War against Islamism is a war fought between incompatible civilizations. War of civilizations should be fought as war of annihilation.

Tupo ndani ya miji yenu, tumeleta misiba kwenu, jichimbieni makaburi yenu…safari yenu ya jehanamu imefika, imeshatimu“. (Translation: We are in your towns to bring misery to you [Kenyans], so dig your own graves…your journey to hell is due).

Kiswahili nasheed sung by al-Shabaab fighters

In Kenya, there exists a considerable knowledge gap regarding violent Jihad as relevant authorities, institutions and policy makers have an inadequate understanding of Islamic terrorism, its ideology, factors that perpetuate it and most importantly, how to handle and contain it. In short, Kenya does not understand the war it is fighting; and this partially explains why Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (HSM) has been able to remain operational in Kenya by maintaining its intelligence units, strengthening its recruitment network and safeguarding its logistical infrastructure as well as preserving its capacity to conduct attacks that inflict substantial damage to Kenya.

Al-Shabaab fighter aiming a gun at a Kenyan non-Muslim in Lamu. He was killed. CREDIT: AKFMP.

In addition, al Shabaab has been able to use Kenya as the ideological base to create new terror affiliates such as Al Hijra and Al Muhajiroun in East Africa. It thus stands to reason that the sheer incompetence, mediocrity, and limited mental horizon of Kenyan security forces – and not the inherent capabilities of al Shabaab; have ensured the success of al Shabaab operations in Kenya. That is, al Shabaab success is predicated on the inadequacies and operational deficits of the Kenyan security forces (as clearly exemplified by the bungled hostage rescue operations in both Westgate Mall and Garissa University College). This fact has been factored in by jihadist theoreticians and salafist military strategists who are continuously calibrating the strategic objectives of al Shabaab with regards to Kenya.

In Somalia, al-Shabaab is on its path to victory as it chose the strategy of the long war after it made its most important decision – declaring its allegiance to al-Qaeda. How did al-Shabaab manage to develop a grand strategy for surviving a war against 6 national armies backed by American airpower?

Al-Shabaab fighters undergoing training in Middle Jubba region of Jubbaland, Somalia. Middle Jubba and Lower Jubba are the Area of Responsibility of KDF under AMISOM-ATMIS. CREDIT: AKFMP.

In Somalia, the American military establishment and the State Department are in favor of a caste system where 4 clans are privileged over all the other clans in Somalia. This creates a rented government that is beholden to American interests but loathed by the people.


Understanding Al-Shabaab as an Armed Islamist Revolutionaries

“Why doesn’t Kenya have a film about its war against al-Shabaab? Kenya has the best indigenous film industry and creative talent in the region. Why does KDF (Kenya Defence Forces) not engage local talent to develop a blockbuster film about its war against Somali terrorists? Is it a legacy of Kalenjin epistemophobia that was mainstreamed in the Kenya Armed Forces and National Police during the Moi years?”, asked a puzzled biochemistry graduate after watching a footage shared on X (formerly Twitter) of al-Shabaab fighters killing Kenyans with impunity in Lamu. “How would a film help Kenyans in their war against Islamism?” I asked back.

“Think about it. Who will remember the soldiers and policemen killed by al-Shabaab in Kenya and Somalia. In fact, KDF is burying dead soldiers killed in Somalia like stray dogs. It does not want these soldiers to be named or lionized as heroes. A film would be based on their experiences therefore cementing their experiences in the national pysche. Moreover, the characters in the film will be named after slain and living KDF soldiers thus making them national heroes,” he answered. “What about their corrupt and cowardly commanding officers? Would the film touch on smuggling operations that KDF is engaged in, and if yes, will it base the villains on serving KDF senior officers?”, I inquired. “There is a malefic reason why KDF avoids public accountability. Any film touching on its operations in Somalia would need to be made by a smart person who will ask lots of questions. KDF hates questions so forget about such a film”, I explained.

