[Dehai-WN] TheEastAfrican.co.ke: Why capturing Kismayu could trigger proxy wars for Kenya

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Tue, 29 Nov 2011 14:15:06 +0100

Why capturing Kismayu could trigger proxy wars for Kenya

By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO and NICK WACHIRA ( <javascript:void(0);> email the

Posted Sunday, October 30 2011 at 17:42

As the Kenya Army enters the third week of its military campaign in southern
Somalia, the African Union peacekeeping force is upping its pressure on the
Al Shabaab around the capital Mogadishu, with the plan of "bringing some
order" to the war-ravaged country by the end of December.

(Also Read
a+for+Al+Shabaab+/-/2558/1260154/-/2pmdwnz/-/index.html> Uganda cautious as
Kenya enters Somalia for Al Shabaab)

In conversations with diplomats, government officials, and intelligence
sources in the region, a clear picture has started emerging of a war that
has been in the making over the past five years and one that could
dramatically reorder the Somali state, and just possibly bring about the
peace that has proved so elusive over the past two decades.

According to these sources, Kenya's military offensive was timely, coming as
it did when the Al Shabaab militants are at their weakest and at a time when
there is convergence of opinion in the wider East African region about what
to do about the crisis in Somalia.

However, a clearer strategy crafted by Somali leaders and regional players
in the conflict is also emerging. The first step, the sources say, is to
create three new "areas of influence" in the rest of Somalia, beside
Somaliland and Puntland, which now function as independent territories.

These territories would provide a buffer zone for Kenya and Ethiopia.

Already, Ethiopia has created a buffer zone spanning Galgadud, Hiraan, Bay,
Bakool and Gedo (See map above).

Kenya's military ambition is to create a buffer zone spanning Gedo El Wak,
Middle and Lower Juba regions.

Ultimately, these regions will be governed as semi-automous states at first
that could one day form part of a strong united federal government of

The second step after the fall of Kismayu would to be to hand over all
"liberated" areas to Amisom.

This, according to diplomats, would mean that the UN Security Council would
be forced to reconsider upgrading Amisom into a full-fledged mission with
the recommended minimum troop level of 20,000 soldiers.

So far, Amisom has about 9,500 troops in and around Mogadishu - and only two
East African Community countries, Burundi and Uganda, have contributed.

There are plans to add 3,000 soldiers, but no one has offered to pay for
them. Both Uganda and Kenya have been calling on the Security Council to
upgrade Amisom.

The third step down the road, is for Amisom to hand over a pacified Somalia
to the UN.

"If Kenya and other regional players can stabilise Somalia a little,"
Ethiopia's ambassador to Kenya, Shemsudin Ahmed, told The East-African last
Thursday, "it will require more, not less, support from the rest of Africa
and the international community.

It would make sense to hand over to the UN at that point," he said. Ethiopia
supports the Kenyan invasion, which mirrors its strategy five years ago.

Ethiopia, which went to war without the support of the international
community with the exception of America, learnt some hard lessons.

Ethiopia's foray

After Ethiopia made its foray into Somalia in late 2006 to fight the Islamic
Union Courts regime led, ironically, by the country's current President
Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, to prop up the more internationally recognised
Transitional Federal Government that was then hiding out in Baidoa, it
withdrew just over two years later in the face of international criticism.

Ethiopia then focused on creating a "buffer" zone with Somalia along the
common border. Amisom already controls the bulk of Mogadishu, and the plan
is for it to also establish a sphere of influence in Middle and Lower
Shabelle and the coastal area of Galgaduud.

Kenya would establish a sphere of influence in Lower Juba, Middle Juba, and
Lower Gedo and, of course, gain access to the key port of Kismayu, which is
also the economic lifeline and greatest strategic asset of Al Shabaab.

Managing victory

However, as Kenya's military campaign in Somalia clocks two weeks, the major
cause of concern among diplomats, military and intelligence experts is
starting to turn from taking over the Port of Kismayu into how to manage

With Amisom increasing pressure in Mogadishu and the Kenya Defence Force
continuing its onslaught in the south, experts told The EastAfrican that the
capability of Al Shabaab to continue fighting on multiple battlefronts will
face a significant challenge.

