Why al-shabaab attacks Kenya: Questioning the narrative paradigm

Brendon J. Cannon, Dominic Ruto Pkalya

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    20 Scopus citations


    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 fulfil 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.

    Original languageBritish English
    Pages (from-to)836-852
    Number of pages17
    JournalTerrorism and Political Violence
    Issue number4
    StatePublished - 4 Jul 2019


    • Al-Shabaab
    • Armed non-state actors
    • Counterterrorism
    • East Africa
    • Horn of Africa
    • Kenya
    • Somalia
    • Strategy
    • Tactics
    • Terrorism


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