories of international security and comparative politics. It will also add considerably to the discipline of international relations (IR) and political economy by asking crucial questions and defining possible geopolitical and socio-economic effects of the proposed Kenya/Somalia border wall. These could have unintended, long-term and possibly detrimental outcomes, including the exacerbation of border disputes, irredentist movements and the cessation of legitimate cross-border trade and movements. Subsequent to introducing the topic, Part II provides a synopsis of al-Shabaab’s terrorist attacks in Kenya and shows how the attack at Garissa University provided the impetus for Kenya to continue building a proposed security wall in an effort to prevent al-Shabaab terrorists from infiltrating its territory and killing its citizens. Part II also examines why border walls are becoming popular for countries seeking to attain and maintain internal security. Part III assesses the effectiveness of a border wall with Somalia as a response to international terrorism in Kenya. It also draws lessons from countries such as Israel, Mexico, the United States (U.S.), and other historical evidence to demonstrate that a border wall will have little, if any, impact on Kenya’s security. Part IV concludes the paper.

Part II: Desperate Acts call for Desperate Measures

According to the American political scientist Robert Pape (2003), 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 concludes that states which confront persistent terrorist attacks like Kenya should invest significant resources in border defences and other means of security rather than relying on military offensives or concessions to terrorist groups. It is unclear whether Kenyan officials were aware of, or influenced by, Pape’s research when they sanctioned the building of a border wall with Somalia, but their underlying assumption that such wall would prevent terrorists from reaching Kenya from Somalia is basically similar. It should, however, be noted that the porous Kenya/Somalia border has always been problematic especially for Nairobi. Since the independence of both countries, movements in Somalia have waxed and waned to incorporate portions of northern Kenya (along with eastern Ethiopia and Djibouti) into a greater Somalia. This culminated in the Shifta War (1963-67). The outcome was messy and brutal, with large numbers of civilians killed, but resulted in the status-quo of Kenya’s post-independence borders remaining intact (Branch, 2014). Though Somalia’s civil war that began in 1991 and the resulting lack of a central government removed “official” approval for such irredentism, a new set of problems presented themselves. These included the influx of millions of Somali refugees into north eastern Kenya as well as border smuggling that includes the illegal movement of people, animals and other goods (Kumssa & Jones, 2014).

A. Background on Kenya’s Border Wall

After the horrific attacks at Garissa University in April 2015, some in Kenya’s government apparently took Pape’s advice to heart and announced that Kenya would continue with the construction of an anti-terror security wall that would separate Kenya from Somalia and help prevent attacks from al-Shabaab. Terrorist attacks planned in Somalia, often involving Kenyan nationals who were trained in Somalia, have been an ongoing problem in Kenya and one that has only intensified in recent years.

The attack on Garissa University was shocking in its length and brutality. For a full 15 hours, a handful of terrorists held over 700 people hostage, freeing those they identified as Muslim and slaughtering anyone else identified as Christian. 148 people were killed in the attack and another 79 wounded. Four of the terrorists were eventually shot by Kenya security forces and a fifth reportedly detonated his explosive belt, killing himself (Odula, Muhumuza & Senosi, 2015).

The attacks at Garissa University occurred against a backdrop of a spate of al-Shabaab terrorist attacks that have targeted Kenya since 2008–when al-Shabaab launched its first attack in the country (Pate, et al., 2015). Al-Shabaab, with ties to various terrorist groups including al-Qa’ida and the Islamic State (IS), is based in Somalia, though its members and recruits come from multiple continents and countries, to include Kenya (Shinn, 2011; Meleagrou-Hitchens, 2015). Kenya has experienced more than 200 attacks at the hands of al-Shabaab terrorists in places ranging from the big cities of Nairobi and Mombasa to the small hamlet of Mpeketoni and a rock quarry outside the town of Mandera (Pate, et al., 2015).

