This week, seven legislators from northeastern Kenya warned that residents would acquire arms to defend themselves if the government fails to contain ongoing suspected Al-Shabab attacks. "The government must protect people in the region or they should allow us to protect ourselves," said Garissa county Women Representative, Shukran Gure.
The armed Islamist group, Al-Shabab, based largely in Somalia, has claimed responsibility for many attacks in Kenya in recent years, including the horrific massacre of at least 147 students at Garissa University College in April 2015.
The legislators argued ongoing attacks, which have killed at least 16 people in northeastern Kenya in the past month, including at least six police officers, have instilled fear and brought life to a standstill in their communities. On June 1, one school teacher was killed and another abducted in Garissa. Attackers have either detonated improvised explosive devises or raided public institutions with guns and explosives, largely targeting security personnel and non-locals.
An upsurge of suspected Al-Shabab attacks always raises serious concerns, but as Kenya prepares for elections on August 8, ongoing insecurity is likely to inhibit participation in the vote. The government's seeming inability to prevent Al-Shabab violence may discourage people from holding or attending campaign rallies and participating on voting day.
Rather than investigate attacks and seek to proactively protect communities, Kenya has often responded with abusive law enforcement operations, including reprisals in neighborhoods where attacks occur. Given the importance of the campaign period, its more critical than ever for the authorities to act decisively and lawfully to protect people in Al-Shabab affected areas.