[Dehai-WN] ISS.co.za: Kenya: Implications of the Military Offensive Against Al-Shabaab

[Dehai-WN] ISS.co.za: Kenya: Implications of the Military Offensive Against Al-Shabaab

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Wed, 26 Oct 2011 00:00:27 +0200

 <http://allafrica.com/kenya/> Kenya: Implications of the Military Offensive
Against Al-Shabaab

Andrews Atta-Asamoah & Emmanuel Kisiangani

25 October 2011



Saturday October 15, 2011 marked a dramatic turning point in the history of
Kenya, and particularly the Kenyan army, as the political leadership of the
East African country announced a major military offensive against
Al-Shabaab, one of East Africa's most daring armed groups operating in
war-torn Somalia.

The operation, code-named "Operation Linda Nchi" which means "protect the
nation" in Kiswahili, aims primarily at creating a buffer zone of about a
100 km on the Somali side of the Kenya-Somalia border so as to prevent
incursions into Kenyan territory from armed groups such as Al-Shabaab and
Somali pirates operating from the other side of the border. The military
operation is complemented by extensive internal swoops of neighbourhoods
suspected to have Al-Shabaab presence and sleeper cells: extensive
intelligence gathering, and the beefing up of internal security across the
country, especially in Nairobi.

Kenya will now need to brace itself to bear the consequences of involvement
in such a fluid conflict as is Somalia. This relates to the possibility of
reprisal attacks that Al-Shabaab may want to employ against the interests of
Kenya both inside the country and also at the combat front. A grenade attack
on a nightclub in Nairobi early Monday that injured over a dozen people and
a further attack on a bus station, that killed one person, have already
heightened fears that Al-Shabaab is acting on its threats to Kenya. There is
no doubt that Al-Shabaab has the capacity to strike, given its recent
history in Somalia and Kampala in Uganda. Despite the beefing up of security
across Kenya and particularly in Nairobi, the availability of sleeper cells
and regional Al-Shabaab elements raise the stakes of Kenya's vulnerability
and particularly the ability of Kenya to maintain such consistency of
security presence on the streets till the threat is over. Given that
Al-Shabaab may want to strike when Kenya least expects it, it goes without
saying that the need to maintain security by beefing up operations on the
streets may have to continue for a long time to come.

The most immediate trigger of Kenya's offensive against Somalia is the spate
of kidnappings of foreigners near the Kenya-Somalia border, the most recent
of which was the whisking away of two Spanish aid workers from the Daadab
refugee camp in Kenya's north-eastern province. This followed two other
kidnappings of foreign nationals along the Kenyan Coast, which has sparked a
negative ripple effect on the tourism industry in Kenya. Tourism accounts
for a crucial share of Kenya's revenue. The operation is also informed by
the numerous incursions that belligerents operating from the Somali
territory have consistently made into Kenyan territories on one hand, and
the somewhat laid back response of the Kenyan political leadership to such
provocations on the other. This has led to a perception among some Kenyans
that the country is weak and the leadership lacks the political will to
utilise its military and economic might to defend the territorial integrity
of the country The launch of "Linda Nchi" is thus a product of several
internal and external pressures but particularly economic, the quest for the
maintenance of territorial integrity, and assertion of sovereignty on the
part of the East African country.

Whereas the operation promises to improve the security of Kenya once the
buffer zone is achieved, it adds a new twist to the dynamics of insecurity
in Somalia and the entire region and presents numerous implications worthy
of critical consideration. First, Kenya has been largely noted for its
preference for diplomacy and a non-military approach to the Somali crisis.
By putting boots on the ground, however, this characteristic non-military
and pacifism with respect to the Somali crisis is history. The implications
of this is that Somali belligerents who hitherto had very little motivation
for targeting Kenya now find Kenya as one of its adversaries. In the past,
Kenya had always suffered from the activities of such belligerents by virtue
of its hosting of "Westerners" and their foreign interests. By this move and
the subsequent declaration of intend to use reprisal attacks by Al-Shabaab
against Kenya, the country has effectively moved from a victim to a target
of the activities of belligerent groups - a situation that is likely to have
long-term security implications for Kenya.