The attack on Garissa University was noteworthy for another reason: the lacklustre response of Kenyan security forces and the government. In this, it was similar to the confusion and mayhem that accompanied the attacks on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi in September 2013 (Onuoha, 2013). Kenyan media reports suggest it took the country’s elite paramilitary unit seven hours to deploy to Garissa from their base in Nairobi. By the time they arrived, the majority of the students held hostage by the terrorists had already been murdered (Cummings, 2015). The Kenyan response was characterized by an almost utter lack of security force preparedness, capacity, independence of movement and mission, and professionalism. When reports surfaced a few days after the massacre that a police chief used a plane to fly his family back to Nairobi from holiday on Kenya’s coast rather than transport Kenyan commandos to Garissa, Kenyans were outraged (Mutiga, 2015). Coupled with the slow response time of Kenyan authorities and their apparent inability to save defenceless citizens yet again, the government of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta scrambled to effectively blunt criticism and affect a proper and coordinated response. First, the Kenyan Defense Force (KDF) bombed al-Shabaab camps in Somalia, including Camp Shaykh Ismail, Camp Gondodwe, Camp Bardheere and what was described as a major camp in Gedo Region where some 800 militants were based (McGregor, 2015). The government’s focus then shifted to the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya’s North Eastern Province. The refugee camp, the largest in Africa with between 350,000 to 500,000 Somali residents, was set up in 1991, and its population composed largely of women and children has grown exponentially over the years. The Garissa attack led to further claims from some Kenyan politicians and security personnel that the facility is a terrorist training camp and place of refuge. Indeed, following the Garissa attack, Kenya’s Deputy President, William Ruto, demanded that the United Nations’ refugee agency, UNHCR, close Dadaab and remove the refugees from Kenyan soil (Sieff, 2015). Following an international outcry, the government softened its stance and, to date, the refuges remain housed in Dadaab.

The government also publicized plans and touted its firm commitment to build a border wall along Kenya’s border with Somalia. First reported in February 2015, Kenya’s government tried to further blunt criticism of its response to the attack in Garissa by announcing that the wall, already reportedly under construction prior to the attacks, would keep al-Shabaab terrorists from entering Kenya from Somalia and boost security (Kazungu, 2015). The wall’s construction was, in effect, something tangible that would prove Kenya’s government and security forces were capable of protecting Kenya’s citizenry, a capability that has been severely called into question given al-Shabaab’s seeming impunity and ability to strike Kenya from Mombasa to Lamu to Garissa to Nairobi.

When built, Kenya’s proposed border wall with Somalia may extend over 700 km from border point one in Mandera County at the country’s north eastern 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 (Laing, 2015). 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$2 million, approximately 200 million Kenyan shillings (Ksh) per kilometre (Kimonye, 2015). This means the proposed 700 km wall will cost US$ 1.38 billion, or approximately Ksh 140 billion, with an unidentified sum for maintenance accruing on a daily, monthly and yearly basis for as long as the wall exists. This is the same basic cost as Israel’s “separation barrier,” a wall that separates Israel from the Palestinian West Bank. Its construction was an estimated US$2 million per kilometre, with an additional cost for maintenance at US$260 million per year (Cave, 2013). Reports about the length and cost of Kenya’s border wall are conflicting, however. In May 2015, Kenya’s Interior Secretary, Joseph Nkaissery stated that the wall would not be built along the entire 700 km border with Somalia and Kenya. Rather a security barrier would be constructed on a small portion of land around Mandera town to help control and screen people crossing into Kenya (Mutai, 2015).

B. Kenya Not Alone: Borders, Barriers and Walls Elsewhere

Kenya is not alone in attempting to use a border wall as a mechanism for preventing future terrorist attacks. Jones (2012) notes that approximately twenty-five border walls have been built, or been fortified around the world since 2000. Israel, India and the U.S. alone have together built more than 3,500 miles of walls and fences. Although the 1990s saw almost as much border fencing as the previous four decades of the Cold War combined (Hassner & Wittenberg, 2009), border walls were by and large seen as relics of the Cold War, something that globalization would conquer. However, Jones (2011) argues that the attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. on 9/11 were transformational in that they flipped the logic of the Self versus Other developed during the Cold War. In other words, after 9/11 the Other who stayed on its respective side of the border morphed into the Other who attacked the Self from within the confines of its national “home” (Jones, 2011). In essence, the attacks on 9/11 shifted the paradigm of viewing walls from the, “… exclusionary and anachronistic imagery of the Berlin Wall to that of a modern and essential way to secure the future of civilisation and freedom” (Jones, 2011, p. 214). This major change informed the decade-long spate of border wall construction that has characterized the world from Bulgaria to India to Kenya as part of the so-called War on Terror. The irony of this surge in wall building, if there is one, is that, “… in our increasingly globalised world, we are witnessing a relapse of border demarcation and of closing up of national spaces” (Szary, 2012, p. 3).

