Weekend Note: Al-Shabaab and Kenya’s Tit-for-Tat Destruction of Telecom Infrastructure

telecom mast

Destroyed Hormuud mast, August 2018

The war between Kenya and al-Shabaab is not just being waged on remote bases like Camp Simba, highways, and city streets. It is taking a toll on telecom infrastructure as well.

Via Reuters this past week:

“Four Kenyan school children were killed in a gunfight on Tuesday between police and al Shabaab militants from Somalia who attacked a telecommunications mast in the third such deadly incident in Kenya this week, police and an official said.”

Al-Shabaab could be exacting revenge for the Kenyan military’s destruction of telecom masts in Somalia.

The Kenyan military has been responsible for incurring between $2-5 million in damages to Hormuud telecom masts, according to estimates from the company and the Somali government.

Hormuud’s own in-depth study on the matter also accuses the Kenyans of killing and torturing employees. Notably, the United Nations has corroborated some of these claims.

The Kenyan military ostensibly may have destroyed the equipment to hamper al-Shabaab communications. But, the tit-for-tat attacks inevitably harms local communities on both sides of the border.

Industry Competition

In September 2019, journalist Abdinor Dahir conducted a deeper dive with a Hormuud official and discovered there was suspicion that telecom mast destruction may have been driven by the prospect of future industry competition, as Safaricom is partly owned by the Kenyan government.

Another reason behind Kenya’s alleged destruction of Hormuud facilities could be a competition between Hormuud and Kenya’s largest telecom operator, Safaricom, over the border areas and KDF-controlled territory in Somalia.

A senior Hormuud official who did not want to be named told me Safaricom is eyeing to enter the “Somali market where KDF operate…Kenya had previously asked us via the Somali embassy in Nairobi to move our telecom towers 50km back from Kenyan-Somali border, but we didn’t back down. We know that some of the Safaricom officials are advisors at the Kenyan statehouse and push for the destruction of Hormuud masts in the Gedo region…”

Safaricom is already looking to move into the Ethiopian market.  If a move to the Somalia market ever occurred, the KDF’s attacks on Hormuud telecom would take on a very different dimension than simply a tactic in Kenya’s counterterrorism toolkit.



Categories: al-Shabaab, Kenya

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: