Al Muhajiroun, or Emigrants of East Africa, recently released a new press statement directed at the leaders and populations of several East African nations. The statement, which is entitled "We Are Coming", begins with a religious praise, followed by a declaration that Allah will grant them permission to "terrorize the frontiers of Somalia" just like he allowed Al Shabaab to "reign over Somalia." Further, the statement goes onto reinforce their emphasis on East Africa. "With the permission of Allah," the authors write, "our Jihad will defend the religion of Islam in East Africa and defend our brothers from African colonialists."
The statement then addresses the Muslims and governments located in East African nations. The authors demand that governments end all oppression of Muslims, and denounce democracy as an ideal that is incompatible with Islam. They implicitly reference the statements made and terrorist attacks committed by al Shabaab as "warnings" that state institutions have failed to heed. As a result, the authors continue, Al Muhajiroun has emerged to challenge their decadent and un-Islamic systems. "Our fight against disbelievers will not end until we see the Book of Allah dominating East Africa." This is likely a reference to a caliphate headed by Al Qaeda.
The statement's authors briefly address the United Nations, which they blame for perpetrating abuses and atrocities against the Muslim people. However, the bulk of what remains in the statement is directed at Muslims living in specific areas of the region. First, they attempt to capitalize upon the grievances of angered Ugandans, while at the same time dismissing claims made by President Museveni that al-Shabaab has been defeated. "To our Muslim brothers in Uganda, for everyday that... Museveni continues to trample on you... we promise to soothe our hearts by the will of Allah... Museveni claims to have defeated... al Shabaab... where and how have you defeated al Shabaab?"
Museveni has taken a harsh stance on countering al Shabaab. Over 6,000 Ugandan soldiers are currently attached to the African Union force deployed in Somalia. In an editorial written on April 27, 2015, Museveni wrote that while al Shabaab had been "defeated," Ugandan citizens still needed to protect themselves. In order to meet this need, he called for the creation of "Local Defense Units" composed of trained, able-bodied citizens. Al Muhajiroun was most likely referencing this editorial in their statement.
Next, the statement addresses the people of Tanzania. The authors warn citizens to reject the false promises of democracy, noting that elections are "alien to all Muslims." They then call attention to Tanzania's crackdown against religious extremism, asking Tanzanian readers to acknowledge how the state has "silenced" shiekhs across the nation. Increasing religious tensions have been an issue for Tanzanian security forces. Despite its reputation as a bulwark for peace and democracy in an otherwise unstable region, the number of attacks against local Christian leaders and foreign tourists has steadily risen since 2012. As Dr. Andre LeSage noted in 2014, "The growing number of militant Islamist attacks in Tanzania demonstrates a nascent terrorist threat that can undermine peace and stability in yet another East African country." Al Muhajiroun's focus on Tanzania becomes more important in the context of the upcoming elections, which "could create a “perfect storm” that would exacerbate the threat" when combined with returning al Shabaab fighters from Somalia and disputes over the Zanzibar Islands.
Furthermore, the poor condition of Tanzania's security forces only serves to heighten the security threat of terrorism. It is largely agreed upon by experts that the country's military and police arms are under-resourced and poorly coordinated, rendering the government unable to secure its porous borders and combat rampant criminality (especially in the forms of illicit drug and arms smuggling). One aspect of al-Shabaab's modis operandi is to collaborate with criminal elements to further erode the state's influence and provide a source of income for ongoing and planned operations. The marginalization of conservative Islamist in mainstream politics has created a local impetus to wage lesser jihad--as opposed to foreign pull factors which may draw young men to a battlefield elsewhere in the world. In addition to this, al Muhajiroun's sharp criticisms of Western ideals (i.e. democracy) may ring true to many, as there is a perception in Tanzania that Muslims do not benefit proportionately from development and economic modernization efforts. The average unemployment rate for young adults across the country is 85%, a factor which can contribute to political violence.
While the rest of the statement deals with international or state institutions, the next segment is specifically directed at the city of Mombasa. "O brothers of Mombasa! Our hearts ache and our souls burn for you. You have stood firm in Islam and suffered untold humiliation." It is somewhat strange that al-Muhajiroun does not mention Kenya more broadly, but it is my opinion that they address Mombasa due to the fertile climate for recruitment there. Alternatively, it may be indicative of a future wave of terrorist attacks in the city. Tourism, which accounts for 15% of Kenya's GDP, is at the heart of Mombasa's economy. Terrorist attacks have rocked Kenya's coastal cities, heavily reducing tourist activities. By focusing on cities frequently visited by Westerners, thereby triggering travel warnings from diplomatic entities, al Shabaab has managed to execute a form of economic warfare.