C. The Rationale for Border Walls

Much of the recent literature on borders and walls has focused on understanding them through an analytical look at changes to the security paradigm (Brunet-Jailly, 2007; Salter & Zureik, 2005; Walters, 2006; Anderson, 2000). There are three reasons states may have for constructing a border wall. The first may be the ostensible protection of cultural practices within the state from possible outside influences, usually those of immigrants, offered by border wall construction. This was witnessed in Europe in mid-2015 as Hungary and other European Union (EU) countries erected barrier walls along their borders in an effort to keep out thousands of refugees fleeing chaos in Syria, Iraq, Somalia and elsewhere. Second, states may erect border walls in an attempt to establish sovereignty over ungoverned or unruly lands – an effort known as broadcasting power from the centre of a given state (usually the capital city) to the peripheral borders of that same state (Herbst, 2000, p. 11). In the Kenyan context, as in much of Africa, the state has often faced difficulties or has few incentives to broadcast power to its peripheries, particularly in the arid and sparsely-populated regions bordering Somalia. By building a border wall, Kenya’s government in Nairobi may be attempting to effectively and consistently broadcast power to this peripheral region for the first time since independence in 1963. Third, and more relevant to the present analysis, states may erect borders in an effort to protect the safety and thereby the wealth of the state and its population. Kenya currently is seeking to stop al-Shabaab attacks that kill its citizens. It is also attempting to promote a secure environment for its multi-million-dollar tourism industry. In the wake of recent attacks, countries such as the U.K. and U.S. have consistently issued advisories warning their citizens to avoid all but essential travel to Kenya (Obwocha, 2014). This has had an extreme and detrimental effect on Kenya’s tourism industry (Morris, 2015). Given the thousands of Kenya’s who rely on the tourism industry for their livelihoods, al-Shabaab’s repeated attacks have had a chilling and direct effect.

This paper focuses on the third rationale on why states build walls: that is, to keep undesirable elements such as migrants or terrorists out of their territory. This is the reason Israel has built its so-called “separation barrier” with Palestine: to keep Palestinian terrorists from infiltrating and conducting attacks inside Israel. Kenya similarly has argued that a border wall separating Kenya from Somalia would prevent al-Shabaab trained and directed operatives from entering and conducting attacks in Kenya (Kushkush, 2015). But walls also broadcast to world, and more importantly to contiguous states, the line of sovereign authority and territory of the wall-building state, as noted in the second reason for building walls. While borders may appear to the casual observer to be natural and timeless, the truth is that even the oldest territorial borders in Europe are only a few hundred years old. In another scenario, the current US-Mexico border was literally drawn in 1854, but US sovereignty was only established by decades of movement into what is now Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California by Anglo-Americans (Nevins, 2010, p. 27).

Part III: Assessing The Effectiveness of Kenya’s Border Wall

A. What Walls Do and Do Not Do

Walls definitely keep people out. They have all sorts of psychological consequences, as well. Whether the walls are effective at keeping everybody on a particular side of the fence – to include terrorists–is debatable. The following examples are instructive. First, walls are built ostensibly to keep people on one side or the other. The Great Wall of China was built to keep “barbarians” away from the Middle Kingdom. The Berlin Wall was built to keep East Germans away from the West. But walls are also largely symbolic constructs. They have a psychological component and they present an unnatural barrier to commerce and communication. However, they are not insurmountable. If a country builds a 20-foot wall, a person only needs a 21-foot ladder to climb over it, or they can tunnel under it, or simply bribe border guards to get to the other side. Second, building walls is terribly expensive and they are even more expensive to maintain. The U.S. government estimates that each mile of fencing on the Mexican border will cost US$20 million over the fence’s 20-year life span. As noted, the proposed border with Kenya may cost as much as US$2 million, per kilometre. For many countries, including Kenya, this sum is unsustainable given a paucity of currency reserves and poor tax collection practices (Njoroge, 2015). Therefore, the efficacy of the border wall is called into question as money runs out and politicians and their priorities change. Third, borders with fences are still crossed on a daily basis, often by thousands of people. These legitimate border crossings involve farmers crossing with their livestock from Bangladesh to India or Palestinian day-labourers traveling to work in Israel, for example. Besides inflicting huge costs in the form of time and money, these legitimate and necessary border crossings also represent a weak spot in border wall defences. Terrorists can utilize these border crossings just as easily as migrant labourers or farmers. Terrorists often utilize legitimate methods to enter the countries housing their targets of attack. Most famously, all of the al-Qa’ida 9/11 hijackers entered the U.S. with valid visas through airports. Fourth, walls take a psychological toll. The so-called “wall disease” diagnosed by Berlin psychologist Dietfried Müller-Hegemann (1973) manifests itself in people living next to a separation border or wall in the form of heightened levels of depression, alcoholism and domestic abuse. Marcello Di Cintio (2013), documented cases of death from grief by Tohono O’odham tribe of Native Americans when the U.S. border fence was built and separated them from their ceremonial sites. Di Cintio (2013) also documented the development of Self versus Other mentality in the minds of Bangladeshi farmers who were cut off from their neighbours by a hastily erected, Indian-built border fence. According to Di Cintio, Bangladeshi farmers began exhibiting dislike and distrust vis-à-vis their former neighbours within a few weeks and months after the barbed-wire fence was erected. Thus, the size of the fence does not matter when it comes to psychological effects, some of them profound. Lastly, border fences rarely run the entire length of any given border. The Berlin Wall was the exception rather than the rule. The U.S. fence only covers one third of its long, porous border with Mexico. India’s walls only cover 80 per cent of its borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh. As noted, some Kenyan government officials have announced that the proposed Kenya/Somalia border wall will cover the entire 700 kilometre border. Others have announced it will only stretch across a small area close to the town of Mandera in order to screen individuals entering Kenya from Somalia.

