In a context of late capitalism, what to make of Kenya's confusing adventure
Posted Sunday, January 1 2012 at 13:03
Kenya's invasion of Somalia coincided with a number of other domestic
conflicts: Rearguard contestation of the new Constitution, agitation in
labour markets, dramatic demolitions of rich and poor citizen's homes, and a
secessionist movement at the Coast.
The radical departure from the nation's foreign policy appeared to be one of
those defining moments - except for the fact that two months after the army
entered Somalia, it still lacks clear definition.
If anything, it's downright confusing. Other military interventions in
Somalia since 1993 only aggravated the country's unstable internal
The liberation of southern Somalia will only free Al Shabaab to pursue the
strategy advocated by Fazul Mohammed before his demise at a Mogadishu
roadblock: Go underground and resume attacking enemy targets across the
Hence the question: Why go to "war" now? Does Kenya's invasion of Somalia on
October 18 signify a tipping point in the Horn of Africa's power relations,
does it hide more familiar motives, or are there other factors at work here?
The first hypothesis invokes the "tipping point" concept articulated by
complexity theorists and popularised by Malcolm Gladwell. Analysts noticed
that although a system often remains rigid in the face of conventional
drivers of change, this is only a prelude to the accumulation of feedback,
which at a certain "point," precipitates a wave of cascading forces that
sweep over and either break up or fundamentally reconfigure the system.
The collapse of Syad Barre's government was such an event, resulting in the
state of Somalia reverting to its component parts - clans and sub-regions.
The outcome, often treated as a distinctively Somali deviation from the
international system of states, was only an extreme permutation on similar
developments across the "crescent of crisis." The trend resurfaced in
northern Uganda, eastern Congo, South Sudan, Darfur, Eritrea, southern
Ethiopia, the Ogaden, and areas of Kenya.
The big picture includes the rise of the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other
Islamist insurgencies. Al Shabaab's decline, in contrast, conforms with a
larger pattern signifying their inexorable decline.
The resurgence of people power exemplified by events on the Arab street is a
more evolved reaction to governmental malfeasance and the influence of
long-entrenched political and economic elites.
The success of North African religious parties at the polls is more about
equitable fiscal management than anti-Western ideology.
These developments militate against viewing the invasion through the
war-on-terror optic. Valid answers require we ask the right questions. For
example: After several days of meetings with sundry government agencies and
departments during his 1978 visit to Washington D.C, Barre turned to his
aides and asked, "Can anyone tell me who really is in charge here?" Barre's
dilemma in Washington presaged a similar inability of world leaders to
understand developments in post-state Somalia.
Who are the bad guys? The real question was and still is what as in what are
the forces driving the turbulence engulfing our shrinking planet? This
"what" includes accelerated demographic growth in the developing world,
climate change, structural poverty amid widening economic inequality,
industrial nations' quest to secure future supplies of energy and vital
resources, and the increasing ubiquity of ICT and global media.
The blowback generated by these factors explains why various social
movements, ethnic coalitions, and armed rebels are, after decades of
repressive and exclusionary governance, choosing to either capture the
state, to de-link from it, or otherwise seek greater control over their
resources and lives.
The post-1991 socio-cultural pathologies witnessed in Somalia are, to a
large degree, the product of self-interested interference in the nation's
internal affairs. Economic interests underpin the resilience of Somalia's
Salafi activists and pirates.
The persistence of stateless regions where autonomous entities like Islamist
insurgents, ethnic militias, and criminal syndicates threaten and prey upon
the international order represents a tipping point of its own.
The messy wars, insurgencies, and lawlessness erupting during the new
millennium are the flip side of the neoliberal economic policies responsible
for unleashing waves of international capital and commercialisation across
the planet. The global agents of this "late capitalism," which Marx
described as the stage where "the only thing that counts is money," range
from governments and warlords to corporations and drug cartels.
Africa is the last frontier for many natural resources required by the
industrial world, but the patchwork of lawless regions across the greater
Horn of Africa raises the risk for the investment needed to access and
Taming Somalia is part of a grander project that includes facilitating
international access to oil, minerals, and large tracts of land.
In an expose sub-titled White Collar War Crimes, Black African Fall Guys,
investigative journalist Keith Harmon Snow links names like Pierre Falcon,
Marc Rich, John Bredenkamp and other notorious fixer-entrepreneurs to the
alphabet soup of militias terrorising Central Africa over the past decade.
The host of more respectable actors whom he also implicates obliterates any
distinction between white hats and black hats.
Is the new Uganda-Ethiopia-Kenya troika likely to promote the pacification
of the Horn's large swathes and pockets of stateless territory? Kenya's
ambivalent intervention was defensible from many perspectives; but when
viewed from the prism of late capitalism, it appears to be more about other
The Islamic Courts Union and Al Shabaab succeeded by negating the pull of
Somalia's clans; restoring this dynamic is hardly likely to catalyse the
pent-up forces of system change. Don't expect much good to come out of the
creation of Jubaland and balkanisation of the territory by neighbouring
This end game looks like a return to square one for the majority of poor
The appeal of Islamist radicalism peaked in 2003. The red in tooth and claw
US neo-con inspired foreign policy countering it expired with the May 1
mission that terminated Osama Bin Laden. Back in Kenya, military
intervention is providing a convenient excuse for dodging burning domestic
This region's real war is against political impunity and failed governance,
not feeding the cascading forces that may become a tsunami reconfiguring the
map of East Africa. Kenya appeared to be making progress on the former front
before the October 18 diversion.
Paul Goldsmith is a researcher based in Meru, Kenya
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Received on Sun Jan 01 2012 - 17:46:22 EST