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IN THE LINE OF DUTY - Somalia crisis bad for Kenya

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Kenyan intelligence agencies should be advising the political leadership against allowing the collapse of Somalia’s transitional government. The BBC reports that 20 Cabinet ministers handed tendered in their resignations yesterday.

The Islamic Courts Union is poised to take over, and a radical, theocratic government in our neighbourhood is a definite ‘No Way’. It is in the interests of our national security to prevent any such development, by force, if need be.

Flashback. Somalia becomes independent in 1960, and there is a semblance of democracy for 10 years. And the then President's bodyguard develops a severe case of allergy for his boss’ face and pumps a few bullets into it.

The guard is later hanged but chaos reigns thereafter. The military topples the government and an officer called Siad Barre is proclaimed the President. 

In the meantime, Somalia has gone to war, albeit briefly, with Ethiopia over the most barren of its provinces, Ogaden. That was in 1964 but the two countries reached a cease-fire a few months later.

They resume hostilities in 1978. Ogaden, of course, belongs to Somalia. But at some point, the colonial powers gave the province to Ethiopia and Somalia wants it back.

That would still be fine by me, but Somalia blunders. It also covets Kenya’s northern frontier in its quest to consolidate its kin and their lands into a greater Somalia. 

Somalia cannot afford open war with a militarily stronger Kenya. So it arms Shifta militia to destabilise Kenya’s Northern and Eastern provinces. 

That gets Kenya upset. It signs a pact with Ethiopia and supports Ethiopia’s efforts to contain Somalia. 

Fast-forward. It is late July 2006, and Somalia has seen it all. Siad Barre fled and died in exile, the country was carved into fiefdoms by warlords and the US military came, was seen and humiliated.

Belatedly, Kenya realises that a stable Somalia is vital for its security. So it helps initiate talks that culminate in the selection of a transitional government for Somalia in 2004.

Remember the crowd that flung chairs at one another each other at the Grand Regency, Nairobi, and generally gave a robust show of brotherly love? That was the Somali Government, and the men you saw are the good guys. 

Problem is, most Somalis do not care much for that government, and even more do not recognise its authority. The government is broke and impotent, and anarchy still rules the streets.

Worse still, the new government fails to assert its authority by operating from the capital, Mogadishu. It instead sets up shop in Baidoa, a town of as much political significance as our Magadi; no offence to our salty-beach town.

But what turns the Somali public against their Kenya-endorsed government is that it invites the hated Ethiopians to guard it. True, Somalia has no military or police force, but Ethiopians?

The explosive mixture is complete when the America’s CIA, in an extraordinary display of dubious intellect, openly funds the warlords in their battle against Islamic Courts Union (ICU) for the control of Mogadishu.

The ICU wins, and the warlords are kicked out. The public cheers the courts and, for the first time in 15 years, there is suggestion of law and order in Mogadishu. Now, this is trouble for Kenya.

First, the ICU has expressed its desire to rule Somalia by shariah law. Somalia is 90 per cent Muslim, and the majority would not object to the rule by shariah.

But to achieve this, the ICU must first dislodge the transitional government in Baidoa. 

Intelligence out of Mogadishu indicates that the ICU gets its arms from Eritrea and funds from shadowy groups in Yemen and Saudi-Arabia. Yes; the same groups suspected of funding Al-Qaeda and its derivatives.

Sheikh Hassan Aweys, the de facto leader of the ICU, was head of al-Itihaad al-Islamiya. 

This outfit was reported to hold the Al-Qaeda franchise for East Africa, and it would appear the weapons used in terrorist attacks on Kenyan soil were selflessly donated by this group.

Naturally, the good sheikh denies these allegations but, strangely, I do not feel mollified. What I see here is a case of political opportunism under the guise of religion.

Even that would not be so bad if their brand of opportunism was not so ably championed by leaders of Awey’s background. 

The existence of the ICU as a political force is a clear danger to the security of Kenya.  

There is a genuine possibility that a theocratic Somalia could be used as launch-pad for terrorist attacks in the region. 

And as it with the Arab League, extreme elements, waving the religion banner, resonate positively with the masses, and are likely to win any free elections. And so it could easily be with Somalia.

Think Algeria, where Islamic militants won the elections but the military proper intervened to reinstal the moderates. 

We have a similarly tricky situation where the possible emergence of a next-door theocracy, even legitimised by democratic elections, is not desirable for Kenya.

I smiled when Israel and the rest of the amorphous international community looked on in horror as the Palestinians voted in Hamas to power. On Somalia, I am not smiling.

Put plainly, it is vital for Kenya that no elections are held in Somalia in the near future. Sovereignty and democracy have nothing to do with it; this is about the national security of Kenya and its neighbours.

It is important for Kenya that the government in Baidoa asserts authority over the entire country. If need be, the transitional government must be propped up until it is strong enough to hold its own.

At some point, it may be necessary for Kenya to send troops to stabilise Baidoa. It is cheaper, more subtle but most significantly, an essential preventative measure.  

The alternative is to sit back and wait to invade Somalia after a Taliban government sponsors terror attacks against infidel Kenya and other neighbours. The sad reality here is that democracy may not necessarily be the Magna Carta of freedom and governance. 

The ICU must not rule Somalia.


Mr Murunga is the Business Development Manager, Corporate Technical Services Ltd.

Source: Daily Nation, Nairobi, Kenya

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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