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[Dehai-WN] Foreignaffairs.com: Why Kenya Invaded Somalia-The Opening of an Aggressive New Chapter

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Wed, 30 Nov 2011 21:51:46 +0100

Why Kenya Invaded Somalia


The Opening of an Aggressive New Chapter

 <http://www.foreignaffairs.com/author/daniel-branch> Daniel Branch

November, 2011

 
<http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/136670/daniel-branch/why-kenya-invad
ed-somalia?page=show> Article Summary and Author Biography

Nairobi sent troops into Somalia last month ostensibly to root out Islamist
militants. But the real reason Kenya went to war has more to do with the
restless ambitions of its own military, which is eager to abandon the
country's largely peaceful history.

DANIEL BRANCH is Associate Professor of African History at the University of
Warwick. His is the author, most recently, of Kenya: Between Hope and
Despair 1963-2011.

Americans should not have been surprised by Obama's recent announcement that
he would send a small number of troops to Uganda. This is only the latest
chapter in a feeble, decades-long U.S. attempt to take out Joseph Kony and
his militia.

When Kenya dispatched some 2,000 troops
<http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-15331448> across the border into
Somalia on October 16, officials in Nairobi argued that they'd had little
choice. After a series of cross-border raids by the Somalia-based Islamist
militant group al Shabaab, Kenya's internal security minister, George
Saitoti, said, "Kenya has been and remains
<http://allafrica.com/stories/201110101583.html> an island of peace, and we
shall not allow criminals from Somalia, which has been fighting for over two
decades, to destabilize our peace." A recent spate of kidnappings of
tourists and aid workers inside Kenya, Saitoti and others said, was the
final straw. With its largely peaceful post-independence history, Kenya has
built itself into a regional economic powerhouse, and a serious threat to
that prosperity would have to be countered. Accordingly, Nairobi invaded its
neighbor to secure its eastern border and to
<http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-15499534> create a buffer zone
inside Somalia.

But this case for war is less than convincing, as it is difficult to argue
that the threat from al Shabaab is substantially worse than it has been in
years past. Kenyan troops have
<http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/136670/daniel-branch/%22http:/allafr
> armed, trained, and organized proxy forces to fight al Shabaab on the
border since at least 2009, albeit to no great effect. For at least three
years, al Shabaab has
<http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/136670/daniel-branch/%22http:/allafr
ica.com/stories/2008103104> threatened armed attacks on Kenya;
<http://allafrica.com/stories/200911031069.html> cross-border raids by al
Shabaab fighters have been a fact of life in northeastern Kenya for some
time. In fact, by some estimates, the overall threat from al Shabaab has
declined in recent months: the UN's envoy to Somalia said in August that
Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers had actually
<http://www.voanews.com/english/news/africa/UN-Al-Shabab-Weakened-Fragmented
-127476593.html> weakened the al Qaeda-affiliated militants.

Nairobi's incursion into Somalia was spurred less by the threat of al
Shabaab and more by domestic military and political dynamics. Kenya will
celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of its independence in 2013, and so far
the country has never once gone to war with another state. But recently, as
Washington has funnelled counterterrorism funds into East Africa and
underwritten a stronger Kenyan military, the country's military has grown
more confident and combative.

In recent years, however, Kenya's armed forces have been trained and
equipped to do much more than parade on national holidays.

The antagonistic shift suggests that Kenya could be opening a new, more
aggressive chapter in its history. Since independence in 1963, Kenyan
soldiers have been largely content to collect comfortable salaries in return
for their non-involvement in politics. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the
good life in the military became a
<http://allafrica.com/stories/201111090249.html> valuable source of
patronage to ministers and other public officials. Recruitment and promotion
was based on political connections, ethnicity, and loyalty, rather than
merit. As a result, with the exceptions of a brief mutiny in 1964 and a
failed coup in 1982, Kenya suffered none of the overthrows and militaristic
rule that blighted African states such as Uganda and Nigeria.

In recent years, however, Kenya's armed forces have been trained and
equipped to do much more than parade on national holidays. From Washington's
perspective, the rise of Islamism in the Horn of Africa put Kenya on the
front lines in the global fight against terrorism. The State Department
increased <http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/terror/R41473.pdf> counterterrorism
funding to Nairobi from $4.5 million in 2006 to an estimated $8 million in
2011. Senior officers regularly travel to the United States for
counterterrorism and counterinsurgency training; such instruction has become
a core part of the curriculum at the Kenya Military Academy.