One of the main reasons that KDF and GoK reject calls for using creative talent to aid the war against Islamism is fear of creating revolutionary heroes. In 1902, the British colonial authorities needed to augment the security forces made up by Nubian mercenaries. They decided to recruit from outcasts and miscreants who could brutalize their native tribes. Together, this mishmash of Nubian mercenaries and social outcasts formed the nucleus of the East Africa Rifles battalion of the King’s African Rifles. KDF traces its origin to the East Africa Rifles battalion, and has never considered itself as a people’s army but the army of the executive and the gentry. Basically, KDF is an army of the corporate, not the masses. So, what is wrong with such an army nowadays? The answer is simple: how can such an army fight an armed opponent stepped in revolutionary vigor? How can KDF fight an armed Islamist opponent waging war using communist war strategies?

What happens when the communist war strategy of the Viet Cong is combined with elements of political postmodernism and the ideological Islamism of Sayyid Hussein Qutb when creating a transnational armed movement? Has such a thing ever happened? The answer to the second question is yes, and the answer to the first question is simple – what happens is that al-Qaeda is created.

Now consider the second scenario: what happens when an ideologically committed armed non-state actor uses the advantages of political postmodernism to craft an Islamist narrative that replaces the organizing principles of tribe and nationality? Secondly, what happens when this armed group deploys communist guerrilla strategy to take and hold territory? Thirdly, what happens when this armed group invades a sub-Saharan African country whose incompetent and low-quality military lacks the cognitive capital to create any coherent counter-insurgency strategy? Moreover, what happens to this sub-Saharan country when its unpopular, corrupt, and incapable political leadership and poor-quality soldiers rely exclusively on American counter-terrorism strategy and counter-narratives that have failed in all places where America has used them? The answer to these questions can be summarized as follows:

Any successful Islamist armed group operating in sub-Saharan Africa must use Islamism as a metanarrative for organizing ideologically-committed communities to prepare and wage war against any sub-Saharan post-colonial nation that lacks any unifying narrative to keep its national myth alive. When this Islamist meta-narrative is synergized with communist war strategies, the armed Islamist group is on its path to win the long war against any post-colonial sub-Saharan African government just as the Viet Cong and its allied communists successfully defeated the American military and French armed forces in Vietnam and thereafter toppled the American-backed governments of South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

As mentioned previously, al-Shabaab pledges allegiance to al-Qaeda, and its grand strategy follows al-Qaeda long war strategy. This post focuses on al-Shabaab’s strategy as it applies to Kenya. But first, consider the following questions.

Some Disquieting Questions

After al-Shabaab takes Mogadishu and establishes the Emirate of Somalia, will it be able to rapidly raise an army of about 300,000 dedicated fighters ready to die for the cause of Puritanical Islam (or Wahhabism as its detractors call it) and protect the nascent Islamic State?

What happens to the Somalia National Army (SNA)? Will the SNA militia defect to al-Shabaab, or will the British, American, and Kenyan governments relocate SNA militia to bases in Garissa, Wajir, Mandera, Isiolo, Marsabit, Tana River, and Taita Taveta counties in Kenya so as to train and arm them to raid alShabaab-ruled Somalia?

Will al-Shabaab be able to mobilize hundreds of thousands of Somali fighters to invade Kenya and destroy both KDF and SNA hosted in Kenya?

Al-Shabaab fighter aiming a gun at a Kenyan Muslim in Lamu. He was spared. CREDIT: AKFMP.

Will the Government of Kenya (GoK) be able to raise a large army whose soldiers remain faithful to the corrupt feckless elite in Nairobi? Will these newly trained Kenyan soldiers ask disquieting questions like why is SNA in Kenya and why should Kenyans die to “save” a Somali who wants to be ruled by al-Shabaab? Will the newly trained Kenyan soldiers rebel against the GoK elite and overthrow the government? If this happens, will these soldiers justify the overthrow of the Kenyan government as a revolution against the old order? If that is the case, doesn’t al-Shabaab deserve credit for successfully initiating a revolution in Somalia and Kenya?

The questions above are good for scenario generations, but they also poke holes to the existing mainstream narrative and they will therefore be frowned upon. If these questions based on hypothetical future scenarios challenge existing meta-narrative, the current power structures would use gate-keeping to discourage people from asking them or even thinking about them or even thinking outside the mainstream meta-narrative i.e thinking outside the box.