"There is no doubt we shall get Al Shabaab out," said a source within
Amisom, "but the key problem for Kenya is management of victory.

The moment the city of Kismayu falls, who will control it? There is a major
potential for conflict between Kenya and Ethiopia."

This potential conflict is symbolised by two men who experts say are being
fronted as potential leaders of Jubaland, the new semi-autonomous state
Kenya wants to help establish.

One of the men is former Somali Defence minister and "president" of the
Azania state, Mohamed Gandi, who is said to be favoured by the bosses of
Kenya's National Security Intelligence Service as well as the French.

Ethiopians are wary of Gandi because his clan, the Ogadeni, harbour
territorial ambitions of one day creating a super-state carved out of
southern Somalia, southern Ethiopia and a huge chunk of Kenya's North
Eastern Province.

Then there is Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed Islam, known as Madobe, who is the leader
of the Ras Kamboni Movement that is allied with the Transitional Federal

Madobe is favoured by the Kenya military establishment because he comes to
the table as a commander with troops, while Gandi is a politician with good
business connections.

Managing local politics in Kismayu could easily see Kenya getting sucked
into proxy fights with regional powers such as Ethiopia and Eritrea that
have traditionally characterised the conflict in Somalia.

There is also the risk of getting entangled in clan politics that could
easily turn the groundswell of support for Kenya by ordinary Somalis as a
liberator and turn it into a foreign occupier.

In order to walk the fine line between invader and liberator, the Kenyan
military has been taking a very cautious approach of turning over towns that
have been captured to the local communities through the Transitional
National Government.

However, when it comes to the port of Kismayu, the situation might turn
tricky fast.

Mr Ahmed however downplays the potential conflict with Kenya over the
establishment of the governing authority in Jubaland, claiming that Ethiopia
has a good working relationship with both Gandi and Madobe.

However, even the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

A few days after the Kenyan incursion, Sheik Sharif threw a spanner in the
works when he opposed Kenya's military campaign. Everyone seems to have been
caught by surprise, and the Kenya government wrote to the TGF to demand an

There was speculation that Sharif was playing to the Somali nationalist
gallery, privately supporting the Kenya action, but maintaining his national
credibility by publicly opposing it.

There seemed to have been widespread agreement too that Sheik Sharif was
wary that the Kenyans were going to instal a regional government dominated
by the Ogadeni clan in Kismayu, and that this would only create a Jubaland
or Azania state that would operate like Puntland or Somaliland, and entrench
the partition of Somalia.

Ethiopian hand

Some commentators saw the secret hand of Ethiopia, which was alleged to fear
that Kenya's Ogadeni proxy, with the lucrative Kismayu port and its revenues
in its control, would back the Ogadeni National Liberation Front (ONLF),
which is seeking to break away from Ethiopia and join a dreamed of Greater

However, Ethiopia's ambassador Ahmed denies the latter, telling The
EastAfrican that he and other mission officials in Nairobi "talk regularly
to. Gandi, the Nairobi-based Ogadeni leader and governor-in-waiting, who is
likely to take over in Kismayu."

He also said the majority of the Ogadeni are in Ethiopia, and they are
leading lights in the politics of Ethiopia's Somali State.

However, diplomats close to Sharif said a Jubaland or Azania state is the
least of his worries.

Rather, it is his view of the role of Al Shabaab and the period after the
one-year extension of the TFG extension, that is influencing his remarks on
the Kenya campaign.

As for Kampala, it was President Yoweri Museveni who managed to get Somali
groups to agree to extend the term of the TFG, which was expiring in August,
by a year.

The international community, which initially opposed the extension, were on
the spot once the Somalis agreed. Besides Uganda, which has the bulk of the
troops in Amisom, made the argument for extension to the international
community primarily as something that the peacekeeping forces needed to
consolidate the gains they and the TFG forces were making against Al Shabaab
in the Mogadishu region.

