Category Archives: Kenya

The Simmering Maghreb

Arab Spring

Arab Spring

Starting in Tunisia with the self immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi in late December of 2010, Arab Spring spread like wildfire, bowling over four governments and straining all their neighbors. Three years have passed and a wave of weapons from Libya, coupled with fighters from all over, have destabilized the ring of nations adjacent to those which have already revolted.

North Africa Islamist Troubles

North Africa Islamist Troubles

The nations in the next tier to the south are equally disturbed, with Boko Haram in Nigeria to al Shabaab attacks in Kenya, while the Central African Republic is melting down due to internal issues and unfinished business due to the separation of South Sudan threatens to revive their conflict with Sudan.

Central Africa

Central Africa

Imperial implosions are always messy affairs. North Africa bear the marks of lines that have been repeatedly redrawn over the last 1200 years. The continent had hardly finished digesting the 20th century collapse of the English and French imperial efforts before the Soviet Union took a tumble. The U.S. is in a similar position to what the Soviet Union faced in the late 1980s, militarily and financially exhausted, staggering home from long running low intensity conflicts.

I mentioned AFRICOM’s expansion in U.S. Military in Africa and 2014 will bring both a Quadrennial Defense Review as well as the second ever Quadrennial Diplomacy & Development Review. I am looking forward to comparing the 2010 documents to what will be presented for 2014, seeking clues as to what our stance will be in this region.

Examining @KTF_press With @fmsinc’s Sentinel Visualizer

@KTF_press : Cyberwarriors Of Kenya contains an examination of the Twitter social network of this irregular cybermilitia and a few of their common conversation partners, including KDF official spokesman @MajorEChirchir. The visualization shown was done with Gephi, an open source visualization tool with broad capabilities.

These are the good guys in a conflict involving Somalia’s al-Shabaab, but what they do is quite public, so I don’t think I’m aiding the enemy if I feed that same data into Sentinel Visualizer, a law enforcement or intelligence sector grade link analysis tool.

Today was my first adventure with SV beyond looking over someone else’s shoulder as they handled the demo data, but it was a fairly smooth introduction. The FMSChannel has a handful of videos, but the are well done. These are not meant for someone who wants to learn link analysis, they’re meant for someone already familiar with a tool like Maltego or Gephi, and they show you just where to go to find the things you need.

Sentinel Visualizer Import

Sentinel Visualizer Import

The import process is a good bit more complex than the other two visualization tools I use. You can feed Sentinel Visualizer a fairly complex text file, but as long as the layout is regular it will happily pull both entities and links out for you. Here I was important the tweets from the five important accounts for Kenya, and the system was told to look for a source, a destination, and a time for the event.

Sentinel Visualizer Kenya Import

Sentinel Visualizer Kenya Import

Once imported I left the force directed layout run. The first new feature I will ask for is mouse scroll wheel support – you have to go to a menu to pick zoom levels.

Full Time Range Of Tweets

Full Time Range Of Tweets

I loaded the full time range of tweets …

Specific Time Range Of Tweets

Specific Time Range Of Tweets

And I goofed when I made this shot, not getting the slider at the bottom, but what you see here is that same dataset from above, only constrained to just a few days by adjusting the start/end slider. The capability to know that events happen at a certain time or that they have a duration is one of the defining characteristics for a full featured law enforcement/intel link analysis solution. If we needed one specific evening of events in Kenya with the other tools I use I would be manually filtering in some way, then creating the visualization. Here it’s just a normal feature of the tool.

Kenya Key Accounts Closeup

Kenya Key Accounts Closeup

I like that the link weights (count of total interactions) are visible here. As a rule Sentinel Visualizer isn’t going to produce the sort of eye candy we get out of Gephi – this system is built for those planning operations in the field, and the people using it want clear, consistent, actionable information. Keep in mind there is a full featured database standing behind these visualizations – we can do things with this system that simple aren’t possible with the flat files that I feed Gephi.