Interestingly, some of these securocrats are veterans of the so-called War on Drugs in which drugs won the war and America lost.


Nakibus Lakara aptly described AMISOM as a war fighting mission, and its mission is simple and clear-cut: to ensure that al-Shabaab does not overthrow the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS). AMISOM is not engaged in promoting a counter-myth against Sunni Islam. In other words, AMISOM and its current iteration, ATMIS, is not responsible for what Americans call counter-messaging i.e promoting a new myth about an American-approved version of Islam. By deduction, it is evident that the information warfare waged against al-Shabaab has failed and gatekeeping has failed in Somalia.

Thomas Zeitoff, an expert in Public Affairs, is an advocate of gatekeeping and blames people for seeking for information outside the mainstream media (MSM). According to the former FBI agent and discredited propagandist, Clint Watts, people should trust information provided by MSM because MSM provides filtered objective news. Both Zeitoff and Watts blame social media for providing alternative sources of information beyond the “acceptable mainstream information”, and they argue that this has affected politics because it has allowed “unvetted” politicians to engage the people.

According to Zeitoff, Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Green must not be allowed in mainstream American politics. So, who does he blame for not shutting out these politicians from American politics? He blames the Republican Party for lacking gatekeepers. According to Zeitoff, competitive politics must be limited to a narrow spectrum of political dialogue. This form of gatekeeping applies to Somalia where the American policy makers and military establishment are opposed to universal suffrage for fear that Somalis would elect Islamists, and thus pave way for Islamists to take power through a democratic process, as it happened in Egypt in 2013 when the Muslim Brotherhood was voted into power.

An intrinsic value of universal suffrage is that it gives each person the feeling that (s)he is significant in electing or not electing the government in power. Moreover, it makes the elected government more accountable and responsive to the needs of the people as it appreciates their effort in bringing them to power. In Somalia, the American military establishment and the State Department are in favor of a caste system where 4 clans are privileged over all the other clans in Somalia. This creates a rented government that is beholden to American interests but loathed by the people. Moreover, this American-supported government has little incentive to crack down on social vices, injustices, and impunity. Basically, American gatekeeping of politics in Somalia ensures that Somalis suffer injustices from the rented FGS.

The greatest appeal of Al-Shabaab to ordinary Somalis is that it offers justice and can enforce the verdicts made by its courts. It is for this reason that Mohamed Haji Ingiriis states that to ordinary Somalis “insecurity under Al-Shabaab is far better than security under the (American-supported) federal government“. So, how does this apply to Kenya?

In Kenya, al-Shabaab operates as the defender of marginalized Somali clans who complain of victimization by the government-favored Somali clans. This partly explains how al-Shabaab fighters find residence inside Kenya.

Gatekeeping in Counter-Terrorism

Gatekeeping is also enforced in the counter-terrorism field where counter-terrorism strategies that are known to have failed are not questioned. This is partly due to the dominance of the same “experts” who oversaw the implementation of these failed strategies in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. These so-called experts and securocrats have an interest in keeping the Americans fighting the now universally acknowledged “never-ending war” against Islamists.

Some of these interests including maintaining the Israeli-American security alliance (e.g Foundation for Defense of Democracies), gaining wealth and influence in American government circles (e.g Bancroft Global Development), and maintaining influence over Somalia’s political scene (e.g Sahan Africa Limited). Interestingly, some of these securocrats are veterans of the so-called War on Drugs in which drugs won the war and America lost. To al-Shabaab, this is an advantage as it assures them victory in the long war in Somalia. For Kenyans, they are doomed to be defeated by al-Shabaab if they rely on counter-terrorism strategies created and implemented by these “experts”.

To al-Shabaab, this is an advantage as it assures them victory in the long war in Somalia. For Kenyans, they are doomed to be defeated by al-Shabaab if they rely on counter-terrorism strategies created and implemented by these “experts”


Strategic Objectives of Al-Shabaab in Kenya

Validated intelligence and security assessments have shown that al-Shabaab intends to erode Kenya’s territorial integrity and cripple its economic lifeline by conducting a persistent and increasingly tenacious terror campaign within Kenya with the calculated intent of creating a full-blown insurgency that would drain resources, stagnate the national economy, as well as create a chronic state of political instability.

