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Kenya needs to outline a comprehensive exit plan in Somalia


Kenya’s intervention in Somalia October 2011, the first since the country’s independence, came as a surprise to many Horn of Africa observers. The raison d’être for intervening according to Kenya was to pursue Al Shabaab members who allegedly abducted aid workers in Northern Kenya and kidnapped tourist along the coast.

While at the beginning of intervention this sounded plausible, and even reasonable given genuine security threats posed to Kenya by the Al Shabaab. But the shifting dynamics in the port city of Kismayo raises questions regarding the goal of the intervention. Recent events reveal Kenya is keen in establishing a “sphere of influence” through Jubaland, which put the Al Shabaab theory to a stern test.

Since the intervention, the blowback has been evident- there is deteriorating security especially along the areas bordering Somalia, as well as Nairobi where series of grenades attacks calling into question the rationale of sending troops when it cannot maintain domestic security, as well as failure to secure its long porous border before intervening. It is plausible there was no great deal of thinking through the intervention, what is evident is a knee jerk reaction.

While some of the grenade attacks have been the work of opportunistic criminal groups and rival business groups, some like the attack in church in Garissa bear the hallmark Al Shabaab. And they have claimed as such through their twitter handle.

Liberators or occupiers- Kismayo conundrum

Striking a somewhat righteous if not opportunistic posture- we cannot allow Somalia to be perpetually ungovernable and pose security threat to Kenya, many Kenyans and their official’s supported the intervention uncritically. And the initial triumphalism note, almost unseen jingoism media imagery prevented many from asking questions about the entire enterprise. For a country that hardly agrees on anything, such support for a government’s project was remarkable.

But the “altruism” official line seems to be wearing thin against naked realpolitik displayed by the Kenya Defense Forces in Kismayo- single minded determination to establish its sphere of influence in Jubaland, Kenya has but dropped the “saving” Somalia narrative.

There is an obvious rationale of wanting to control Kismayo- the strategic port is the nerve center of sea trade, and when it was controlled by Al Shabaab, it provided the group with ready income

But taking full control of Kismayo is not straight forward affairs because of several interlocking and competing interests. This is where Kenya needs to be cognizance of Somalia’s history- the radioactive nature of internal Somali clan dynamic, especially for any external actor like Kenya with questionable finesse; many before Kenya have burned their fingers. Any attempt of getting involved in the treacherous waters of local domestic clan politics doesn’t end well. As of now, Kenya seems to walking straight into the local clan politics with their eyes open with their support for Shekh Ahmed Madobe, and by extension his clan, at the exclusion, fundamentally, of the government in Mogadishu, which is at the logger head with Madobe, as well as other clans. Theoretically, Kenya has legitimate reason for siding with Madobe; he provided the key fighters that liberated Kisamyo.

As a display of misguided naivety recently, with implicit support of KDF, minister from central government were mistreated when they visited Kismayo, a move that undermines the authority of the new president who is attempting to establish a proper functioning state. All the talks of federalism is self-fulfilling prophesy and mask the nefarious interest of Kenya which, as of now is aligned with that of Madobe and his clans. If the people in Kismayo want a devolved authority that is nominally answerable to Mogadishu, but autonomous at the same time, that discussion should be left to the Somalis themselves. Trying to influence such outcome is counterproductive and dangerous in the long run. But if devolution is nothing but Kenya’s attempt at establishing a satellite state remote controlled from Nairobi, then it reeks of sheer opportunism.

Wither Al Shabaab?

Counter intuitively, the only beneficiary from the above mess is inevitably the Al Shabaab’s whose stock in trade for recruitment is the weak central government- clearly the present government is struggling to establish its authority amidst walking a tight rope in its attempt to balance several competing interest within and without. Further, rhetorically Al Shabaab bills itself as the vanguard of Somalia against external forces, the mere presence of Kenya inside Somalia is a perfect storm for the group; it will provide them raison d’etre- “liberate” Somalia from the infidels.