This is just a starter post, written as much to put me on the spot as to inform you, and I think what we’ll do with Sentinel Visualizer is actually going to be less about appearance, and more dealing with the temporal and geospatial data. Now if only our new friends in @KTF_press had a spreadsheet of al-Shabaab activity and locations, then we could try some things with the geospatial capabilities of the system …

Somalia’s al-Shabaab Has A Coup

Six months ago I wrote Clearing Somalia Of al-Shabaab. Today I was reading Will Somali Islamist Purge Strengthen al-Shabaab? and I see they have not updated their map of who controls what since then, even though the situation is clearly changing.

Somalia 2013 July

Somalia 2013 July

One of the BBC reporter’s sources was Somalia: The Godane Coup And The Unraveling Of Al-Shabaab, which led me to African Arguments, which is new to me. This site is a product of Britain’s Royal African Society.

Africa has long been the locus and the focus for the most impassioned and intellectually-informed debate. But for many years, specialist Africa coverage in the world’s media has been in decline, alongside the withering of many African journals and magazines that used to provide a forum for debate and opinion. African news and views have moved to the web, but there has been no comparable Africa-wide movement which provides in-depth analysis and debate of the issues and controversies that animate the continent today. With African Arguments Online we intend to fill this gap.

I was lamenting the lack of good sources of the region in my post from December, and now I have the dubious benefit of having found an excellent one for background. Things like this are a resource … and a trap. The British Empire ruled Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya, and the relatively peaceful far northwest of Somalia, the self governing Somaliland. The site has detailed information on Sudan, which it seems to be using in the inclusive, pre-separation sense of the word, meaning both the current country of Sudan and the recently independent South Sudan, as well as Kenya and its concerns over the condition of Somalia.

Africa Partition-1885-1914

As my writing on North Africa, the Mideast, and Central Asia has gained audience I have had the pleasure of speaking to people who are either military or intelligence service for the former colonial masters – the U.K., France, and Italy. It is interesting to me to see the ongoing economic ties and the differing sense of responsibility each country has for their former colonies.

Somalia is in sad shape and their chaos radiates all around. Just across the Gulf of Aden we see Yemen is coming apart. Plans by upstream nations to dam the Nile have Egypt and Sudan greatly concerned. Troubles in the Horn of Africa are neither as near nor as hazardous as those in the Mideast when seen from the west, but disorder breeds illicit networks and their reach can dramatically exceed their notional geographic range. We should take a long, hard look at the problems here, and then do what we can to reduce the instability and associated violence.

@KTF_press : Cyberwarriors Of Kenya

Kenya Tweet Force

Kenya Tweet Force

I get a lot of strange stuff in my inbox that’s just not appropriate here, but today was an exception. Someone asked a question and part of the answer was “Kenya Tweet Force”, an irregular cybermilitia supporting the Kenyan government against al Shabaab in Somalia. Their Twitter account, @KTF_press, was only following five others, so this was a good starting clue.

Kenya Tweet Force & Associates

Kenya Tweet Force & Associates

@kdfinfo is actually the Kenya Defense Force and @MajorEChirchir is their spokesman, Major Emmanuel Chirchir. @IntelligencNews belongs to Nairobi based Intelligence Briefs. yahyarmy2010 (brother army in Arabic) is a Sufi – a practitioner of a contemplative practice of Islam similar in temperament to some Buddhist practices or Kaballah. @JustOneBullet relentlessly trolls whatever account the oft banned High Spirit Mission is using at the moment – today it’s @HSMPRESS1.

Kenya Defense Force Official Account

Kenya Defense Force Official Account

The @kdfinfo account was the least talkative of the bunch – as one would expect for a formal role account for a military organization. The others each had an average of about forty nodes each which they addressed via @ references. As I examined things I became curious about Kenyan Anthony Ngige @ngigeh, with only 172 followers, but whom everyone addressed. Colonel Cyrus Oguna @ColonelCOguna came out against the now suspended fake @KDFspokesman. KDF head General Julius Karangi was also spoofed with @GeneralJKarangi, and this was suspended, too.

As an official account, @MajorEChirchir‘s demeanor is quite different from that of an official account for a western military officer. He is seen actively seeking information on someone of interest in Somalia and he validates @KTF_press, addressing them in a friendly, personal fashion. The rest of his feed is a fascinating read – everything from handling bomb threats to good natured ribbing of @KenyaPower regarding an embarrassing outage.

