KENYA-SOMALIA: A risky intervention
Reduced access: aid workers warn new fighting would make it even harder to
reach millions of food-insecure Somalis
NAIROBI, 20 October 2011 (IRIN) - Kenya’s military intervention to target
Al-Shabab in Somalia is likely to worsen the plight of millions of
food-insecure civilians and could increase popular support for the Islamist
insurgents, aid workers and analysts warn.
Kenya launched Operation Linda Nchi (Kiswahili for “Protect the Nation”) on
16 October and has since deployed ground troops and air assets between its
common border and the Somali port town of Kismayo.
Government officials have said its forces were targeting militants who
threaten Kenya’s heavily tourism-dependent economy and its national
security. In recent weeks there have been kidnappings of tourists and aid
workers in Kenya, which officials blamed on Al-Shabab, a charge the group
denied. One tourist was shot dead on the Kenyan coast, another died in
Six regions in Somalia are now classified as being in a state of famine;
volatile security in many of these areas, mostly under the control of
Al-Shabab, greatly reduces aid agencies’ ability to reach the needy. The
food crisis has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom have
crossed into Kenya to seek refuge in the world’s largest refugee complex.
Two Spanish employees of Medécins sans Frontières (MSF), were abducted from
the camp in October.
“The main concern is that we are in the middle of a famine where hundreds of
thousands of lives are at risk, people are extremely malnourished and
desperately need more aid - the last thing they need right now is more
conflict that could displace more people and make it even harder for aid
agencies to reach them,” Alun McDonald, regional media and communications
officer for Oxfam GB’s operations for the Horn, East and Central Africa,
“We're already seeing some impact on humanitarian access - some of our local
partners in Somalia have reported having to temporarily suspend some
activities over the past few days - particularly some of the less immediate
work such as support for farmers and livelihoods. The concern is that if
fighting continues to increase then it will get even harder to work than it
already is,” he said.
“Population movements are a very likely result, and there are concerns about
where people would flee to if the Kenyan government puts stricter controls
in place for crossing the border,” he said.
Tony Burns, operational director for SAACID, a Somali NGO working mainly
with women and children, said, “Any increased conflict will inevitably have
negative consequences for the Somali civilian population and the local
But he added, “If the Kenyan intervention remains only a short-term
incursion – to demonstrate military capacity and strength of will - then I
do not believe there will be any lasting consequences for the current basket
of humanitarian and development activities.”
On the move
"Many people have been leaving in the last three days. No-one wants to get
caught up in the fighting, I have sent my family to the villages," said a
resident of Afmadow, a town 140km north of Kenya’s border.
Describing the intervention as a “joint Kenya-Somali operation”, the
commander of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces in the
border area, Gen. Yusuf Hussein Dhumal, told IRIN from his base in Tabta,
65km north of the Kenyan border, that his forces were in control of Qoqani,
50km south of Afmadow town.
"We are being delayed by heavy rains. Our aim was to be in Afmadow by now
but the rains have made that impossible. We will push until we chase them
[Al-Shabab] from Kismayo."
Mohamed Ahmed Ilkase, a reporter for Somali national TV travelling with the
Somali forces, told IRIN Al-Shabab was reportedly regrouping in Afmadow.
A resident of the port city of Kismayo, 500km south of the Somali capital,
Mogadishu, said Al-Shabab had been reinforcing its positions in the city and
conscripting people "to fight the enemy. They have been bringing many
militias since Monday [17 October] and have been calling on residents to
register to fight.”
He said families had started leaving the city. "Some are going south
[towards Kenya], while many others are going north to Mogadishu."
Several observers warned that Kenya’s intervention could backfire.
“The real surprise is that the western countries that have urged restraint
have failed to convince Kenya that Kenya may be perpetuating the problem
that it is claiming to want to eliminate,” said SAACID’s Burns.
“The fear is that Al-Shabab will be able to garner Somali nationalist
sentiment against Kenya – perceiving the incursion as an invasion and
occupation. Al-Shabab was very successful in framing the Ethiopian military
incursion of 2007-2008 in support of the TFG in that way, and there was a
concomitant virulent nationalist Somali opposition to the Ethiopian
“If the incursion becomes an occupation, then I suspect Al-Shabab will be
able to garner more and more public support and funding as time passes, and
the Kenyan military will face an ever more complicated military context,” he
A view echoed by Somali university lecturer Farah Mohamed: “The invasion, I
don't know what else to call it, will only help those they claim to be
"Unfortunately, it will not solve any of the problems but will create even
more," said Hassan Sheikh, an academic and politician. Kenya’s intervention
risks "not only boosting Al-Shabab but creating new groups that we don't
“I think they [the Kenyans] have taken on more they bargained for,” said
Abdi Dahir Dirie, a professor of at Mogadishu University.