This will potentially undo any gains made since intervention, and  make Al Shabaab look good- they transcend clan divisions, and could easily be used another opportunity to endear themselves to the disaffected population and also ramp up their attacks inside Kenya.

Acute internal contradictions within the group were more existential than any external interventions – the pan Somalia nationalist espoused by Aweis and the transnational jihadist wing of Godane- nom de guerre of ‘Abu Zubeir’ was difficult to reconcile. The recent departure of Shekh Aweis regarded as the father of jihadi movement in Somalia, the alleged killing Ibrahim al-Afghani, and fleeing of the group’s spokesman Mukhtar Robbow reveals a serious power struggle within the group. But what is going on in Kismayo gives the group a second chance, similar to the 2006 Ethiopia’s invasion.

The group continues to carry attacks despite all the divisions, the recent being the attack of the UN compound in Mogadishu. Additionally, in order to prove his mantle after the purge, Godane could carry out a “spectacular” attack to entrench his position, and internally. Further, the recent departure will strengthen his hands, and he could consolidate and run the group as a discipline force.

If Kenya ever needed any reason to outline their exit plan, the recent leaked letter from Somali’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Somalia is a harbinger of what the future of KDF’s troop is in Somalia. The lack of clear withdrawal time table from the outset provided a sort cart blanche, but the danger with an open ended intervention is the ever lurking danger of mission creep, which is clearly evident throughout the intervention.  The window when Kenya was regarded as liberators has long closed, and with it the tremendous goodwill from the Somalis. Continued indefinite stay and interference in the internal politics, will make the AMISOM mission in Somalia which was billed as Africa’s solution to Africa’s problem look like an occupation.

 

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9 thoughts on “Kenya needs to outline a comprehensive exit plan in Somalia

  1. N. Gitonga in Kenya says:

    Mr Sukunian. It is imperative for Somalis to note one fundamental point. And that is the Republic of Kenya will do everything in its power to preserve its territorial integrity from any threat emanating from Alshabaab or from the Somali government in Mogadishu. Alshabaab made the foolhardy mistake of making kidnapping forays into Kenyan territory. This has since turned out to be a suicidal business model. For their efforts Alshabaab is now on the verge of internal collapse have suffered close to 5,000 men dead. Kenyans are a calm, unassuming but we are at the same time a very brave and courageous people. To the shock of all spectators, the Kenya Defense Forces easily defeated Alshabaab after a one year offensive into Kismayo.

    The only reason Alshabaab is still alive is because the Kenyans want Alshabaab to keep harassing the Government in Mogadishu. The Mogadishu government is making the same mistake as Alshabab by laying claim to Kenya’s maritime border. Mogadishu is clearly hostile to Kenya and there is no reason why Kenya should be friendly to Mogadishu. We are currently in the process of expelling the 1 million Somali refugees living in Kenya. It is not lost to Kenyans and our security forces that Alshabaab has sympathizers in the refugee camps in Garissa. Somalis are killing Kenya civilians despite the hospitality that they have been accorded. In African traditions it is unheard of for a guest to kill or cause harm to a host. For this reason the 1 million Somalis resident in Kenya are on their way home.

    In short Kenya has the military and financial resources to remain in Somalia for as long as there is a perceived threat coming from Somalis or from there government. Do not threaten us and we will leave you Somalis alone in your country threaten us and you guys will live to regret it.

    • Ndugu Gitonga,

      Thanks for taking your time and reading, and posting your comment- i totally appreciate that.

      I agree, and any country for that matter should defend its territorial integrity, including Somalia, and I hope Kenya ( I am Kenya) will use the same zeal in defending Migingo as well.

      Further, by being in Somalia, and working with other groups, you are not only undermining the establishment of a fully functioning state in Mogadishu, you are unwittingly given Al Shabaab raison detre to exist- as a vanguard against interventionist. This is counterproductive if Kenya’s aim is to have peace and security at home because of the length of the boundary we cannot police it effectively, which means more attacks.

