In recent years, communities in the Boni Forest of northeastern Kenya have been suffering at the hands of Al-Shabaab terrorists. Lately, the presence and influence of these terrorists has increased as Somali and AMISOM (the US-supported African Union Mission in Somalia) troops make gains against the terrorists and push them south, across the border. These remote areas of northeastern Kenya are difficult for the al-Shabaab fighters to survive and operate in. They can only do it with the help of local communities, whether this comes through genuine support or through extortion and intimidation. here. This baraza brought together members of the Kenyan Government, the Kenyan Ranger Regiment, members of the US military and US Embassy team, and traditional leadership to discuss local problems and security. Members of the national level GoK and representatives from the US Embassy traveled from the capital, Nairobi, to participate in the event. The one-day event started with formal addresses by Kenyan government representatives followed by a town hall style discussion. The afternoon consisted of small group meetings and discussions focused on the issues raised in the morning session. A GoK representative gave concluding remarks. The GoK was able to introduce new initiatives to address local needs such as plans to rebuild the main road through the area (currently almost impassable), significant increases in the presence of security forces, and the construction of additional cell phone towers in the area. Additionally, the local people were able to voice their concerns, many of which make them susceptible to terrorist recruitment and radicalization, about a lack of local security, increasing pollution and traffic from coastal developments, and conflicts regarding land use and ownership. Community engagement like this is critical to winning the support of the community, essential for a true victory in this population-centric struggle. Al-Shabaab cannot survive without local knowledge, advice, and support. Stripping them of this by addressing local needs and grievances is the surest path to peace and stability. This baraza is only the first step in demonstrating the commitment and resolve of the government of Kenya and their American partners, but it is a large and important step. Reflecting the magnitude of the project, the US civil affairs team leader stated, “the community has never come together like this, it’s unprecedented. Some of the local leaders were comparing it to the Hajj [the galvanizing pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca that marks a high point in the lives of Muslims around the world].” Your ongoing support allows Spirit of America to continue supporting events like this as US teams and their partners work to defeat Al-Shabaab. Chris VanJohnson Africa Field Operations ManagerThe Kenyan military, with the assistance and advice of US Special Operations Forces, have been pushing back against al-Shabaab. They recently completed an operation to clear extremist fighters from the Boni Forest. In an effort to capitalize on these military gains, one US team and their Kenya Defence Forces partners hosted a Spirit of America-funded traditional gathering of local leaders. Referred to as a baraza in the local language, this event helped identify local grievances, work collectively towards solutions, and inform communities about new Government of Kenya (GoK) initiatives in the region. We first told you about this effort
Chris is a US Army veteran having served as an Armor officer with a deployment to Baghdad in 2008-09 and then as a Special Operations Civil Affairs Officer with multiple deployments to Nepal in 2011-12.