On 23 November 2016, NATO announced that it has ended Operation Ocean Shield after a sharp decline in attacks by Somali pirates. While there has been no vessel hijacked off Somalia since May 2012, the threat of piracy remains high despite no major incidents reported. This is due to the fact that pirate action group’s (PAGs) operating in the region continue to maintain the capability and drive to launch attacks in a bid to successfully hijack a merchant vessel.
MS Risk advises all vessels transiting this region to remain aware that while NATO has ended its operations in the area, the threat remains high and continued vigilance and compliance with BMP4 procedures is necessary. The threat remains high in waters off the southern Red Sea/Bab el Mandeb, Gulf of Aden – including Yemen and the northern Somali Coast – Arabian Sea/Off Oman, the Gulf of Oman and off the eastern and southern Somali coast. In the past, incidents of vessels being attacked have been recorded in waters off Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, the Seychelles and Tanzania, as well as in the Indian Ocean and off the western and southern coasts of India and western Maldives. We advise that all vessels continue to maintain a 24-hour visual and radar watch. We further remind all Masters that fishermen operating in this region may try to protect their nets by attempting to aggressively approach merchant ships. Some fishermen may be armed and should no be confused with pirates.
MS Risk further advise merchant vessels transiting the Red Sea, Bab el-Mandeb Strait and the Gulf of Aden to also operate under a heightened state of alert due to increasing tensions in the region, which can escalate the potential for direct or collateral damage to ships transiting this area. We advise that all vessels transiting this region should report any incidents or suspicious activity immediately. The threat may come from a number of different sources including missiles, projectiles or waterborne improvised explosive devices. Houthi rebels have claimed responsibly for the 1 October 2016 attack on a UAE vessel.
All ships and patrol aircraft under NATO Operation Ocean Shield have now left the area off the Horn of Africa. The Royal Danish Air Force carried out the last Indian Ocean surveillance missions for NATO, with the commander of the Danish air force detachment disclosing that NATO can resume its anti-piracy efforts at any time – whether in the Somali basin or the Atlantic Ocean.
Ships and patrol aircraft operating under the mission had been patrolling waters in this region since 2009 as part of a broader international effort to crackdown on Somali-based pirates who were impacting world shipping. The Ocean Shield operation, as well as European Union (EU) counter-piracy mission, have significantly reduced attacks, with the last reported vessel hijacking off Somalia occurring in May 2012 – down from more than thirty ships at the peak in 2010 – 2011.
NATO is now shifting its resources towards deterring Russia in the Black Sea and people smugglers in the Mediterranean. Earlier this month, NATO broadened its operations in the Mediterranean Sea in a bid to help the EU stop criminals trafficking refugees from North Africa.
The Gambia this month announced that it will be leaving the International Criminal Court (ICC) after Burundi and South Africa launched their own similar petitions in October to leave the court, which has been criticized by a number of African countries.
On Tuesday, 26 October the Gambian government announced that it is withdrawing from the International Criminal Court (ICC), accusing the world body of ignoring the “war crimes” of Western nations and seeking only to prosecute Africans. Speaking on state television, Information Minister Sheriff Bojang disclosed that “this action is warranted by the fact that the ICC, despite being called the International Criminal Court, is in fact an International Caucasian Court for the persecution and humiliation of people of colour, especially Africans.” The statement from Gambia, whose citizens make up disproportionately high proportion of the African migrant flow to Europe, further disclosed that it had sought to bring the European Union (EU) before the ICC over the deaths of migrants however it had received no response. It disclosed, “there are many Western countries, at least 30, that have committed heinous war crimes against independent sovereign states and their citizens since the creation of the ICC and not a single Western war criminal has been indicted.”
The decision by The Gambia comes just days after South Africa also announced that it was quitting The Hague-based tribunal. The ICC has yet to comment on the move, however coming soon after South Africa’s announcement, Gambia’s decision to also quit the court has added to pressure on the world’s first permanent war crimes court. Burundi has already said that it is planning to leave while Kenya’s parliament has disclosed that it is considering following suit. The ICC has had to fight off allegations that it is pursuing a neo-colonial agenda in Africa, where all but one of its ten investigations have been based.
Recent arrests have indicated that the so-called Islamic State (IS) group’s presence in East Africa is growing, with officials indicated that they are recruiting young Kenyans for jihad abroad and raising fears that some of them will return to threaten the country, which has already been affected by Somali-based al-Qaeda aligned al-Shabaab.
