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Kenya: Time We Tried a Policy Shift On Somalia

by Ahmed Aideed

The rapid unravelling of Somalia calls for urgent review of our diplomatic strategies towards that country.


Kenya briefly went to war with Somalia to safeguard its territorial integrity in the 1960s. It fought a decades-long guerrilla war with the Shifta, a remnant of the irredentist interests of Somalia in the northern districts, hosted the largest share of refugees fleeing clan-based fratricide, experienced an unprecedented influx of small arms causing great security problems in Nairobi and other towns, and used over Sh2 billion on the Somali peace talks.

All these sacrifices seem to be in vain. The government inaugurated in Nairobi following the theatrical Mbagathi peace process is rapidly becoming irrelevant. Given the strategic importance of Somalia to Kenya, our Government needs to explore why it should continue what is obviously a poorly thought-out and poorly executed policy on Somalia.

Where is our Government failing? What are the root causes of this perennial inability to advance our interests vis a vis Somalia, both in terms of ensuring a stable and responsible government, and a structural solution to the obviously resilient irredentism in Somalia?

Heavily-armed militias

Despite hosting the peace talks for over two years and spending a huge amount of our scarce resources, Kenya let the Ethiopians run the show from the sidelines and ensure a man of their own choice was installed as president.

Mr Abdullahi Yussuf's links with the Ethiopians may be news to our foreign officials, but it should explain why he could not be transplanted from Mbagathi to Mogadishu.

The status quo serves Ethiopia well. An anarchic Somalia will be unable to host the myriads of heavily-armed militias opposed to the political leadership in Ethiopia, including the secessionist Ogadenia fighters.

On the other hand, Kenya has a lot to lose if chaos in Somalia continues. We will continue hosting a disproportionate number of refugees, and illegal arms will continue streaming in through the long, porous border, thus complicating the already serious security problems in our urban areas.

If one factors in the question of resource pressures and future political implication, one will appreciate the need to rethink our policy immediately.

The recent establishment of a Contact Group in New York is yet another failure of our diplomats. Despite the obvious strategic importance of Kenya in resolving the Somalia crisis, the Bush administration decided to sideline Kenya and involve countries such as Tanzania.

Sometimes, a policy change requires personnel change. Almost all those involved in Somali issues are remnants of the Kanu administration. The politicians, civil servants, and even the current ambassador to Somalia, all served under Moi. It is extremely hard to institute a different mind-set in such a group. We have ample talent that can come up with policy change.

If the current group at Old Treasury are valuable to the Government, they can serve in different capacities. We need fresh blood with competence to rethink our policy on Somalia - if not the entire foreign policy.

How can the Government engage with the Islamic Courts given their de facto control of Mogadishu and powerful influence across the country? Is it logical to fail to influence developments in that country? How is the Kenya Government responding to Ethiopia's overt military engagement in Somalia and Eritrea's support for the Islamic Courts?

Given that another wave of refugees is guaranteed in the event of conflict escalation in Somalia, is our Government not required to adopt a more proactive policy than it has right now?

Kenya's national interests

In view of the entrenched resistance to Ethiopia's interference with Somali affairs and the debacle of the US support for the defeated warlords, is support for Ethiopia advisable? Why should we leave all the diplomatic processes to such countries as Sudan, Egypt, Yemen and the US? Are they going to ensure our interests are addressed?

I hope this government wakes up to the gathering dangers and embark on a process that will safeguard Kenya's national interests vis a vis Somalia, and that such policies will not primarily be based on the vested interests of other governments.

Ahmed Aideed
Nairobi, Kenya

Mr Aideed is an analyst on Somali affairs based in Namanga.

The opinions contained in this article are solely those of the writer, and in no way, form or shape represent the editorial opinions of "Hiiraan Online"

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