On Kenya's war against Al-Shabaab
Somalia needs international help, not another war
2011-11-16, Issue <http://www.pambazuka.org/en/issue/557
light of 2012 elections, Kenya's decision to defend its borders may be seen
as a bold statement on security to win popularity, writes Abena Afia. But at
this time of extreme famine and internal turmoil, Somalia needs the support
of the international community, not another war.
Somalis in the Southern Somali region of Afmadow fled their homes after a
surprise Kenyan military attack on Sunday 16 October 2011. Kenya launched
its offense allegedly in response to recent kidnappings, aiming to push
Islamist insurgent groups away from its border. Kidnapping in Kenya is rife;
offenders include Kenya Police, military and nationals.
A statement released by Al-Shabaab dismissed the kidnappings as a motivation
and said, 'The allegations put forward by the Kenyan authorities with regard
to the recent kidnappings are, at best, unfounded and, apart from the mere
conjectural corroborations, not substantiated with any verifiable evidence".
The public relations office at Defence headquarters said other international
forces in a 'concerted effort and rescue operation' joined Kenya. The attack
targetted Kismayo, the economic power base of Al-Shabaab, to weaken the
youth group's core. Shabaab's bombing in Mogadishu, as Kenyan Defense
Minister Yusuf Haji and Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula visited for talks
with Somalia's president, signified a widespread presence in response to
Kenya's military course.
Kenya, in carrying out its offensive did so without obtaining a UN Security
Council resolution or permission from the Transitional Federal Government.
Somali Spokesman, Abdirahman Omar Osman Yarisow, denied that Kenyan troops
had even entered the country.
Ethiopia's invasion was authorised by Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf
Ahmed, whilst US entered with the UN Security Council's assent. Kenya may
justify entry under self-defence and the right to combat terror, a provision
of international law enshrined in the UN Charter (Article 51).
ADVANCING AL-SHABAAB'S CAUSE
A move guaranteeing reaction has already met warnings from Al-Shabaab
threatening to counter-attack if Kenyan troops do not withdraw. The waging
of this proxy war will create many opportunities for those able to
manipulate an exacerbated fragility intensified by this attack.
The invasion has already helped to revive Shabaab's fading appeal, enabling
them to appear as genuine freedom fighters to Somalis. Press statements
released by the extremist group display a distinct and deliberate departure
from their usual fundamentalist rhetoric, employing a more nationalistic
approach that has earned them a growing support. Unanimity on their call
could establish the ascent of Shabaab domination.
The Somali state of affairs is extremely complex; understanding the true
intentions of those claiming to act in its interest is never clear-cut. When
Ethiopia lost the war, the main resistance was led by the Union of Islamic
Courts (UIC), the head of which later became the president of Somalia.
Sharif Sheikh Ahmed branded as a terrorist by the US who currently stands as
president, took office through U.S backing.
Al-Shabaab were the youths of the UIC opposed to US support, and some argue
an affinity still exists between Sharif and all Shabaab, signified by a
subdued reaction to their activities.
Kenya has endured Al-Shabaab's presence for years. Many kidnappings have
taken place that did not make Shabaab automatic suspects. The recent spates
of kidnappings are further denied by Al-Shabaab who believe that the
kidnappings are being used as a pretext for the incursion.
Horn of Africa analysts say any number of groups could have carried out the
kidnappings - including pirate gangs. Al-Shabaab, notorious for claiming
responsibility for their actions, such as the recent bomb in Mogadishu which
claimed the lives of innocent students, have not done so for these
kidnappings, a cause for doubt on Kenya's assertions.
Recent events have seen the Somali government reinstate its political and
ruling position. In a U-turn decision, after fears that Somali sovereignty
would become obsolete, discussions involving Somali MPs, intellectuals and
civil society rejected key proposals in the recent UN backed roadmap,
designed to reconstruct and re-distribute Somali governance and territory to
Parliamentarians and leading figures unanimously decided that Somali law
could not be changed by an interim government and any action negating
marine, land and air borders would be treated as a direct threat to Somali
Somalis have resisted occupation from previous foreign interventions, the US
in 1992 and Ethiopia in 2006, ending in humiliating withdrawals. Provisions
in the road map would have allowed Kenya to hold a significant stake in
Somali resources. If Somalia was occupied and annexed by Kenya, tourism and
business would again flourish. The decision to resurrect Somalia's
territorial claims caused anxiety to its neighbours.
Deals long exist between Kenya and multinational petroleum companies for
offshore exploration blocks; of particular interest is block L5, thought to
have the highest concentration of oil. Pursuit of this part of the block
lying within the perimeters of Somali territorial waters is illegal.
In accordance with Article 10 of Somali Law No. 37 Territorial Sea and Ports
(1972), Somalia has the right to territorial waters of 200 nautical miles
(nm) and an Exclusive Economic Zone of 200 nm provided in United Nations
Convention on the Law of the Sea.
It seems of little coincidence then that an invasion has taken place
following the fall of the roadmap, reinforcement of Somali law and
protection of its sea.
In light of 2012 elections, Kenya's decision to defend its borders may be
seen as a bold statement to demonstrate major efforts made to increase
security to win popularity. The implications though, are probably already
understood, and the war that Kenya has instigated may not be met with the
gratitude it hopes to attain.
North eastern Kenya is heavily populated by Somalis who maintain strong
connections with their country. Britain and the US warned against the war,
anticipating the ramifications Kenya naively discounts - as well prepared as
Ethiopia was, it failed to capture Somalia.
Given Somalia's fierce resistance to occupation, the US military deploys
remotely controlled drones to conduct reconnaissance missions and carry out
Notwithstanding the worst period of drought the country has seen (starvation
alone has killed tens of thousands of Somali children over the past few
months) a US drone attack claimed the lives of 27 civilians, including
children. Witnesses reported many were also injured after a US strike on the
port town of Kismayo. A similar airstrike killed over a dozen people in
another southern region.
As Kenyan troops advance on Somali soil to oust Al-Shabaab, we are reminded
what little power the central Somali government has. It is doubtful that the
Transitional Federal Government gave initial support; this would only
accentuate its own weaknesses. Many Somali parliamentarians have expressed
deep anger over Kenya's forced entry whilst former President of Puntland,
Jama Ali Jama, has challenged the grounds of this invasion and is calling on
the UN to issue a response.
The retaliatory threats from Al-Shabaab are much publicised and fuel the
sensationalism needed to justify and support Kenya's actions. The fact
remains that the accusations in this instance are unfounded; Kenya has not
sought permission to enter and war crimes increase each day that they
remain. Somalis already in a desperate situation continue to suffer.
Somalia, a current hotspot for international interest owing to its East
African coastal location, oil explorations and other 'free for all'
attractions such as illegal fishing and lucrative international piracy
activity, now hosts Blackwater and Saracen mercenaries who have built base
in Puntland. The unsettling presence of such 'private security firms' could
see the orchestration of Somalia's current internal war handled and
controlled by more lawless but "professional" killers, whose interests do
not coincide with those of Somalis.
The calamity engulfing Somalia is often blamed on an inability to manage its
own country but active aggressors play a major role in its stagnation and
underdevelopment. In times of extreme famine and internal turmoil, Somalia
needs the support of the international community, not another war.
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Received on Wed Nov 16 2011 - 18:12:08 EST