Sharif, the diplomats say, is "happy to see the Shabaab expelled from
Mogadishu. But he is not ready to see it defeated."

This is because, they say, his plan was to use the Shabaab to continue his
stay in power when the extension expires next year.

The plan, they say, would involve Al Shabaab calling for a ceasefire, then
entering into talks with Sharif, on the basis of which a new transitional
government with him at the head would be formed - and he would thus get
another term without an election.

Sharif's plan, if that is what it is, seems to be unravelling.

Al Shabaab has reportedly asked for a truce, although this must be seen as a
move by the Somali and less hardline faction, not the foreign faction of the
militant organisation, who want to preserve some of their spoils around

The one thing that all Ethiopian, Kenyan, Ugandan, Burundian and Amisom
officials The EastAfrican spoke to seem to agree on, though, is that if
Sharif or the TFG embrace the Shabaab, then it is over for him. He would
likely be ousted from power in seconds.

Turkish connection

In the meantime, Sharif and other players in Somalia are moving away from
their traditional friends and allies in the Middle East, toward Turkey.

Turkey's role, diplomats say, is one of the factors that make this moment in
Somalia ripe for peace.

Turkey is rising as the new Muslim power in the world, and unlike the
theocracies in the Middle East, it is eager to showcase the "modern" face of
Islam, to show that a country can be Muslim and be a democracy, with free
markets, full rights for women, and play a role in the world without a
persecution or victim complex.

Its involvement in Somalia would help more secular and moderate elements to

Secondly, despite the continuing attacks in Somalia by unmanned US drones,
this time it is the French who are playing a greater role in the Kenya

For starters, Gandi is seen as "France's man." He is one of the very few
Somalis who speak fluent French and is married to a Frenchwoman. In the past
nearly 10 years that he has lived in Nairobi, most of his costs have been
paid for, a source told The EastAfrican, with "French money."

France has assumed a very aggressive, and equally controversial role in

It was very forward in using its military to help rebels oust Laurent Gbagbo
from power in Ivory Coast in April this year, after the strongman lost
elections to rival current president Alassane Ouattara, but refused to hand
over power, leading a resumption of civil war.

France also assumed a high profile in the Nato bombing of the Libyan
dictator Muammar Gaddafi's embattled regime, to aid the rebels of the
National Transitional Council. Gaddafi was captured, and very quickly killed
in a gruesome incident by rebels in his hometown and stronghold of Sirte,
just over two weeks ago.

France now seems to have turned its attention to East Africa. President
Nicolas Sarkozy became the first French leader of the past 20 years to bury
with the hatchet with Rwanda's ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front.

The RPF blames French forces who were in Rwanda for collusion with Hutu
extremists in the 1994 genocide, in which nearly one million Rwandans, most
of them Tutsi, were killed.

French authorities, on the other hand, had long blamed the RPF, alleging
they shot down the plane carrying then Rwanda president Juvenal Habyarimana
and Burundi's Cyprian Ntaryamira over Kigali in 1994, setting off the last
deadly phase of the genocide.

Not only has Sarkozy visited Rwanda and extended an olive branch, but Kagame
too went to Paris.

France is seen as more likely to be willing to soil its hands in Somalia
than the Americans, who have preferred to use proxies and drones, since
their invasion of Somalia in 1992 ended in disaster and humiliation.

This is particularly important for Kenya, as it will need someone who is
willing to share the bill for what looks set to be a drawn-out and expensive

As Kenya's military campaign in Somalia clocks two weeks, the major cause of
concern among diplomats, military and intelligence experts is starting to
turn from taking over the port of Kismayu to how to manage the aftermath.

As Kenya's military campaign in Somalia clocks two weeks, the major cause of
concern among diplomats, military and intelligence experts is starting to
turn from taking over the port of Kismayu to how to manage the aftermath.


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Received on Tue Nov 29 2011 - 08:15:16 EST
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