Kenyan intelligence agencies estimate that around one hundred men and women may have gone to join IS in Libya and Syria. This has triggered concerns that some may chose to come back in order to stage attacks on Kenyan and foreign targets in a country that has already been the victim of regular, deadly terrorism. According to Rashid Abid, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group think tank, which is based in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, “there is now a real threat that Kenya faces from IS and the danger will continue to increase.”
The first al-Qaeda attack in Kenya was the 1998 US embassy bombing and the most recent large attack was a university massacre in Garissa in 2015. The IS threat however is new and as yet ill defined. In March, four men appeared in court accused of seeking to travel to Libya in order to join IS. Then in early May, Kenyan police announced the arrest of a medical student, his wife and her friend. All three have been accused of recruiting for IS and plotting an anthrax attack. At the time, two other medical students were said to be on the run. Kenyan police chief Joseph Boinnet described a countrywide “terror network” linked to IS and led by Mohamed Abdi Ali, a medical intern at a regional hospital, “planning large-scale attacks” including one to “unleash a biological attack…using anthrax.” Three weeks later, police announced the arrest of two more members of “the ISIS (another acronym for IS) network that is seeking to establish itself in Kenya in order to conduct terror attacks against innocent Kenyans.” Police indicated that they had found “materials terrorists typically use in the making of IEDs” – homemade bombs – as well as “bows and poisoned arrows.”
While some experts have dismissed the suggestion of an imminent large-scale attack in Kenya, they have noted that the threat of IS radicalization, recruitment and return in the East African nation is genuine, with one foreign law enforcement official, who has examined the anthrax allegation, disclosing that “we cant see either the intent to carry out such an attack nor any real planning of it…But there is something in it: there is IS here, mainly involved in recruitment and facilitation.” Other officials also note that the recent arrests show that radicalization continues to be an issue affecting the entire country. While officials note that recruitment into Somali-based al-Shabaab remains the primary danger, there are increasing credible reports that other groups, such as IS, are gaining ground.
For now, Kenyan authorities have struggled to manage the return of their nationals from Somalia, where hundreds of Kenyans make up the bulk of al-Shabaab’s foreign fighters. In the future, experts have noted that that they will also likely have to deal with returning IS extremists as well as self-radicalized “lone wolf” attackers who have been inspired by the group’s ideology and online propaganda.
On Friday 6 May, the Kenyan government announced that refugees from Somalia will no longer be accepted in Kenya, citing security fears.
According to a statement that was signed by interior ministry official Karanja Kibicho, “the Government of the Republic of Kenya, having taken into consideration its national security interests, decided that hosting of refugees has come to an end.” The statement further indicated that under the directive, newly-arrived asylum seekers will not automatically receive refugee status and the government will step up efforts to have those who are already living in the country removed. Mwende Njoka, interior ministry spokesman, disclosed that “the message is clear, we are closing the camps and we will not accept more refugees in the country,” adding that new regulations were aimed at refugees from Somalia but that those from other countries may also be affected, noting “the problematic ones are the Somalis. They’re the ones we’re starting with.” Kenya hosts around 550,000 refugees in two camps in Kakuma and Dadaab, the world’s largest, many of whom have fled decades of war in neighboring Somalia. In 2013, the governments of Kenya and Somali, along with the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) signed a so-called tripartite agreement, which was aimed at encouraging Somali refugees to return home voluntarily. However since then, only a few thousand have taken up the offer, which has left Kenya frustrated at the slowness. According to Kibicho, “Kenya has been forced by circumstances to reconsider the whole issue of hosting refugees and the process of repatriation,” adding that the Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA), which s responsible for refugee registration and management, had been “disbanded.” However a DRA employee reached by phone at work on Friday afternoon expressed surprise, stating that he knew nothing of the directive.
Government and security officials regularly asset that Islamic militants from al-Shabaab thrive and recruit among Somali refugees. These claims however have been denied by independent observers and by the refugees themselves who point out that many of them have fled al-Shabaab’s depredations. Following deadly al-Shabaab assaults on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping centre and Garissa university, senior officials threated to close Dadaab camp and remove the refugees. In April 2015, just days after that attack in Garissa, Deputy President William Ruto promised to close Dadaab “in three months,” however that deadline, like the previous ones. Friday’s statement again conflated refugees and terrorists emphasizing, “the immense security challenges such as threat of the Shebaab and other related terror groups that hosting of refugees has continued to pose to Kenya. New arrivals from Somalia will no longer receive ‘prima facie’ refugee status but will have to argue their cases individually. However the agency that has been tasked with processing those applications, the DRA, is to be shut down.