What do walls offer? At a localised level, a wall does offer more security than no wall. However, walls do not address the root causes of insecurity nor do they foster understanding or a desire for rapprochement. Rather, walls may act as a catalyst for conflict, at most, and a stalemate in the status quo, at least. It is worth remembering that terrorist attacks have risen globally despite over a decade of wall-building (Tomlinson, 2015). This is because terrorist groups are largely products of their environment (Krueger & Maleckova, 2003). But they also have the ability to adapt ideologically and tactically. This is particularly the case with al-Shabaab (Anderson & McKnight, 2015). Yet that has not acted as a deterrent to states that choose to build walls. Indeed, it appears that there is something of a copy-cat effect when it comes to building walls to keep out undesirables, particularly terrorists. Tunisia’s government, copying Kenya’s, announced it would build a wall along its border with Libya after a terrorist attack that resulted in the deaths of 38 tourists (Mwiti, 2015).

For terrorists, walls are surmountable because they can utilize available resources and contacts to surmount them. Drug cartels operate along the same lines as terrorist groups and quickly adapt to barriers erected to prevent the flow of drugs. By using fake documents, disguises, sympathetic contacts and networks or bribery, terrorists and drug runners are able surmount significant impediments to carrying out their respective missions (Zill, 2001). Indeed, the Islamic State (IS)-affiliated and funded terrorists who attacked Paris in November 2015 utilized various means and methods to travel to Syria and return to France. These included using legitimate and false passports to enter Europe in the company of legitimate refugees fleeing the very chaos fomented by IS and other groups (Walker & Bisserbe, 2015).

B. Is Kenya’s Proposed Border Wall Worth the Cost and Effort?

It is worth noting that in Africa borders are not only relatively new, but were arbitrarily drawn by outside colonial powers, separating linguistic groups, tribes, clans and families (Baud & Van Schendel, 1997). Though there have been arguments about the relative size of African states (Collier, 2006), there is little doubt that reifying currently porous borders with walls – as is the case with Kenya and Somalia–may exacerbate tensions that have simmered just below the surface since independence (Kromm, 1967; Mahmoud, 2008). 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 in Somalia that Kenya may attempt to draw the border in their favour through the construction of the border wall separating the two countries (Olick, 2015).

Borders seldom keep out “unwanted” people: As discussed previously, walls such as the Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall, the US-Mexico border fence and Israel’s separation barrier do not stop all terrorists or others who are willing to take various measures and have the resources to do so.

  1. Israel’s case is instructive. Most estimates conclude that 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 (Allison, 2015). However, a recent flare-up in violence and the killing of Israelis also demonstrates walls cannot keep all terrorists out (Booker, 2015).
  2. Completed in 2014, the three-metre high border wall separating Bulgaria and the European Union (EU) from Turkey is an extension of the border wall built between Greece and Turkey and completed in 2012. Bulgaria built the wall in response to refugees moving north from Greece and crossing into Bulgaria, and by extension the EU, after Greece erected its wall (Mortimer, 2015). The fence that separates the EU from Turkey has now resulted in migrants taking a much riskier sea crossing from the Turkish mainland to various Greek islands dotting the Aegean Sea (Arango, 2015). The lesson here is that when walls go up alternative routes and methods are found and used by refugees, drug cartels and terrorist groups.
  3. 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 (Carter & Poast, 2015). 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 plagued the U.S. beginning in 2007. Again, those who want to cross still attempt to do so – and many make it (Gonzalez-Barrera, 2015).