Consider this scenario: al-Shabaab mujahideen invade Garissa and overrun a KDF pilot base. Instead of the mujahideen killing the Kenyan soldiers, they bring local Somalis and ask them to behead the Kenyan soldiers as the mujahideen record the event. They mujahideen then broadcast the video to Kenyans to prove to them that Somalis support the mujahideen. This is a classic guerrilla tactic of using local populace to broadcast ideological charm. The Viet Cong used it in South Vietnam to force Americans and the South Vietnam Army (SVA) to raid selected villages. This allowed the Viet Cong to lay ambushes as they know which villages are to be attacked. As mentioned, al-Shabaab uses VietCong guerrilla tactics as taught to them by al-Qaeda.

Cognizant of the ethnic fissures, political factionalism and corruption within Kenya; al Qaeda military theoreticians (embedded in al-Shabaab) have created a relatively sophisticated strategy that utilizes internal Kenyan dynamics (of ethno-political factionalism, institutional failures, capacity deficits in the security sector, political cronyism, unemployment, poor service delivery, and skewed economic development) to create chaos and the eventual fragmentation of Kenya by turning the government against its citizens (the converse also applies) with al Shabaab acting as an interested observer who intervenes only to ensure that the cycle of degradation that has been set in motion accelerates, as well as deny the government the opportunity to restore stability and the rule of law. As mentioned previously, KDF is not a people’s army but a corporate army (similar to the defeated South Vietnam Army), and as such, KDF cannot win any war against insurgents armored with coherent ideology and a brilliant strategy of attrition.

For the strategy to succeed, al-Shabaab needs to be self-sufficient in terms of resources and military strength; as well exhibit remarkable ideological coherence. The strategy borrows heavily from the theoretical works of the most outstanding contemporary jihadist military strategist, intellectual, historian, theologian and engineer; Mustafa Setmariam Nasar (popularly known as Abu Musab al Suri).

Al Qaeda intends to enter into a conventional conflict in East Africa with a cohesive, coherent and a durable strategy that can be disseminated and consumed by the target demographic (mainly the Muslim youth). Hereafter, the strategy calls on al-Shabaab to conduct a grueling war of attrition against the Kenyan government instead of acts of terrorism.

Another strategic objective of al-Shabaab is to recruit elite combatants and educated jihadists who can independently sustain a resilient insurgency against a numerically and conventionally stronger adversary. The aim of this strategy is to transmute al-Shabaab’s Kenyan affiliate from a hierarchical jihadist organization vulnerable to external pressures, to decentralized resilient jihadist groups capable of withstanding overbearing pressures while simultaneously preserving its innate capabilities for self-preservation and self-rejuvenation. Moreover, the elite nucleus of fighters would act as the future strategists and commanders of a regional jihadist insurgency against the nations of East Africa.

Operational Aims

In Kenya, the government conceives patriotism as political alignment with the agenda of the ruling political regime; and this has created a national vulnerability that allows al-Shabaab to permeate Kenya’s defenses. If jihadis support the political agenda of the ruling political party, then they are patriotic by Kenyan standards – patriotic jihadis who kill kenyans.

Despite numerous reports to the contrary, Al-Shabaab still possesses considerable resources and has also shown remarkable self-sufficiency in terms of recruitment and finances, partly due to the corruption of the Kenyan security forces. How do al-Shabaab mobile fighting units know which routes to ambush and when to ambush? There has never been any reported incident of al-Shabaab attacking vehicles carrying goods smuggled through Somalia to Kenya. When 5 tonnes of crabs originating from Somalia were impounded at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in February 2022, no one questioned how such crabs were ferried across Somalia and into Kenya!!

