Why Al-Shabaab Attacks Kenya: Questioning the Narrative Paradigm

Terrorism and Political Violence, 31(4), 836-852. DOI: 10.1080/09546553.2017.1290607

17 Pages Posted: 31 Oct 2017 Last revised: 16 Apr 2020

See all articles by Brendon J. Cannon

Brendon J. Cannon

Khalifa University

Dominic Pkalya

Institute for Strategic Dialogue

Date Written: March 9, 2019


This article questions the current narrative paradigm and argues that al-Shabaab attacks Kenya for strategic and highly rational reasons, beyond sharing a border and having bases in southern Somalia closer to major population centres than Ethiopia or Uganda. Al-Shabaab targets Kenya more than other frontline states because of the opportunity spaces linked to Kenya’s international status and visibility, its relatively free and independent media that widely publicizes terrorist attacks, a highly developed and lucrative tourist sector that provides soft targets, the comparatively high number of Kenyan foreign fighters within the group’s ranks, the presence of terror cells in Kenya, expanding democratic space, and high levels of corruption. These variables play into Al-Shabaab’s motivations and aid planning and execution of terrorist acts that aim to fulfill the group’s quest to survive by maintaining relevance. In order to address this predictable menace, we offer a number of measures that Kenya needs to take, including reducing corruption in order to properly invest in intelligence efforts and relevant homeland security measures, thereby making it possible for Kenya to sustainably and effectively combat Al-Shabaab.

Keywords: Al-Shabaab, Armed Non-State Actors, Counter Terrorism, East Africa, Horn of Africa, Kenya, Somalia, Strategy, Tactics, Terrorism

JEL Classification: F51, F51, F52, N97

Suggested Citation

Cannon, Brendon J. and Pkalya, Dominic, Why Al-Shabaab Attacks Kenya: Questioning the Narrative Paradigm (March 9, 2019). Terrorism and Political Violence, 31(4), 836-852. DOI: 10.1080/09546553.2017.1290607, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3061635 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3061635

Brendon J. Cannon (Contact Author)

Khalifa University ( email )

Institute of International and Civil Security
PO Box 127788
Abu Dhabi, 00000
United Arab Emirates

HOME PAGE: http://https://www.ku.ac.ae/

Dominic Pkalya

Institute for Strategic Dialogue ( email )

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