Garissa, Kenya – Amina * sits near the edge of her modest home in Garissa, a county in northern Kenya on the border with Somalia. Her 15-year-old daughter is standing in front of her and reading a newspaper on the floor.
“Come in and start washing the house,” Amina, wearing a navy blue hijab, tells her daughter. “Be sure to clean all rooms and arrange furniture as directed before guests arrive.”
Over the past two years, the mother of seven has frequently welcomed extended family members to visit her to express their sympathy over the kidnapping of her husband, Abdi *, by al-Shabab, an armed group. linked to al-Qaeda based in the neighboring region. Somalia. On a quiet night in October 2019, four armed men who identified themselves as members of the group entered their home, ordered Abdi out, tied his hands and left.
“I tried to scream and call for help, but they pointed a gun at me. They asked me to remain silent or I will lose my life, ”said Amina, 49, married to Abdi for 27 years. “I haven’t had a good night’s sleep since then.”
Kidnappings still so frequent
Abdi’s case is among many other kidnappings that have been reported in villages and towns across the Kenya-Somalia border in recent years. According to the media reports in April 2020, at least 11 kidnappings of locals and non-locals took place in Mandera during the previous year.
It was a growing number of kidnappings, targeting aid workers and tourists in northern and coastal Kenya, that sparked Kenya’s decision in 2011 to join an African Union mission in Somalia to fight al-Shabab in the areas it controlled and create a buffer zone to secure its borders.
A decade later, however, these cases still exist and al-Shabab maintains that they will continue to cause havoc, including deadly attacks, until Kenya withdraws its troops from Somalia.
One of the most publicized kidnappings took place in early 2019, when two Cuban doctors deployed to work in Mandera were kidnapped by al-Shabab. The two doctors were part of a team of 100 doctors sent from Cuba to work in Kenya after an agreement between the two countries.
Tabitha Mwangi, a security consultant based in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, said the kidnappings benefited al-Shabab not only to gain media attention to increase awareness, but also to acquire skilled professionals who provide essential services in poor communities.
“Groups that use terrorism as a strategy crave drama – the heightened suspense, blind fear and media coverage that hostage-taking brings,” Mwangi said. “In addition, kidnapping for ransom is a common tactic deployed by terrorists to fund their operations and delegitimize governments by forcing them to negotiate with these groups due to media coverage and pressure from families of kidnapping victims. .
However, al-Shabab rarely demands a ransom for kidnapped Kenyans. Families like Amina’s have not received any requests from the group, which prevents them from knowing the fate of their loved ones.
“Al-Shabab kidnaps [trained] staff to use their expertise, such as medical knowledge, to care for their activists and communities in the areas they control, ”Mwangi said.
People in northern counties of Kenya have long complained of marginalization and neglect after independence in 1963, which resulted in acute poverty and underdevelopment. The wave of kidnappings only made matters worse, exacerbating insecurity and economic hardship.
“The al-Shabab kidnappings have undermined normalcy throughout the region,” said Sadam Hussein, a Mandera-based journalist who has widely covered the developments in the region.
“In Mandera County, for example, many businesses are closed, resulting in soaring commodity prices. Schools are not fully functioning because teachers are scarce. The people who run essential services have left, contributing to the decline of development in a region that has experienced years of marginalization, ”Hussein added.
Back in Garissa, Amina’s children are busy completing the household chores she asked them to do.
Since her husband’s kidnapping, she said she had not received any communications from the government after reporting the incident. She also had no contact with the kidnappers, adding to her confusion.
“I live in a very complicated situation where I don’t know if my husband is dead or alive,” Amina said. “I just want to wrap up and hope he’s alive and joining us soon.” I can’t stand the news of his death.
At the time of publication, government security sector officials had not responded to Al Jazeera’s request for comment. In 2019, Kenya’s Inspector General of Police Hilary Mutyambai visited Mandera County and claimed that “police work ends at the border” meaning the government cannot not explain the fate of the abductees taken to Somalia.
* Name changed to protect their identity