(GIN)—Kenyan parliamentarians are threatening to close Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, which is home to about half a million Somalis forced to flee to Kenya because of a war at home with insurgents under the Islamist Al-Shabab.
The closure threats follow the siege and massacre at a Nairobi shopping mall by the Somali Islamists who took their war against a western-backed government in the Somali capital of Mogadishu into Kenya. Foreign fighters including Kenyans and Ethiopians have been defending the Somali government since 2011 although the “government” controls only a very small part of the country.
Taking responsibility for the attack, Al-Shabab Islamists said it was in retaliation for Kenya’s military involvement in Somalia.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta responded: “If their desire is for Kenya to pull out from Somalia, my friends all they need to do is what they should have done 20 years ago, which is to put their house in order and Kenya will come back to Kenya.”
But, not all Kenyans agree that “staying the course” is good for the country.
In a sidewalk debate captured by CNN, businessman John Mutua said: “We need to get them out,” referring to the Kenyan soldiers. “They’ll keep killing us and we’ll continue killing them—it will never end. We should all stop fighting, start afresh.”
Bank teller John Kamau, 28, disagreed.
“That’s nonsense, it’s not that easy,” he said. “We’re already in too deep. We will be considered cowards if we get out. They (Al-Shabaab) started it by killing and kidnapping people in our own land.”
Over a recent weekend, a Kenyan official suggested that the Dadaab refugees were the obstacle to peace. The refugee camp, located in northern Kenya, was a “breeding ground for terrorists,” he alleged.
But, the prospect of closing the camp has alarmed Human Rights Watch who warn it would inflame further instability in Somalia.
“Forcing them back to a country still wracked by widespread violence and insecurity would not only breach Kenya’s obligations under international law, but could inflame further instability in Somalia,” HRW Senior Researcher Gerry Simpson said last week in a statement.
For now, Kenyans who began picking up the pieces at the devastated Westgate Mall, are reporting jewelry cases smashed, mobile phones ripped from displays, cash registers emptied and alcohol stocks plundered.
No one can say for sure who is responsible, but Kenya’s poorly paid security forces are strongly suspected.
Category: Africa Briefs