Between Donald Trump’s alarming success in the United States presidential elections and the (slightly less alarming) downward trend of Turnbull’s election prospects, you could be forgiven for not having heard of the latest developments in East African geopolitics. In response to the 2015 attack on Garissa University by the terrorist group al-Shabaab, in which 148 people were killed, Kenyan officials have announced that they are going ahead with plans to build a wall along the border they share with Somalia, in the hopes of thwarting further al-Shabaab militants from entering the country.
At nearly 700km long, the wall is expected to be surrounded by visibly marked minefields, in clear violation of the United Nations Anti-Personnel Landmine Convention. While this does break international law, no word yet on exactly how it will deter al-Shabaab. Another Trump reference, however unwelcome, is required here – his infamous proposition to build a wall along America’s border with Mexico. These two walls – both American and Kenyan – share in common an exorbitant cost and stupidity, along with a flagrant rejection of international human rights law.
Kenyan officials have proposed that Mandera, recently named the most dangerous place in the world for childbirth by the United Nations Population Fund, could be a possible location for the wall. Additionally, there will be posts built in four border towns, including Luma. Aside from questions of effectiveness, concerns have also been raised about the impact that such a wall would have on the ongoing refugee crisis in Northern Kenya, as Dadaab refugee camp, the largest in the world, is located just 100km west of the Kenyan-Somali boarder. For many displaced and persecuted civilians, Dadaab is the first point of refuge from the horrors of militant terrorism and talk of construction has spurred calls to close down the camp, United Nations Refugee Convention be damned! Under this convention, refugees have the right to not be expelled from housing and the right to public relief and assistance, rights that would be taken away from them if the camp were to be shut down. Worse still is the fact that the wall is expected to disproportionately impact women and children, who just so happen to account for the majority of refugees in the region. If people go to seek asylum and find a massive wall in its stead, the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights would join a long list of UN documents that would be violated, with the wall severely undermining every principle that the United Nations was founded on.
Furthermore, Somali-Kenyan relations have also been tense of late, as the former is currently in the process of dragging the latter to the ICJ over a maritime dispute. However, in regards to Kenya’s Great Wall, this particular instance bodes far more risk than just the bruising of political ego’s. Construction of this wall is expected to further destabilise the already fragile state of the region, as well as put more lives at risk than al-Shabaab ever could. Vice chairman of the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights, George Morara, has described the wall as an “exercise in futility,” much like a wall between America and Mexico would be. Faced with questions, Governor of Mandera Ali Roba replied that “desperate situations call for desperate measures,” while the Kenyan Deputy President, William Ruto, has likened the Garissa attack to America’s 9/11, promising that Kenya would “change,” just as America changed after that tragedy.
Indeed, the situation of refugees in the region is becoming increasingly desperate, as is the Kenyan Government amid increasing fear among their citizens of another attack by al-Shabaab. One can only hope that Mr. Roba is able to keep the former group’s desperation in mind as he is inevitably confronted by greater numbers of refugees pursued by the very same people this wall aims to keep out.
Abdi Hassan is a fourth-year History Honours student at UWA. His interests include history, politics and law.