Noting that Kenya’s tourism industry was an economic lifeline worth
protecting, Laura Hammond, a senior lecturer in the Department of
Development Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in
London, also expressed concerns about the plan to capture Kismayo from
"If it succeeds, what then? What will it do if it achieves this goal? Stay
in Kismayo the way the Ethiopians stayed in Mogadishu? The plan seems to me
not that clearly thought out, and there are a thousand chances for it to go
wrong," Hammond said.
Rashid Abdi, Horn of Africa analyst for the International Crisis Group
(ICG), said he doubted “the Kenyans have a military strategy as such beyond
showing they can act.
"This operation is primarily aimed at mollifying critics of Nairobi's ‘soft’
policy towards Somalia... I think this escalation is ill-advised.
"My greatest fear is that Kenya has just given Al-Shabab the excuse it needs
to strike at Kenya. If Al-Shabab carries out a terrorist act in Kenya, the
repercussion for Somalis will be grave,” he said.
Within Somalia, “Al-Shabab will most certainly retaliate with all manner of
actions – suicide bombers, improvised explosive devices, hit-and-run
guerrilla tactics, ambushes and even frontal attacks against soft targets,”
Imaana Laibuta, a retired Kenyan army major now working as a security
consultant, wrote in Nairobi’s Daily Nation newspaper.
Without adequate force protection measures, he warned the incursion “might
be a tragic undertaking whereby we have just sent our sons, daughters,
brothers, sisters and mothers to die just to satisfy public anger and please
the western tourist circuit and anti-Islam fear-mongers”, he added.
There are also suspicions that the intervention is designed to boost Kenya’s
widely reported but publicly undeclared plan to establish a semi-autonomous
region in southern Somalia, a buffer zone known variously as Jubaland and
Azania, made up of the Gedo, Lower and Middle Juba regions, with Kismayo as
From the Kenyan perspective, the main incentive for such a zone would be to
protect its border from Al-Shabab incursions. Kenya has also been keen to
reduce the inflow of Somali refugees, around half a million of whom live in
Dadaab, an attitude demonstrated by the delayed opening of an overflow camp
in the complex.
On 20 October, the Star newspaper quoted an unidentified government minister
expressing alarm at Al-Shabab’s recruitment in Dadaab. “We will create a
safe zone for them and then the UNHCR [the UN Refugee Agency] and other
agencies can take care of them inside Somalia,” said the minister, who made
no specific reference to “Jubaland”.
In April 2011, a Somali former defence minister, Mohamed Abdi Mohamed,
announced to international media that he had been named “president” of
Jubaland, but since then there have been no noticeable developments around
“The real reason [for the military action] in my opinion has to do with the
failed Jubaland initiative and the Somali-Kenya maritime boundary,” said
Hassan Sheikh, an opinion shared by Mogadishu University’s Dirie.
“I think some people in Kenya want to revive the Jubaland initiative,”
Next stop Eastleigh
The Kenyan government plans to target Al-Shabab elements in the capital,
Nairobi, especially in Eastleigh, a district heavily populated by ethnic
Somalis of both Kenyan and Somali nationality, who frequently complain of
harassment by police.
The Islamist insurgency “is like a big animal, with the tail in Somalia and
the head of the animal is hidden here in Eastleigh”, Internal Security
Assistant Minister Orwa Ojodeh told parliament on 19 October.
The group would be targeted by “the mother of all operations” in Nairobi, he
said, adding that orders had been given to search passengers travelling by
bus from northern and eastern regions of the country.
Mohamed Mohamud Gutale of the Eastleigh District Business Association
described the statement as “discriminatory”.
“If this is about security, the way to go is to talk to the people and ask
them for their help. We would gladly help improve security because it is in
our interest,” he told IRIN.
“If they really are after criminals, they know who they are and where they
are,” said an Eastleigh businesswoman, who asked not to be named. “They
should target them. Why go after an entire area that gives this government
so much tax money? Any operation that targets Eastleigh will be seen as
targeting Somali-owned businesses.”
> Refugees fear
increased police harassment
> When a low profile is
key to survival
> Urban refugees need
> Raids and rancour
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Received on Thu Oct 20 2011 - 09:21:16 EDT