The Kenyan government has a problem keeping secrets, especially those involving military or police operations against Islamic terrorists. Most of the Islamic terrorists in Kenya are Somali and these Islamic terrorists, especially those belonging to al Shabaab, have long enjoyed access to the information about government plans for fighting Islamic terrorism and large-scale criminal activities in general. One thing Kenyan counter-intelligence operatives (those who seek out spies) knew was that al Shabaab has long used a network of paid informants among various criminal groups, especially those dominated by Somalis. It is known that criminal gangs, in general, will pay for useful information and the Somali minority has always been overrepresented in Kenyan criminal organizations. Somalis are noted for their resourcefulness and Somali Islamic terrorist groups like al Shabaab are no exception. So it was not a big shock when the Kenyan counter-intel people realized that a major source of al Shabaab intel was from prostitutes.
In part, this was made possible by the fact that older Somali women run much of the prostitution operations along the coast (where prostitution has long thrived because of all those foreign sailors and tourists). The Kenyan capital, Nairobi, is way inland but because of all the wealthy politicians, businessmen and foreigners in the capital, a lot of prostitutes (especially foreign ones) operate in the capital. This has long been a social and police problem and while prostitution is legal in Kenya, it was banned in Nairobi in 2017. Actually, it’s always been illegal for anyone to profit from the work of prostitutes (as in pimps or those running brothels) but the pimps and brothels exist anyway and many of them are run by women, often Somali women, because Somalis are so prominent in organized crime. One thing the women running brothels or networks of prostitutes have always done is develop working relationships with criminal gangs and corrupt police. With the police, it’s mainly a matter of paying bribes to be left alone. But with criminal gangs, there is also valuable information to be sold. High-end prostitutes often have politicians, military and police commanders and wealthy businessmen as clients. These men will also want someone to listen to them to complain about their problems, as well as provide sex. The prostitutes know that if they hear any potentially useful (to criminals) information, they should pass it on to their female boss who has a list of groups that will pay for information useful to them. The prostitute will get a portion of the payment for the information. While Kenyan prostitutes are unlikely to pass on anything of use to al Shabaab (because of al Shabaab terror attacks inside Kenya, usually directed at non-Moslems) the many foreign and Somali prostitutes have no such qualms. Kenyan counter-intelligence analysts are debating whether some of many of the most damaging leaks got out via a senior Kenyan official casually complaining about work and revealing some details of counter-terror operations. Captured al Shabaab men and documents indicate that a lot of useful information seems to come, often in fragments, from “sources” inside Kenya. Long dismissed as a myth, the attentive prostitutes being the source of so many important leaks appears to be more likely than not. The key is in the ability of the middlemen (usually women) assembling the various bits of information and selling it to al Shabaab operatives who are known to pay well for useful stuff.
In Somalia, the Islamic terror group al Shabaab survives despite major losses since 2012. One reason for al Shabaab surviving, particularly in the south, along the Kenyan border, is the fact that al Shabaab has come to dominate many areas of non-terrorist criminal activity. This includes smuggling and various criminal activities in Kenyan refugee camps and large Moslem communities in coastal cities and communities. When it comes to raising money and doing business in general, especially outside of Somalia, al Shabaab is practical and puts it Islamic ideology aside. Al Shabaab takes advantage of the police corruption in Kenya, where the largely Christian police are particularly brutal towards Kenyans who are ethnic Somalis as well as the Somali refugees.
About 76 percent of the Moslems (four million people) in Kenya are ethnic Somalis who are citizens. Kenya is largely (80 percent) Christian with a Moslem minority (12 percent of the population) that has been known to harbor Islamic terrorists. Most Kenyan Moslems live in coastal cities like Mombasa (where about a third of the 1.1 million population is Moslem).
A lot of ethnic Somalis and Moslems live in northeastern Kenya. The area around Mandera is near the Somali border and has long been the scene of fighting between the Kenyan Murule (ethnic Somali Moslems) and the Marhan from across the border in Somalia. Armed Marhans cross the border and raid Murule territory and despite Kenya sending more soldiers and police to Mandera the violence continues. The Marhan have long been accused of supporting al Shabaab while the Murule oppose Islamic terrorism and al Shabaab efforts to chase Christians from the Mandera region.
Since 2014 Kenya has been trying to force all Somali refugees living outside refugee camps to move to a refugee camp. That has not been very successful. While the UN criticized this measure the government is under tremendous public pressure to reduce the Somali terrorist threat and many Somali refugees have been caught supporting or carrying out terrorist activities. Despite resistance, refugees continue to be sought and forced to go to the camps. For years there have been at least 500,000 Somali refugees, most of them in two Kenyan camps near the Somali border. The UN runs the camps but has no control over some 50,000 Somali refugees living mostly in the Somali neighborhoods of Nairobi and Mombasa. Kenya also hosts several hundred thousand other refugees from Ethiopia, Sudan, Burundi and Congo. Many Kenyans feel that the rest of the world does not appreciate what a heavy burden this places on Kenya.