Considered from the Somali side, "Operation Linda Nchi" was not part of the
variables during the recent crafting of the roadmap of the political
process. Having been thrown into the dynamics, however, it is going to
impact greatly on the achievability of the roadmap. Its impact will be
positive if the operation's limited goal of creating a buffer zone is
achieved quickly and stabilised, since that will help with the extension of
security beyond Mogadishu clearly articulated in the roadmap. However, if it
becomes protracted, the roadmap will have to introduce Kenya's presence as a
new variable. In recent times Uganda has been very instrumental in Somalia.
This was explicit with the signing of the Kampala accord between Sheikh
Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, President of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG)
and Speaker of Parliament Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden facilitated by Ugandan
President Yoweri Museveni, which brought an end to about five months of
political stalemate in the Transitional Federal Institutions (TFIs) and
helped a great deal in charting the course for the transitional period.
Kenya's presence increases the external stakes in Somalia and stands the
chance of further geo-politicising the issues if not well coordinated.

Among Somalis, it is interesting that Kenya's incursion has not raised the
ire of the masses, as was the case with Ethiopia's invasion in 2006. This is
possibly because there is a sizeable population of Somalis inside Somalia
and in Kenya who view Kenya as having been hospitable to their families, on
one hand and on the other, as having genuine grievances in relation to the
abductions. Indeed, for decades, Kenya has offered asylum to Somalia's
refugees fleeing from the political turmoil in their motherland. Most of
these immigrants are now bona fide Kenyan citizens, having acquired their
citizenship - some through legal and others through illegal channels. The
absence of demonstrations could also be explained by the fact that there are
Somalis who do not share Al-Shabaab's philosophy and activities. However,
this situation could easily change should there be an increase in cases of
civilian casualties as a result of Kenya's military attacks. Al-Shabaab
would capitalise on such cases to inflame Somali emotions and rally for
support. Already, there are signs of emerging faultlines with President
Sheikh Sharif changing his tune on Kenya's campaign. Speaking on Monday on
the frontline of the war, Sheikh Sharif argued that Kenya should not go
beyond the training of Somali soldiers and provision of logistical support
in specified and agreed areas.

On the combat front, Kenya will have to brace itself for combat casualties
as the operation progresses. Since the beginning of the operation, only five
military officers have been lost as a result of technical hitches from a
helicopter rather than the advance of Alshabaab vis-a-vis more than 100
deaths of Alshabaab fighters. This will give room for Alshabaab to exploit
their characteristic guerrilla tactics of sniper fire, use of improvised
explosive devices (IEDs), roadside bombing, and suicide bombings.

Another important issue relates to the cost of the war. So far, economic
motivation has been key in Kenya's going into Somalia. However, the cost of
the operation is likely to keep increasing with advances and protraction of
the situation on the ground. Against a backdrop of recent trends of
inflation, rising cost of living and a depreciating Kenyan Shilling, the
government will have to dip further into its coffers in order to sustain the
cost of the military operation.

Further critical questions remain such as whether the operation was rushed
or thought-through. Even though the government's communication indicates a
well thought-through process, the context and a number of indicators point
otherwise. The timing of the operation is especially notable if placed in
the context of the country's economic hardships and the rainy season. The
latter is already hampering the advance of the Kenyan troops.

To be successful, however, there is the crucial need for the operation to
stay within the limits of the creation of the buffer of 100km. Any attempt
to go after Al Shabaab across the entire territories of Somalia will be
extremely challenging and may affect the success of the operation.
Management of communication is also important. Since the announcement of the
operation, the media has been quick to tag it as a war. The characterization
of the operation as a war without considering the impact of such a tag in
the minds of the masses, especially tourists threatens to defeat the primary
goal of the operation - to assure citizens and visitors to Kenya that the
security of the country is under control. To avert the impact of
sensationalisation by the media, the government's communication machinery
will have to continue providing regular updates to the media to prevent
speculative reporting.

Regionally, the presence of Kenyan troops at the moment also gives the East
African Standby Force (EASF) an opportunity to consider "re-hatting" and
using the Kenyans as a core-force of a multinational regional force by
beefing up their numbers with additional troops raised from the region. This
will lead to the creation of a multinational force representative of the
regional interest and collective will to deal with the threat of Alshabaab,
which can eventually be subsumed by the ongoing AU mission.

Andrews Atta-Asamoah & Emmanuel Kisiangani are senior researchers in the
African Conflict Prevention Programme of the ISS.


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Received on Tue Oct 25 2011 - 18:00:43 EDT
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