MajorEChirchir Seeks Info

MajorEChirchir Seeks Info

@MajorEChirchir & @KTF_press

@MajorEChirchir & @KTF_press

The KKL, short for Küberkaitseliit, is an all volunteer Estonian organization created in response to Russian cyber attacks in 2007. This is the first instance where a state sponsored cybermilitia was created. @KTF_press has this to say about its status:

KTF is a #KOT initiative to help KDF to wage a successful cyber war against Al-Shabaab
DISCLAIMER:KTF is not owned/controlled by KDF or any of its members.

So KTF denies a direct connection, but as we can see with the major’s account, things are rather informal and he acknowledges them as a friendly actor. If I can get a bit of assistance from those who know the region one of my next posts will provide a similar view into this High Spirit Mission group and any al Shabaab accounts I can locate.

Those just arriving may wish to examine The Horn Of Africa and U.S. Military In Africa which contain the only mentions of Kenya I have made thus far. Clearing Somalia Of al-Shabaab is something I wrote six months ago, and maybe now I will get some answers to outstanding questions from those who are in the region.

U.S. Military In Africa

A few months ago I signed up for the daily update from every foreign policy organization I could find. One outstanding issue has been the location of a drone base for east Africa. There have been a lot of strikes in Yemen, on the southwest corner of the Saudi Arabian peninsula and stories of drone observation in Somalia. I thought the logical location would have been Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti and I once spent an hour examining the location with Google Earth, but I saw no evidence of MQ-1 Predator or MQ-9 Reaper aircraft.

The Seychelles make sense for both privacy/security and for anti-piracy efforts. The presence of a base is revenue for the locals without the level of access bad actors would have in Djibouti.

I clicked the rest of the markers – there is definitely a drone base at Arba Minch, Ethiopia, which had been suspected, and the article cites six other locations that may support drones.

U.S. Bases In Africa

U.S. Bases In Africa

A quick look at exercises and other activities conducted by U.S. Africa Command this spring alone reveals a U.S. military presence in more than a dozen countries — from Cape Verde in the West to the Seychelles in the East and Morocco in the North. These exercises have shared medical techniques with the Nigerian military, provided intelligence training in Congo, trained special operators in Cameroon, and even included an East African Special Operations Conference in Zanzibar.

This update was found in Mapped: The U.S. Military’s Presence In Africa, from Foreign Policy magazine. The drone base information is overall, to my mind, pretty speculative. Seychelles make sense now that I see this report, we have been hearing about Arba Minch, but these others are little more than OSINT imagery and guesses based on aircraft types and infrastructure observed. I use free satellite imagery at times myself, but for a major article I think I would have made a very clear distinction between the first two and the last six.

The expansion of AFRICOM activities into thirty five locations on the continent was reported earlier this year. Prior to that report U.S. military presence in Africa was on an as-needed basis, while the headquarters was based in Germany.

This has been a developing story the last six months. I have some other stuff that takes precedence, but I really want to dig deeper on this one. Maybe it’s time to take out RecordedFuture and see what can be found.

The Nile’s Annual Flood

Most Americans know that the Nile river is found in Egypt, but few could name any of the other countries the world’s longest river crosses. They are Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda and I had to look at the Nile Wikipedia article to recall Tanzania and the Congo are involved, too.


There are six major dams on the Nile:



The Nile peaks at 700 million cubic meters of water a day during a good monsoon season in the south. It takes 1,233 cubic meters to make an acre-foot, the water volume measurement commonly used in the U.S., so that is 568,000 acre-feet per day. The Colorado river flows 15 million acre-feet a year.


Years of High Nile correspond to a good Ethiopian monsoon, which floods the Blue Nile. This is the famed Blue Nile Falls, both wet and dry.

The Blue Nile Falls


The White Nile, fed by the same monsoon, floods as well. See the pulse of water on the graph, a fraction of the size and slightly delayed compared to the Blue Nile? The White Nile’s waters are doubly buffered – first filling the 26,000+ square mile Lake Victoria, and then the world’s largest freshwater swamp, South Sudan’s Sudd. A strong monsoon will expand the marshes from 12,000 square miles (Maryland) to over 50,000 (Arkansas), covering 20% of South Sudan.


