Explaining the differences in al-Shabaab expansion into Ethiopia and Kenya

By Daniel Torbjörnsson — Since the beginning of the 1990s, Somalia has been a hotspot for terrorism, conflict and instability. In recent years, the predominant perpetrator of violence in Somalia has been the al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadist group alShabaab.

While the group’s initial focus was primarily domestic, in the past few years it has expanded its presence into neighbouring countries. Kenya is by far the worst affected by the expansion of al-Shabaab, while Ethiopia is arguably the least affected. Considering the fact that al-Shabaab enjoys an equally antagonistic relationship with both states, this situation is surprising.

This briefing outlines a few key factors for explaining the disparities in alShabaab
presence between Kenya and Ethiopia – such as marginalization, selective state repression, ethnic- and clan dynamics and the competency of the security sector. Moreover, the briefing argues that recent changes in Ethiopian policy may increase the threat posed by jihadist groups like al-Shabaab in the future.

Kenya has experienced a large number of terrorist attacks since the 1980s, perpetrated by organisations such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab. Kenya has long been considered a permissive environment for terrorist operations and sanctuary, but in the past decade the country has experienced a surge in the number of Kenyan nationals radicalised and recruited into radical Islamic movements such as al-Shabaab.

While terrorist attacks in Kenya have been frequent since 1992 there has been a dramatic increase in terrorist attacks since 2011, when al-Shabaab began expanding its operations beyond the Somalia border. Notable recent attacks include the infamous Westgate Mall attack – in which 67 people were gunned down during a three-day siege at a Nairobi shopping mall – as well as the attack at Garissa University in 2015 which left almost 150 people dead.

A vast majority of the attacks since 2010 have been planned and carried out by al-Shabaab and its Kenyan sympathisers. Across Kenya’s northern border lies Ethiopia, a country with many similarities to Kenya, but which has not experienced nearly as much religiously motivated terrorism. Reports of Ethiopian individuals being radicalised, or joining movements such as al-Shabaab, are few and far in between. In fact, ‘only’ 13 attacks were recorded in the period 2011-2014 and of those, four have been credibly linked to Islamic groups…..






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