      Additionally, Somalia has aa history of dealing with external actors since the days of mad mullah, so, it will serve us better if we outline a program of departure. Regrading Al Shabaab’s death, we’re celebrating too soon, because its demise has been exaggerated. The way things are serves AS very well because they have no capacity to hold onto a territory, but they can cause damage through through asymmetrical attacks.

  2. N. Gitonga in Kenya says:

    About Migingo the problem has been amicably resolved between Kenya and Uganda. The problem arose as a result of poaching of fish by Kenyan fishermen in Uganda waters. Migingo is only 500 meters from Ugandan waters.

    Alshabaab no longer poses a strategic threat to Kenya’s eastern border, it poses a serious security problem to the Mogadishu Government. Alshabaab is therefore no longer our problem but Mogadishu’s. That is how we want it to be.

    Somalia may have a history of dealing with external actors but so do we. Moreover that sounds like a disguised threat. As I have been trying to tell you we do not take kindly to being threatened. Our history with our dear Somali neighbors as external actors is as follows. Once upon a time there was a fellow known as Siad Barre, I am sure you remember him. He attempted to annex NEP in Kenya using the Shifta militia in the 1960’s. He was hallucinating about a Greater Somalia. He was defeated and lost both the Shifta war to Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta and the Ogaden war to Ethiopia’s Mengistu Haile Mariam a great human and financial cost. For good measure Kenya and Somalia collapsed the Somali Republic and Somalia promptly descended into hell.

    Fast forward to 2011. Alshabaab tried to cause problems in Kenya but the KDF left it a cripple after only one year with only a capability of harassing the hapless Mogadishu Government. The Mogadishu Government is unable to stand on its own feet let alone capable of finishing off the crippled Alshabaab. Somalis can go take their military bravado to the Americans but not to us, we are not impressed. You guys are trying to mock a lion and to throw stones at us how unadvised. Before we are through with you guys Somalis will know what we are actually capable of doing to them.

  3. Ndugu,

    I am not sure the Migingo has been settled “amicably”, I will be interested, send me the details.

    If AS doesn’t pose any security threat to Kenya, then why are we there? Which was the central theme of my post- we didn’t go to Somalia because of AS; we merely outsourced the Kenya foreign policy re Somalia to some people who have their interest, and now the whole country is hooked via the media.

    I think you are engaged in a poor attempt at historical revisionism. Before independence the Northern Kenya asked British if they can join their brethren in Somalia, off course the Brits avoided making any decision. But cynically, argued there should be a referendum about the matter organised by the independent Kenya. In the referendum they overwhelmingly voted to join Somalia. Kenyatta did not countenance dismembering of the country and the rebellion was crushed using excessive force. Additionally, Siad Barre was not the president during Shifta war

    Somalia harbored a vision of establishing a pan Somalia nation. But the defeat of the project was the switching sides of the Soviets who supported Ethiopia, denying him the much needed ammunition because the war was launched simultaneously to annex Southern Ethiopia- the Ogaden region.

    Shifta war was (1963–1967), and Siad Barre regime collapsed in 1991.

    Al Shabaab being crippled is exaggerating the demise of the group, because the group never engaged the KDF, they melted into the population and they are still causing problems.

    • N. Gitonga says:

      Mr Abdullahi,

      Trust me the Migingo issue has been resolved amicably between the Kenya and Uganda governments. A few days ago there was a report in the Nation stating that some Ugandan police had assaulted some APs on border duty. The Kenya County Commissioner stated that the Ugandans were not allowed to enter Migingo armed they apparently did and a confrontation ensued. The CC stated that the Ugandan police were in breach of protocol. It is therefore clear that there is agreement between both governments that Migingo is in Kenya. The squabbling is about fish and not the sovereignty of Migingo. Fortunately neither the Kenya nor the Uganda Government are stupid enough to go to war over a nonsensical issue of fish poaching.