On Monday 9 May, the United Nations warned that Kenya’s decision to stop hosting refugees could have “devastating consequences” for hundreds of thousands of people. It has urged the country with the world’s largest refugee camp to reconsider the move. The UN agency has voiced alarm at the announcement, warning against “the potentially devastating consequences for hundreds of thousands of people that premature ending of refugee hosting would have. A statement released by UNHCR disclosed that “the safety of hundreds of thousands of Somalis, South Sudanese and others has (long) hinged on Kenya’s generosity and its willingness to be a leading beacon in the region for international protection,” adding, “tragically, the situations in Somali and South Sudan that cause people to flee are still unresolved.” UNHCR has appealed to Kenya to continue hosting the refugees, warning that it risked worsening the current global refugee crisis if it did not. In its statement, the agency reported that “in today’s global context of some 60 million people forcibly displaced, it is more important than ever that international asylum obligations prevail and are properly supported, “adding, “in light of this, and because of the potentially devastating consequences for hundreds of thousands of people that premature ending of refugee hosting would have, UNHCR is calling on the government of Kenya to reconsider its decision.” A group of charities working in the world’s largest refugee camp in Kenya added their voices on Tuesday to those calling on Nairobi to reconsider a decision to stop hosting Somali refugees. The eleven charities described the Kenyan government’s decision to close Dadaab and Kakuma camps as “unfortunate, adding, “the recent announcement will have far reaching implications for the thousands of refugees and asylum seekers who have called Kenya a place of refuge.” The eleven non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which together provide basic services including healthcare and clean water in the two camps, acknowledged Kenya’s burden in hosting refugees from around the region, however they urged the government not to implement its ne plan. The NGOs, which include the International Rescue Committee, Oxfam, Save the Children and the Norwegian Refugee Council, warned that closing the camps “violates the general principle of voluntary repatriation” and puts the refugees at risk, many of them women and children. Despite fears raised by aid agencies, human rights group sand the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), Kenya has insisted that it will go ahead with the plan however no timeline has been released.
On Wednesday 11 May, the interior minister announced that Kenya is drawing up a timetable to close Dadaab refugee camp, which hosts about 350,000 Somalis, because of security concerns. According to Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery, the country has set up a taskforce to handle the closure plan. Speaking at a news conference, the minister disclosed that “they will present the timetable based on all the resources required,” adding that state funds had been allocated in order to proceed with the programme. He also disclosed that “the government has commenced the exercise of closing the complex of Dadaab refugee camp,” without specifying what new action had ben taken beyond a voluntary repatriation programme that is already in place.
In recent months, the number of deadly attacks carried out by Islamic extremists has increased across Africa, which has prompted questions about the resurgence of armed groups that operate in the region.
- 21 January 2016 – Al-Shabaab fighters stormed and took over a beachfront restaurant in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. When the siege was over, more than 20 people had been killed in the attack.
- 15 January 2016 – Gunmen stormed a café popular with foreigners in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou. They fired at people and set the café ablaze and then attacked a nearby hotel. At least thirty people were killed after a more than 12-hour siege. The North African branch of al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), claimed responsibility, stating that fighters from al-Murabitoun, an affiliated terror group, had carried out the assault.
- 15 January 2016 – Al-Shabaab gunmen attacked an African Union (AU) base in Somalia, killing an unknown number of Kenyan peacekeepers. Al-Shabaab has since claimed that it killed about 100 Kenyans, adding that they had also captured several soldiers. Kenyan authorities have not released a death toll. Kenya has provided a major contingent to the AU force that is fighting al-Shabaab and assisting the elected government of Somalia.
- 28 December 2015 – Boko Haram Islamic extremists struck a city and a town in northeastern Nigeria with rocket-propelled grenades and multiple suicide bombers. At least eighty people were killed in Maiduguri, the state capital of Borno.
- 20 November 2015 – Islamic extrmeists seized dozens of hostages at the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali’s capital, Bamako. At least twenty people were killed along with two gunmen during the more than seven-hour siege. AQIM and al-Murabitoun claimed responsibility for the attack, stating that it was their first joint attack.