Kenya’s disjointed, disorganized and compromised counter-terrorism strategies have done more harm than good in terms of defeating Islamism; and it has strengthened the existing pervasive loathing of the government across Kenya. This facet coupled with the fact that the government considers punishing Muslims who did not vote or support the current ruling party as legitimate counter-terrorism has created a fertile ground for Islamist indoctrination and recruitment. Using a combination of sleek media products and shrewd arguments concerning government oppression, humiliation, degradation and dispossession of the Muslim people; al Shabaab has been able to recruit a significant number of Kenyans into its rank – including several well-educated Muslims. From this pool of Kenyan recruits, al Shabaab has been able to select the best fighters and band them into a series of distinct terror cells and combat units which are then embedded in Kenya. These cells alongside accompanying combat units are to be instrumental for the following phases of achieving the operational aims of the group and thus actualizing its strategic objectives.

Strategy of Savagery: Operationalizing the Deep Jihad

The first phase of the strategy is to attack vital national economic pillars in order to cripple the government economically as well as induce it to deploy and concentrate its security forces in these specific areas. Al Shabaab has already achieved this by conducting a series of attacks at the Coastal region which have in turn convinced European nations alongside the US (the source nations for the majority of tourists) to issue travel advisories thus setting in motion a cascading series of events that have driven the Kenyan tourism sector to the brink of collapse with its attendant effects of loss of jobs and deterioration of socioeconomic life in Coastal Kenya. This has also increased the human pool for recruitment at the Coast.

By concentrating Kenya’s security forces in specific geographical areas, al Shabaab spontaneously thins the spread of the security forces at the peripheral areas and frontier counties of the nation thus providing the terror group with the opportunity to permeate national defenses, establish bases and conduct attacks in these regions. The most affected regions are Garissa, Wajir, Lamu and Mandera counties. This is the second phase of the strategy which in turn elicits a reaction from the government – which sends in its security forces to pacify the region, and it is here that al Shabaab lets the security forces do the heavy lifting for them.

The disorganized security forces with poor strategy, cognitively inferior planners, and lacking actionable intelligence regarding the militants, or a clear and coherent counter-terrorism strategy; would use ineffective tactics to jeopardize the security of the local population thus engendering more loathing of the government. For victimized Muslims, they will consider HSM as their liberators and avengers.

During this phase of events, government actions would disrupt the socioeconomic life of the areas being pacified thus leading to an economic slowdown and disruption of family and clan life as the security agents arrests (and sometimes kill) suspected terror operatives thereby causing more misery, despair and disillusionment within the community to an extent that the community will view the security agents as their enemies, and thus cease cooperating with them. At this point, the terrorist will entrench themselves deeply in the community as the government will lack local intelligence regarding their activities. After entrenchment, the terrorists are thereby expected by their jihadist commanders to escalate the level of violence to such unmanageable levels that the local population will accept savagery, brutality and death as the normal way of life; and also ingrain apathy among the locals towards the government and the rule of law.

Moreover, by converting battlefield into fields of savagery where the combatants know that death is a second away, the jihadist will be able to demoralize the national fighting units; and any jihadist battlefield victory will demoralize the entire nation thus further imperiling the already unstable regime. (This strategy worked well for the jihadists in Mali where al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb [AQIM] and allied Tuareg militias were able to rout government forces from over half of Malian territory in 2012).

Those not ready to accept the deteriorated society will have to make a choice between two alternatives: join the government which has persecuted his co-religionists, or join the jihadists who promise to stabilize the areas and restore the rule of Sharia. For those who chose the latter option, they join the jihad, and those who chose the former option will be castigated by their communities as traitors and sell-outs. This now sets the stage for the final phase of the deep jihad.

During the final phase, the jihadists restore order and normalcy in the fractured society through their strict interpretation of Sharia; and due to the fear of unknown alternatives; they will be able to hold their communities hostage.

By entrenching themselves in one community, the jihadists can use that community as a launch pad to infiltrate other adjacent communities in the area; and after gaining significant influence in several communities, they can pre-empt the government’s attempts to pacify the region as most community members would not be too eager to have the government back as their overlords; and within no time the area will suffer a full-blown insurgency as the government attempts to regain and pacify the area albeit with constrained success while the areas outside government control will be declared de-facto lands under the Islamic Caliphate. From this nexus, Jihad will spread deeper into Kenya and across the East African region in general.

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