      It matters little whether Barre or another misguided individual started the Shifta war what matters is that Somali designs on the NEP came to naught.

      The only reason why Kenya has not finished off AS is because it is profitable for the KDF to keep them alive but crippled. There is a a lot of money to be made from the UN funded mission. Think about it for a moment. Why was KDF rushing to be hatted into Amisom. The motive is money. Kenya with its US$ 19 billion budget has more than enough cash to auto finance the Somali adventure besides providing the KDF with excellent battlefield experience.

      The Somali Foreign Minister thinks that the Kenya field commander is incompetent hah hah. She has correctly noted that the Kenya/Amisom momentum has ground to a halt. If the KDF were to finish off as they certainly can, that will be the end of the AMISOM mission and the end of hefty UN allowances. The whites will keep on paying as long as the AS is crippled though alive. Once in a while AS may even manage to stage suicide attacks on the UN in Mogadishu. In short keeping the AS crippled but alive is a money maker for the Kenyans and the other AMISOM contingents.

      Abdullahi believe me when I say that AS is no longer a threat to Kenya but a serious threat to the Mogadishu government. The KDF has good intelligence info on keeping AS in line thanks to Ras Kamboni assistance. If they had melted into the population it would be very easy to sniff them out. Many of them have been sniffed out and many of them are dead remember the Somali people hate AS people to the core. Please note that AS suffered serious military losses to the KDF. The proof is when Aweys asked for an army to march to Mogadishu when he parted with Godane. What happened to his is army? they are nearly all dead. I know it must hurt your Somali pride to admit that AS was an easy adversary to the KDF but that is just simply the truth. And the truth I might add, sometimes hurts deep. I feel good bout keeping you educated as I am sure you are also keeping others educated about the mysterious the Kenya mind set

      • Ndugu, Let me start by demystifying your ignorance- I am not a Somalia, I am a Boran. I am sure you just looked at my name and said, he’s a damn Somali, or anything like that.Who knows, all these guys are just the same, and why should I care anyway. It is in the moment of needless broad brush profiling/stereotype that Kenyan’s display their insufferable ignorance. I guess, we are used to it by now.

        Unwittingly, you have agreed with me, Kenya has no business in Somalia except cynically fashioning an intervention as , “Africa’s solution to Africa’s problem”, while all along what they wanted was to feed its ever insatiable appetite for corruption. Why sell a phony war, spend blood and treasure to exploit a country all in the name of making few people wealthy. Why don’t you tell Kenyan’s if you have the moral courage. But to the Kenya’s officialdom such is a normal stuff.

        Keeping AS along as long as they do not pose any sufficient threat to Kenya but to Mogadishu administration is perpetuating the conflict, and hoping Kenya will not be affected, right? Read Clausewitz on war, and you realize that you cannot with accuracy control everything in war. My unsolicited advice, Kenyan’s are not renowned for having plan B, have one in this one, because the Mogadishu govt could easily join hands with AS, and you are in trouble. And I have not mentioned Ethiopia yet, who are not all together happy with your fairy tale Juba land project.

      • N. Gitonga says:

        Mr Abdullahi,

        Sorry for the delay in responding to your post. Time constraints.
        Personally I have no problem with the Somali people. I think it is tragic the way the Somalis are always perpetually on war mode. I have no problem with the Borana people either. There was a time not too long ago when I used to go to the Isiolo livestock market to buy cattle. The original idea was to buy Borana cattle but I ended up buying Somali cattle. Somali cattle are wild, rebellious, uncontrollable and prone to erratic violent behavior much like their Somali owners. Somali cattle beef turned out to be fatty and it is of a very low quality indeed. I lost a lot of money in that deal.

        The Borana cattle are on the other hand, a superior breed calm, docile, pleasant and controllable. I bought some magnificent bulls that grew and added weight very quickly. In the future when I have a large enough farm I will breed Borana cattle as a hobby. The Borana have magnificent cattle, though they are extremely jealous of them and sell only after a very hard bargain. Somali cattle on the other hand are simply junk animals. I apologize for grouping you together with the Somali people.

