Kenya’s Somalia intervention could be the country’s waterloo, or an inauguration of militaristic robust foreign policy, depending on how it all ends. But, despite the rhetoric, Kenya’s intervention in Somalia caps of President Kibaki’s pathetic foreign policy record- the rationale, goal, mission, and exit plan were never clearly articulated. In fact, it is a measure of how poorly the whole operation was planned, that Kenyans were informed that the government had send troops into Somalia, not by the president, not by the minister for defense, but by the minister for internal affairs, on a weekend.
The Al Shabaab bogeymen doctrine means, you can say anything and everything about Al Shabaab to whip public opinion on your side, and to get the West’s unstinting support. The initial stated goal of the intervention was the pursuit of Al Shabaab, who allegedly kidnapped aid workers in Northern Kenya, and foreign tourists along the coast. This was a plausible reason for going into Somalia, on the face of it.
But the intervention has degenerated into a charade resembling an occupation rather than the liberation of Southern Somalia from the yolk of Al Shabaab. It has done little to secure Kenya from Al Shabaab’s attacks- the attacks, in fact, escalated after Kenya went into Somalia, revealing Kenya’s (in)security underbelly; its inability to sufficiently police its borders.
Additionally, the events in the port city of Kismayo revealed that all along Kenya wasn’t interested in containing Al Shabaab, but was interested in establishing in sphere of influence via the formation of Jubaland– a satellite state, remote controlled from Nairobi. This move is counterproductive for several reasons: Ethiopia will not continence such a move because the region is largely occupied by the Ogadens, who are waging a rebellion in southern Ethiopia. This will be akin to providing them a rear from where they can launch attacks against Ethiopia. The establishment of Jubaland will also weaken Mogadishu, currently trying to delicately balance several overlapping and competing interests. The emergence of another center of power with allegiance to Nairobi will hugely undermine the long term stability of the country.
The winner from this standoff is Al Shabaab, who at least, rhetorically, projects a pan Somalia image which subordinates the divisive clan interests. More significantly, the tug of war between Nairobi and Mogadishu, which has been exemplified by the murmurs and planned demonstrations against Kenya’s Defense Forces (KDF), and the recent report of illegal charcoal sold by the KDF increases resentment towards Kenya. This will erode a tremendous amount of good will that Kenya enjoys from Somalia. For decades Somalia has regarded Kenya as a neutral arbiter compared to Ethiopia where a longstanding resentment has endured. The overarching danger is, in the end, the Kenya intervention which is heralded as Africa’s solutions, to Africa’s problems, will severely undermine the future of the Africa Union’s peace and security architecture.
Kenya’s intervention in Somalia effectively placed Kenya on the groups crosshair, but the recent West gate attack is a demonstration Kenya needs a new Somalia policy because the status quo is costly and unsustainable.