Politically, the ten nations that share this river have been working on the Nile Basin Initiative, a regional effort to improve the lives of those using the river, as well as preserve important natural habitat such as the Sudd. There is a split between Egypt and Sudan, the two wholly dependent desert nations, and the other eight, who contribute much and take little.

Does this add up to Egypt funding trouble in Somalia? Did this happen during the Mubarak regime, or after Arab Spring toppled him? Was it specifically about hydropolitics with Ethiopia?

I think it’s clear Egypt was putting weapons into the hands of Somalia’s Union of Islamic Courts, but the water war angle seems to me to be conspiratorial in nature. I’m going to keep looking because it’s an interesting angle, but I have only found that idea on partisan blogs thus far.

The Horn Of Africa


Deadly Tribal Fighting Erupts In Kenya caught my eye yesterday, but I hesitated to add this, because we are going to wade into the Horn of Africa. While not a part of the Horn proper, which is defined by geography, Kenya has a large Somali population, and it also shares the same climate driven food security problems. The nature of the trouble in Kenya is a conflict that has been with us for more than ten thousand years – how do farmers and herders share water and food in times of drought?


Drought is not uncommon in this already arid region, but 2011 was extreme, uprooting people from Somalia and pushing them into Ethiopia and Kenya.



The entire region is under stress, but pay attention to the speckled area. ‘Limited Humanitarian Access’. Remember Black Hawk Down?


You can move, adapt, or die when things change. When you’re in an arid land and drought hits there isn’t any adaptation – there simply isn’t enough water. You get moving or you die where you are.


Kenya’s dry northeast is ethnic Somali. The lines on the map are not as bad as the Caucasus, but there were western imperial adventures here, too. Kenya was a British holding, Somalia was French, and Ethiopia was held by Italy.


So the Darod tribe is in the dry northeast of Kenya, but aid workers can go there. They’re in Ethiopia, but their territory is deemed unsafe. Their portion of Somalia is safe. What in the world is going on here?


Somalia is a country, but that is just lines on a western map. The reality on the ground is a bit different. The largely Ishaak region of Somalialand in the northwest and mostly Darod Puntland in the northwest are not internationally recognized, but they are basically self governing. The south has been in and out of chaos and starvation for the last twenty years. I think this map is also a bit dated – UIC is the Union of Islamic Courts and the Provisional Government was ready to implode before Kenya invaded and backed them.

So what does this have to do with Kenya? I don’t typically reference blog posts, but Kenya, Reluctant Regional Power neatly summed up what I had been seeing in other places – 63% of Kenya’s GDP is the service industry, and that is dominated by tourism. They won’t tolerate any trouble in Somalia interfering with this.

As evidence of Kenya’s move towards becoming a true regional power, Kenyan forces were the first to respond against the menacing al Shabaab militants after a media frenzy erupted following high-profile kidnaps along its border with Somalia. The Kenyan Government was forced to act, worried about its reputation, its own security, and the damage such abductions might do to country’s lucrative tourism industry. Beneath these reasons, however, lies perhaps the truth: Kenya is striving to be a regional powerhouse, and in order to elevate its political standing, it decided to exercise its military might. Since October 2011, Kenya began a full-scale military operation to root out al Shabaab, not only within its borders, but in neighbouring Somalia as well. Somalia’s own army proved insufficient and inherently weak, and as such Kenyan forces felt obligated to intervene. Although since this time, Ethiopian troops as well as African Union soldiers have also entered into the fight, Kenya is clearly leading the operation.

Striking cross border to deal with a regional problem is one thing, but what happens when the conflict is domestic and driven by climate change? Not only is there the friction between farmers and herders along the Tana, but 615Mw of the countries total 1,142Mw comes from hydroelectric power. If local electric supplies stumble due to drought and the seemingly imminent European banking sector crash hobbles the usual supply of tourists, Kenya’s tenure as a regional power might be fairly short.