Borders and Migration

Camps and counterterrorism: Security and the remaking of refuge in Kenya

This article examines the enduring entanglements of counterterror governance and refugee encampment in Kenya. The spectre of “terrorism” and its supposed remedy—“counterterrorism”—have loomed large in Kenyan politics since the 1990s and gained further traction since the country’s military invasion and occupation of southern Somalia in 2011. Few other spaces have been associated as persistently with threats to Kenya’s national security and sovereignty as the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps in the country’s Northern belt, which are popularly depicted as “wombs” of terror. In this article, we analyze the transformation of refugee governance in Kenya under the auspices of the War on Terror and consider how counterterrorism has become a way of governing both refugees and precarious ethnoracialized citizens. We provide a multi-scalar analysis that moves between the scales of global militarization, Kenyan state governance, as well as securitized spaces of camps, checkpoints, and policing. The article concludes that refugee camps are not only gateways for imported global counterterror initiatives, but key sites of locally defined state-making processes in which Kenya’s counterterror state is (re)assembled as part of a planetary architecture of humanitarian containment and militarized apartheid.

more articles from

Volume 40 Issue 3

Explore our Topics

Though not an exhaustive list, these are many of the main areas we cover.