Walls negatively impact existing, legitimate exchanges: 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 countries who often share cultural, linguistic, familial and religious ties. Citizens from both the countries have intermarried, and the wall will affect family, clan and pastoral ties due to immigration complications. These complications include the need for travel documents, which many locals do not possess. Yet the real question remains, will the proposed wall accomplish what Kenya’s government says it will do? Will it actually stop al-Shabaab terrorists?

Walls as a deterrent: Walls have been shown to be a deterrent to crossing from point A to point B, particularly for resource-poor refugees, pastoralists, labourers and families. They are less successful in stopping terrorists and drug runners (Brown, 2010). Both groups have access to resources, networks on both sides of the wall and adapt their tactics in pursuit of strategies. States that choose to build walls must take these factors into consideration along with the significant expenses associated with the construction and maintenance of border walls and fences. Yet states such as Israel may realize that walls will not be 100 per cent effective, but build them anyway. The wall acts as a deterrent and does arguably lessen penetration of Israel by would-be terrorist attackers. Kenya’s case may be a bit more complicated. Will Kenya’s wall act as a deterrent to al-Shabaab attackers entering Kenya? Arguably yes, it will. But it depends on what kind of wall is built, its length and the people who man it.

Walls present Alternatives: Should Kenya’s wall be built, al-Shabaab may simply develop alternative routes (sea or air) or utilize legitimate means to cross into Kenya. It should be noted that many of the perpetrators of terrorist attacks in Kenya have been Kenyan citizens, making it easier for them to cross legally into the country (Botha, 2014). Regardless of the technology and engineering used in the construction of border walls, walls are only as good as the people who guard them. Yet Kenya has a well-documented problem of corruption. Some have 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, 2015; Meservey, 2015). 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 (Ombati, 2015).

Corruption defeats walls: It appears that corruption in Kenya will affect the very efficacy of the wall itself. Walls do not stop all terrorists, but Kenya’s wall cannot stop terrorists if the guards let them through. Though simplistic from a historical perspective and likely over-dramatic, the fact remains that it took just one corrupt and traitorous general to open a gate in the Great Wall of China. By opening that gate, a small ethnic group invaded China, destroyed the empire of the majority Han Chinese, and ruled the country as the Qing Dynasty for the next 250 years (Stary & Wakeman, 1990).

While nothing as drastic as an al-Shabaab invasion of Kenya will occur, the bottom line is that Kenya’s wall will be full of holes unless issues of corruption are dealt with. Kenya’s corruption reportedly permeates multiple agencies and ministries (Hope, 2014). This includes the military and police forces and has led to sensational, but credible reports that accuse the KDF, for example, of cooperating with al-Shabaab in the charcoal trade in southern Somalia (Anderson & McKnight, 2015). Given the sheer levels of corruption reported in Kenya, the country should arguably spend any money allocated towards the building of a wall on other measures such as fighting graft and corruption through prosecutions and reforms. The money could also be spent towards alleviating the many grievances of Kenya’s citizens, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, Somali and non-Somali alike (Lind, Mutahi & Oosterom, 2015).

Partnering with Somalia to promote mutual sustainable security solutions: Terrorism is a common problem on both sides of the Kenya/Somalia border. Indeed, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud immediately condemned the terrorist attacks in Garissa, offered his condolences and stated that Kenya and Somalia must cooperate to defeat terrorism in the region (AFP, 2015).

Kenya’s response to President Mohamud’s statements, if there was any, remains unreported. Perhaps Kenya’s government feels that the current Somali Federal Government, derisively referred to as the “Mayors of Mogadishu,” have very little to offer when it comes to prosecuting efforts to root out terrorists in the region. The two governments also harbour mutual suspicions regarding the other’s intents vis-à-vis maritime and land borders. At stake are the two countries’ legal claims to sell rights for exploration of oil and gas and collect revenue from any discovery. This includes the maritime border dispute, referenced above, currently pending at the ICJ in The Hague. Somalia believes that the maritime border should extend in a southeast direction, in an area equidistant between the two states, while Kenya believes the line delineating water under its control should extend directly east of the land border (Mutambo, 2015). In turn, Kenya has exacerbated border tensions by pushing ahead with plans to build the border fence (Hirmoge, 2015).

