Egypt and Kenya security outlook still stable - CNBC Africa

Egypt and Kenya security outlook still stable

Special Report

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A series of hand grenade attacks in Nairobi on March 31 killed six people and injured several more. PHOTO: Getty Images

Field Marshal Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi resigned from the military to run for president on Wednesday, March 26, Islamists demonstrated in various places in Egypt, and the ensuing violence resulted in five deaths on Friday, March 28.

On Sunday, March 30 a soldier was killed in the Sinai. On the same day a student died in clashes between Islamists and security forces in Cairo. We tend to think that the government will be able to contain unrest from this source, but have concerns over the reaction to the unrest and the nature of support for Mr Sisi.

Elsewhere, a newish terror group, Ajnad Misr, has claimed responsibility for a triple bomb attack at Cairo University in Egypt on Wednesday, April 2 that killed at least two people. The bombs were planted near a police guard post and targeted policemen patrolling near the faculty, and the first or second blast killed a police brigadier-general.

The attack followed days of clashes between security forces and students protesting against the interim military-backed government and Field Marshal Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s candidacy for president. In the wake of the blast Ajnad Misr claimed responsibility; this is a relatively recent group which claimed responsibility for bombings in January and which seems to have links to Ansar Beit Al-Maqdes, the most notorious of Egypt’s jihadist groups. Hours after the blast, a governmental security committee said that it intended to present anti-terror legislation to cabinet for approval.

However, the attack does not change the outlook for security in Egypt, though the emergence of a new jihadi group shows the many ways in which Islamist rage at the coup against former president Mohammed Moursi can translate into murderous action.

Attacks in mainland Egypt (as opposed to attacks in the Sinai) are relatively rare, and Wednesday’s bombing illustrates that networks in Cairo remain strong. We continue to think that the government will be able to contain terrorism for the most part, but such deadly attacks can be expected to continue, with economic effects through tourism in particular.

In East Africa, a series of what appeared to be hand grenade attacks in Nairobi on the evening of March 31 killed six people and injured several more. The attacks (two or three depending on reports) are part of an ongoing Al-Shabaab campaign to attempt to force Kenya out of Somalia and this attack appears to be linked to recent Al-Shabaab setbacks on Somali soil.

It is no coincidence that the relatively unsophisticated attacks (lobbing a grenade does not take much planning or expertise nor does the manufacture of an improvised explosive device or IED) took place in an area of Nairobi known as ‘Little Mogadishu’ due to its large number of Somali residents. Al-Shabaab would want to send a message to Somalis living in Kenya and it would be relatively easy to infiltrate a community dominated by Somalis where insurgents could blend in easily. It was a simple, cowardly, low risk attack – completely unlike the Westgate Mall. It would be a mistake, however, if Kenya adopted a confinement camp policy in such areas as the vast majority of Somalis living in Kenya have no links to Al-Shabaab. Confining Somalis to camps would be strongly counterproductive.

We have made the point several times before that preventing terror attacks is well-nigh impossible for the most part, though there are always some successes to break the monopoly. Al-Shabaab are losing ground in Somalia and as that process gains momentum, so the possibility of reprisals against Kenya, Uganda and others will increase, but it does not, for the moment, materially impact the overall political stability of Kenya or Uganda.

We expect more of these attacks, particularly of the type where grenades or IEDs are involved, but in the short term the targets are likely to remain Kenyans rather than foreigners, as Al-Shabaab wants to send a message that support for the fight against them in Somalia will carry a cost. Westgate-style attacks are significantly less likely, but given the nature of terrorism certainly not impossible.

Al-Shabaab, even if just for the moment, has its back to the wall in Somalia, and the possibility of reprisal attacks against countries such as Kenya are extremely likely in the short to medium term. Such attacks are likely to target mainly Kenyans or Somalis living in Kenya in relatively unsophisticated attacks using grenades, small arms and possibly IEDs rather than the more spectacular but more difficult, costly and dangerous attacks such as the Westgate Mall.

These patterns of terrorism have not yet materially impacted overall political stability in Kenya and are not surprising or representative of any escalation of terrorism.

By Christie Viljoen, Senior Economist, NKC Independent Economists