Beyond military circles, the incursion has also turned out to be quite
popular with the Kenyan public. "I can't recall any action this government
has ever undertaken that has received such unalloyed public support,"
veteran Nairobi-based journalist
<http://allafrica.com/stories/201110230159.html> Gitau Warigi wrote
recently. Public criticism has been virtually nonexistent. To the contrary,
politicians are grandstanding. "This is a war," Kenyan Prime Minister Raila
Odinga said late last month. "We will fight until the enemy is defeated."
The boasting stands in sharp contrast to Odinga's past criticism of the
previous government's aggressive counterterrorism approach.

But the war in Somalia, and the public's rally behind it, comes at a
particularly vulnerable political moment in Kenya. Elections are scheduled
for next year, and opportunists are trying to take advantage of a vacuum.
President Mwai Kibaki is retiring. Two of the men once counted among his
most likely successors, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, are awaiting an
announcement by the International Criminal Court. In January they will find
out if war crimes charges against them relating to the post-election
violence of early 2008 will go to a full trial.

Ambitious second-tier politicians, such as
<http://allafrica.com/stories/201110311888.html> George Saitoti, the
minister for internal security who helped bolster the case for invading
Somalia, hope that tapping the patriotic fervor will further their own
political aims. But Saitoti's maneuverings are dangerous. Saitoti is
responsible, too, for the internal security crackdown that accompanied the
invasion -- in recent weeks, Saitoti's forces pressed into the country's
Muslim and Somali ethnic communities, arresting supposed al Shabaab
sympathizers. Exact numbers of arrests are unknown, but efforts to crack
down on groups like the <http://allafrica.com/stories/201110250171.html>
Mombasa Republican Council, a vehicle for grievances held by coastal Muslims
with little apparent connection to al Shabaab, suggest that the police are
applying little discretion in using force.

Muslims in Kenya already have good reason to feel marginalized. Between 1963
and 1967, the new Kenyan nation-state fought a low-intensity war against
Somali secessionists. Since independence, a lack of public investment in
health and education and inequalities in access to land have left many
Muslims along the coast feeling alienated. Meanwhile, Somalia's decades of
instability have sent shock waves across the border as guns and armed gangs
flowed into Kenya. Nairobi has often met such threats with coercive and
repressive measures, such as imposing movement restrictions against Kenya's
own Somali population. In return, Muslim communities have a long-standing
suspicion of the Kenyan state and its motives. In recent years, the rising
influence of Christian evangelism has introduced overt Islamophobia into the
<http://www.opendemocracy.net/daniel-branch/kenya%E2%80%99s-referendum-%E2%8
0%9Cin-name-of-god-no%E2%80%9D> public debate.

All of this lends popular support to a war against Somalia today, but such
enthusiasm may prove to be short-lived. The deaths of Kenyan soldiers or
revenge attacks by al Shabaab on Kenyan soil would spark unease among the
general public, which is unused to military action and its violent
repercussions. Kenya's leaders have set no deadline for withdrawal -- yet
there is little reason to expect that the Kenyans will be able to succeed in
stabilizing any part of southern Somalia where many others, including, most
recently, the Ethiopians, failed just three years ago.

This should give the leadership in Nairobi pause. Kenya has spent much of
its first 50 years of independence worrying about its own problems. But
there are now signs that the country is prepared to turn its economic
influence into greater diplomatic strength. For example, Nairobi has
threatened diplomatic sanctions against another of East Africa's pariah
states, Eritrea, in response to its support of al Shabaab. Moreover, there
are other far more delicate issues of border security than just Somalia, as
Kenya has long been at odds with Uganda over territorial claims to islands
in Lake Victoria.

From a tactical point of view, it appears that Kenya's troop deployment has
reaped no real benefit. Actual conflict inside Somalia has proved fleeting.
Kenyan forces have engaged in only a handful of direct confrontations with
al Shabaab fighters. More notable were the deaths of five people in the town
of Jilib during the accidental
<http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/136670/daniel-branch/%22http:/www.ms
f.org.uk/MSF_treats> bombing of a refugee camp by the Kenyan Air Force on
October 30. Kenyan military sources insist that the target of the attack was
a nearby al Shabaab base. Kenya's National Cohesion and Integration
Commission, a government body set up to monitor inter-communal relations,
has denounced the <http://allafrica.com/stories/201111070661.html> "fear
mongering" that is likely to "fuel xenophobic attacks" against Somalis
living in Kenya. Nairobi's aggression has seemingly sparked a new backlash
by al Shabaab sympathisers within Kenya:
<http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-15435663> two grenade attacks hit
Nairobi in late October.

Economic regional integration has served Kenya well, but a newly hawkish
foreign policy that jeopardizes domestic stability threatens to undermine
one of Africa's foremost success stories. And while Kenyan troops continue
to march on Somali territory, it is worth remembering that Nairobi plays a
far more important regional role as a hub for trade and infrastructure than
it ever could as a policeman.

 




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