Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Al-Shabaab Psychological Operations : Exhausting the Will of the Kenyan Citizenry. Part 1 - Garissa Attack and its Aftermath

This is the first installment of a four-part series analyzing al-Shabaab psychological operations (PSYOPs) in Kenya and how the modest success of its PSYOPs combined with its strategy of integrated terror have enabled it achieve some of its strategic objectives.
Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.
On April 1st 2015, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya lambasted the US, UK and Australian governments along with several other European governments for issuing travel advisories against Kenya. The advisories have contributed majorly to the near-collapse of the Kenyan tourism sector. Kenyatta asserted that Kenya was safe for tourists and even encouraged tourists from African nations to holiday in Kenya in order to defiantly show its traditional tourist markets that Kenya can withstand their travel advisories. Less than 24 hours later, members of the Salafist Takfiri Jihadist organization, al-Shabaab, stormed into Garissa University College and massacred over 140 students during the ensuing hostage-siege. The hostage-siege crisis ended approximately 12 hours later, but the psychological blow was dumbfounding, and its effects still linger to this day within the collective will of Kenyans as exemplified by a series of events that occurred after the ill-fated Garissa University College attack.

Victims of Terror
At the outset, the sequence of events that unfolded during the Garissa attack eroded the confidence that Kenyans had in the capabilities of their security services to pre-empt and deter terror attacks, as well as professionally manage one once it occurs. Likewise, the fact that the four al-Shabaab gunmen were able to repel several KDF (Kenya Defence Forces) attempts to end the siege -they even killed several security personnel - accompanied by the affirmation by Joseph ole Nkaissery (the Cabinet Secretary tasked with managing Internal Security) that al-Shabaab outgunned Kenyan security forces during the siege; served to further erode the confidence that Kenyans have in the capabilities of their security forces to protect them from terror attacks.
These events have caused the citizens of Kenyan to dread al-Shabaab while concurrently becoming increasingly apprehensive regarding the capabilities of the security forces. Presently, Kenyans neither trust nor believe that their security forces can protect them against al-Shabaab as exemplified by their reactions to a series of terror scares.
Fidelity and Fear.
Al-Shabaab used the attack to point out to Kenyans that it can conduct devastating attacks within the nation, regardless of the active presence of Kenyan security forces. By using extreme savagery to instill fear in Kenyans, al-Shabaab was able to efficaciously influence their objective reasoning through the exploitation of the subsequent pervasive emotional shock to modify their behaviours with regards to daily activities, social interactions, as well as their perception of the government and its military operations in Somalia – Operation Linda Nchi (now conducted under the auspices of AMISOM - African Union Mission to Somalia).
Likewise, the fact that the Kenyan government imposed a media blackout during the course of the Garissa attack as well as suppressed the issuing of accurate casualty figures further convinced the citizens that the government lacked fidelity and commitment to the plight of its citizens.
Terror Scares.
After the Garissa attack, there were a series of terror scares in Taita Taveta and Kitui counties where leaflets dropped near local colleges - warning of an impending al-Shabaab attack - forced college students to seek safety outside the college premises despite the heavy presence of KDF personnel deployed in the respective colleges. Jomo Kenyatta University, located in Ruiru, also suffered a similar fate. Meanwhile, in Migori County (situated in Southwestern Kenya), the fear of an al-Shabaab attack led to the closure of the Migori Teachers Training College.
Most notable was the terror scare at Kikuyu Campus - a constituent college of the University of Nairobi. On 12th April 2015, a surge in power overload supplemented by faulty electrical cables disabled a transformer through a succession of explosions. The pre-dawn explosions caused a terror scare as students feared that al-Shabaab had invaded their institution. The ensuing fright, terror, panic and dread led most of the students to jump out of their multi-storeyed hostels. One student died while another 141 sustained injuries including limb, rib and head (and neck) fractures. The security guards had already fled in fright, and most of the injured students were able to access the Nairobi-Kikuyu road from where they were given assistance by equally puzzled drivers.
In the early hours of 12th May 2015, a terror scare at Mosoriot Teachers Training College in Uasin Gishu County disrupted normal operations at the institution. During the evening hours of the same day, normal activities were disrupted in South-Eastern Kenya University College in Kitui as students scampered for safety after dogs barked – most students thought that the dogs were barking at al-Shabaab gunmen who had entered the university compound. Some students even jumped from their hostel rooms – some located on the third floor of the Hostel apartments.
Across the nation, terror scares has driven Kenyans to seek relative safety in areas situated outside the targeted sites in spite of government assurances of adequate security thus drawing a picture of a citizenry distrustful of its government – largely valid and informed by past government actions.
The Kenya Medical Training College in Garissa was closed down indefinitely due to fear that al-Shabaab would attack the institution as well as the fact that the government was non-committal to the institution’s security.
Location of Garissa Town. Photo Credit: DailyMail.
Garissa now follows Mandera as counties where al-Shabaab activities have disrupted the socio-economic life as well as altered the demographics – after Christians and non-locals fled the area en masse.

Proceed to Part 2

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