Mombasa Riots: Political, Security and Economic Implications
Tuesday, 08 October 2013
Riots followed the killing of Sheikh Ibrahim Omar, a Muslim cleric, and three other people who had travelled in the same car with him. The four had been shot on the outskirts of Mombasa in the night of 3 October 2013 in what looked similar to the assassination of Muslim cleric Aboud Rogo Mohammed in August 2012. Family and followers of both men – who had both been accused of Al Shabaab connections and support, and preached in the same mosque ‑ blame the Kenyan police and government for their death. The police unsurprisingly dismissed those allegations, but the murder of Aboud Rogo has, to date, not been solved.

The assassination and the riots took place two weeks after the terrorist attack on Nairobi shopping mall Westgate, leading to suspicions that these two events were related.


  • Political impact: Heavy-handed police interventions will further alienate the Muslim coastal population – as similar effect that will also occur in case of reprisals against Somalis, whether they hold a Kenyan passport or not.
  • Security: Such crackdowns are unlikely to improve overall security – this can only be achieved with solid, patient, non-corrupt intelligence work. However, despite relatively competent intelligence services, Kenya lacks a police force that can support this. The Kenyan police is so notoriously corrupt that suspects will often be able to buy their way out. In addition, assassinated suspects are of little use to gather intelligence from.
  • Related to this, US SEALs had reportedly tried to track down supposed Al Shabaab commanders/planners of the Westgate in southern Somalia this weekend. If there is a resurgence in such interventions, including a resumption of the deeply unpopular extrajudicial renditions, this will help to bolster support for radicals.
  • Economy: Kenya’s coast tourism already lags behind the safari circuit and business tourism in the capital. Riots in Mombasa do not help.
  • Economy: Heavy-handed interventions in Mombasa and the rest of the coast region – much of which voted for the opposition ODM/CORD alliance ‑ may also make it more difficult for the Kenyan government to implement national development projects. Local politicians need to be seen as supporters of the local community if they want to retain their electorate, so they will probably find it challenging to support politically unpopular projects such as the port privatisation – which is gaining greater urgency as Tanzania pushes ahead with its port development.

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