Barriers to Reporting ‘Suspicious Activities’: Evidence from Kenya

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This paper empirically explores how communities have responded to the request of increasing reporting of ‘suspicious activities’. More specifically, it explores to what extent community members of Garissa and Lamu counties are aware of ‘suspicious activities’ in their localities and what role they play in reporting such activities.

Since Kenyan troops entered Somalia in October 2011 to launch a military offensive against Al-Shabaab (AS) under Operation Linda Nchi ( Protect the Country) and up to 2019, it is estimated that Kenya has experienced as many as 600 terrorist attacks. Both the human and economic cost of these attacks has been high – an estimated 1,314 fatalities and $1.2731 million as of 2019. The situation has resulted in Kenya being ranked the 20th most at-risk country to terrorism globally in 2021. Most of the terror attacks in Kenya are concentrated in the north-eastern (NE) and coastal counties, two of which are the focus of this paper – Garissa and Lamu.

Within the security agencies in particular there has been growing concern that some community members are aware of ‘suspicious activities’ from violent extremist elements in their localities but are often uncomfortable or unsure of how to share information with security agencies before attacks occur. As this paper demonstrates, the term ‘suspicious activity’ is frequently used by security actors and, although highly opaque, seems to communicate unusual activities that perhaps could be associated with the risk of activities related to planning or carrying out illicit terrorism-related activities. However, the implementation of a policy that seeks to identify and report on ‘suspicious activities’ comes with a significant risk of profiling and stereotyping. Essentially, communities are encouraged to report on others with very limited guidance and expertise in reporting, usually a task carried out by the security agencies as opposed to the public.

At the same time, recruitment into violent extremism (VE) and activities associated with supporting the operations of violent extremist organisations in these communities is carried out covertly, and therefore identifying ‘suspicious activities’ is highly problematic and poses numerous risks of increasing internal tensions, as well as exacerbating the risk of retaliation by violent extremist actors. The security system offers limited assurances of support for exposure to such risks. The literature on terrorism has extensively studied the identification of signs of recruitment but with limited results as the processes are individual, making it impossible to generalise. Recruiters are understood to be sophisticated and may spend a significant amount of inperson time with their prospective recruits, exploiting their vulnerabilities. The literature confirms that partnership between community members and security agencies in sharing information, including on ‘suspicious activities’, is a key resource for the successful prevention of terrorism. However, there is little clarity on what exactly ‘suspicious activity’ means.


Martine Zeuthen

Associate Fellow - Quality Assurance

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Timothy Kimaiyo

Project Assistant

RUSI Nairobi

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Abdikadir Dakane

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Aden Awle

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