Yet the fact remains that al-Shabaab poses a threat to both countries and both regimes. It can be argued that it makes more sense for Kenya to work with Somalia on this issue and others, to include border issues, in a constructive and concerted way. This may actually have the effect of bringing the two countries together rather than building a likely ineffective border wall while reifying already strong notions proliferating in both countries of “Us” versus “Them.”

Border demarcation could ignite latent border disputes: Kenya’s attempts at border demarcation through the construction of a border wall with Somalia could provide a precedent for other African countries and possibly ignite latent border disputes.

  1. Kenya/South Sudan Border Disputes: The Ilemi Triangle, situated at the junction of Kenya, South Sudan and Ethiopia, is disputed land. The territory is currently claimed by both South Sudan and Kenya, though Kenya has de facto control of the area. As with other border disputes, this dates back to colonial times and was previously a bone of contention between Sudan and Kenya prior to the independence of South Sudan in 2011, when the Sudanese claim to the Ilemi Triangle was transferred to the new national government in Juba (O’Collins, 2004). South Sudan Ambassador to Kenya, Guangdong Makok, dismissed rumours in 2012 that South Sudan had written to the African Union and the UN over the Ilemi Triangle dispute (Olick, 2012). South Sudan has also accused Kenya of illegal construction of unidentified structures inside South Sudanese territory close to the Nadapal/Lokichogio border crossing (Nakimangole, 2015).
  2. Ethiopia/Kenya Border Dispute: Though there are arguably no border disputes between Kenya and Ethiopia, citizens of the two countries have fought and killed each other over access to water for decades. Ethiopia’s decision to build a dam on the Omo River to harness hydroelectric power means less water will flow into Lake Turkana (Powers, 2011). The Turkana of Kenya and the Dassanech, Nyangatom and Mursi of Ethiopia are tribes that depend on the Omo River and Lake Turkana to survive. Though Ethiopia and Kenya recently signed agreements to end conflict in the region and cooperate in regards to water resources and the development of the region, the area remains a potential zone of conflict (Chebet & Bett, 2015).
  3. Uganda/Kenya Border Dispute: Migingo Island in Lake Victoria is claimed by both Kenya and Uganda. Uganda deployed troops to the island in 2004 and complaints of harassment by the island’s 1,000 Kenyan residents have led to recurrent clashes and arrests (Shaka, 2013). Kenya and Uganda have met numerous times to defuse the situation and resolve the dispute to little avail (Onyango, 2013).
  4. Oil and Gas and Border Disputes in East Africa: The fairly recent discovery of oil and gas in East Africa also may exacerbate territorial disputes. Border disagreements of some sort currently exist between Somalia, Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania (including Zanzibar) and Uganda and these will likely intensify over control of oil and gas resources (The East African, 2012).

Part IV: Conclusion

Pape (2003) is very likely correct that the most promising way to reduce terrorism in a given country is to reduce the terrorists’ confidence in their ability to carry out attacks against a target society. And there is no doubt that Kenya is a country that continues to suffer from terrorist attacks by an enemy that is largely trained in and operates from a neighbouring country. As such, addressing border security and revamping national security apparatuses along with building a border wall would appear to be in Kenya’s best interests. This supposition should also hold true for other countries such as Israel, which are the targets of sustained terrorist attacks. However, as demonstrated in a variety of cases, border walls only reduce terrorist attacks – they do not eliminate them. They also result in shifts in the behaviour and methods of those attempting to cross them, be they refugees, drug cartels or terrorist groups. In Kenya’s particular case, the border wall should not be built for multiple reasons. These include the astronomical expenses involved and the likelihood the wall will cause more problems than it will solve. The wall also has the potential to exacerbate an already volatile situation by reigniting border disputes not only between Somalia and Kenya but between other states in the region. Furthermore, the proposed wall will artificially separate communities and clans living on both sides of the Kenya/Somalia border. The final and most important argument against building a border wall is that its chances of success are minimal. It will not keep out all or even most of the al-Shabaab terrorists who wish to attack Kenya. This is because of the high levels of corruption that reportedly permeate Kenya’s security establishment and the fact that walls have been demonstrated throughout history to only be as good as the people who guard them.

About the author

Brendon J. Cannon is currently an associate professor at Kisii University in Kenya and the Director of the Gollis University Research Institute (GURI) in Hargeisa, Somalia. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Utah, USA in Political Science, with an emphasis on Comparative Politics and International Relations (IR). He lives in Nairobi.


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