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Another Angle to the Terrorist Attack on DusitD2 in Nairobi – Dr. Anneli Botha

January 17, 2019


Another Angle to the Terrorist Attack on DusitD2 in Nairobi

Dr. Anneli Botha

Volume 7 (2019), Number 2 (January 2019)

The recent attack directed at the DusitD2 hotel complex in Nairobi once again reminded security officials of the difficulties around dealing with an attack once it is in the execution phase. The reality is that any terrorist attack that reaches this point is categorised as an intelligence failure. While the investigations continue to determine who was involved throughout the operation, how it was planned, etc. the intelligence community, pressured by politicians and public alike would want to know why this attack could not have been prevented. However, all sides of this discussion should be reminded  to bear in mind that intelligence agencies – as part of a broader security apparatus – have to be right every time, while terrorists only have to be able to get through once to reach the public eye and ‘score’ in this never stopping game of manoeuvring and out-manoeuvring to intimidate through senseless violence. The twenty-one people who lost their lives and others injured in the attack, not to mention people living in Kenya and every person who plans to visit the country become pawns in this battle of will between al-Shabaab and other violent extremist organisations on one side and the Kenyan government, its people and every person who worked towards preventing and countering terrorism and violent extremism on the other. On face value this attack is tragic to family and friends who lost a love one or those scarred physically and emotionally for life, but it might also have sealed al-Shabaab’s fate.

While al-Shabaab may justify its attacks by linking it to Kenya’s involvement in Somalia, there is so much more to this battle than the withdrawal of AMISOM and Kenyan forces from Somalia. This is especially considering existing troop reductions and also the Concept of Operations (CONOPs), that guides AMISOM’s activities and operations for the 2018-2021 period, marking the final phase of the transition and eventual exit from Somalia. Following UN Security Council Resolution 2372 issued in 2017, the UN has instructed AMISOM to reduce its uniformed personnel to a maximum 21,626 in readiness for a full pull-out in 2020. UNSCR 2372 was met with concern even from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres who wrote to the Security Council in July 2018, advising that said plans to cut AMISOM troops were not realistic, especially after al-Shabaab continued to successfully execute attacks in Somalia.[1] Kenya was concerned that a premature withdrawal could reenergize al-Shabaab to start attacking the country after a period of calm (with the exception of smaller attacks in north-eastern Kenya and northern Coastal regions). This attack on 15 January 2019 in Westlands (on the third anniversary of the El Adde attack[2] in Somalia that claimed the lives of between 141–150 Kenyan soldiers, while another 11 soldiers were captured and 12 wounded), barely three kilometres from Westgate proved Kenya’s point. Strategically, by attacking Kenya at the centre of attention will only hurt al-Shabaab, playing into the hands of security officials looking to justify remaining in Somalia till the Somali government managed to ensure peace and security. It would have made sense if al-Shabaab followed the same strategy than in Somalia to outwait AMISOM’s withdrawal and then reclaim areas previously controlled, after the initial tactical withdrawal of al-Shabaab fighters once confronted by a military force they could not withstand. Especially, considering the overall success that extremist organisations till now had by playing the long game through spreading often unnoticed to the public eye throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

In other words, instead of ensuring the withdrawal of AMISOM and Kenyan forces, the attack on DusitD2 might just have secured the remaining of Kenyan forces in Somalia. If this will be the outcome of the attack, Kenya might have suffered an intelligence failure, but al-Shabaab on the other hand could have made a massive strategic blunder.


[1]Fred Oluoch. Amisom ready to withdraw. The East African, 12 November 2018. Available at (accessed on 15 November 2018).

[2] Robyn Kriel and Briana Duggan. Kenya covers up military massacre. CNN, 31 May 2016. Available at (accessed on 2 June 2016).


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