        Back to politics. Please note that the Somalis brought the intervention of Kenya on themselves. Unfortunately our friendly and hospitable nature mislead them into thinking we are pussy cats. The Kenyan military presence in Somalia would never had happened had AS kept their criminal activities in their country. It think we should be guided by what the KDF Top brass have been saying all along. According to Col. Oguna the aim of the intervention is to “down grade” AS military capacity only. There has never been any KDF talk of completely destroying AS, though they are fully capable of it. The choice of wording is important. Moreover Gen. Kirangi has termed the intervention as “open ended”. This means they did not draw an exit plan of the type you refer to as “Plan B” withdrawal. I think the actual Kenya “Plan B” is the eventual establishment of an independent Jubbaland State in Southern Somalia. So far the Mogadishu Government is doing everything in this direction as evidenced by the non ratification of the Kenya-Somalia maritime border as agreed upon by the defunct TFG.

        I can understand about Ethiopians apprehension of Jubbaland vis a vis the Ogaden Somalis. I do not think they have anything to fear. There are some Somalis who understand the source of their problems is the Grater Somalia pipe dream. Ethiopian military action against Kenya? That is very unlikely. The Ethiopians are not rabid as the Somalis moreover they have not demonstrated much success against rebels on their own territory(Oromo LF amongst others). Please tell me if I am wrong about detecting some Cushitic pride in your writing which is understandable and ok.

        Good day…..

  4. Ndugu Gitonga,

    Thanks. Sasa that is the tone I dream off when engaging people- civil and level headed.

    Regarding the Cushietic pride, I find it strange you are persisting with this line. Historically, since we originated from Ethiopia, you would assume by that logic my views should be aligned by Ethiopia’s. But the reality is I am Kenyan, and I am worried we are expanding blood and treasure in fighting a war of choice rather than war of necessity. But, I know in Kenya yetu someone doesn’t oppose/support thing on merit there has to be something- either I am a Somali or Cushietic pride.

    Like I have argued previously the presence of AS regardless of degraded capacity is not good news for either Kenya or Somalia. The argument that Mogadishu is opposing the establishment of Juba land, that is no brainier, if you were in that position advising them, you wouldn’t have allowed for a state-let supporting by another country in your territory. Additionally, imagine if MRC succeeded in seceding, the amount of revenue Kenya would have lost because of the port.

    I am a student of International relations, Kibaki was a terrible regarding foreign affairs, Kenyatta should reboot Kenya’s foreign policy to align it with our needs. War, regardless of your argument we get money for it, the UN will never pay for the lives lost- even if it is one life. We have a huge amount of soft power towards Somalia, and we are eviscerating it, unstable Somalia, not because of AS, but, if Mogadishu doesn’t support us as well, we shall have problems..

    • N. Gitonga says:

      About the blood and treasure. In fact by intervening in Somalia we are actually saving both. Please remember that AS was spilling Kenyan blood BEFORE the intervention. The situation could not go on unabated. We were losing treasure as a result of kidnappings of tourists. Remember the travel advisories against visiting the coast and NEP and how they were harming the tourism industry??

      In any event KDF human casualties have been minimum. The adventure is being paid for by the UN. The number of grenade attacks on Kenya civilians is decreasing. AS cell members are now getting executed on the spot instead of being taken to the courts where they were bribing the judges and escaping after being released on bond…..

      You say…”Like I have argued previously the presence of AS regardless of degraded capacity is not good news for either Kenya or Somalia”. What do you mean that a degraded AS is bad for Kenya and Somalia? Because by inference you imply that a strong AS is good for Kenya and Somalia. I am sure you couldn’t possibly mean that. The last time I checked AS was terrorist organization linked to Al Qaeda.

      Please remember that AS was spilling Kenyan blood BEFORE the intervention!!

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