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Waging a secretive war runs the risk of turning Somalia into Iraq

Kenyans hold vigil at Freedom Corner in Nairobi on January 21, 2016 for Kenya Defence Forces soldiers who died in Somalia following an attack by Al-Shabab. The attack has also exposed the fault lines within Amisom. JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

by Rasna Warah
Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The brutal attack by Al-Shabaab militants on the Kenyan Defence Forces based at the El-Adde camp in the Gedo region of Somalia has not only dealt a severe blow to the morale of Kenyan forces serving under Amisom, but has also laid bare how little Kenyans know about what our soldiers are doing in Somalia and under what conditions.

The paucity of official information from the Commander-in-Chief, President Uhuru Kenyatta, and his Defence Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo about the number or identities of the casualties has left many families in a state of deep anxiety.

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It has also denied the Kenyan people from properly mourning their dead.

To date, no state funeral or memorial has been held for the KDF soldiers who have died in Somalia, and it is unlikely that these will be held for those who perished at the El-Adde camp.

Kenyans do not know how to honour their true heroes.

That is why the death last week of Salah Farah, one of the “Mandera heroes”, who shielded Christians during a terrorist attack in December, was barely reported in the media.

Nor were there any condolences sent to the family by senior government officials.

KDF has been justifying its silence on the number of casualties in Somalia on the grounds that releasing details about its military operations and casualties would embolden Al-Shabaab and reduce troop morale.

WEAKNESSES

However, refusal to release such information allows Al-Shabaab to become the main source of such information, which is ridiculous because it allows the terrorist organisation to mould the narrative about its activities according to its own warped agenda.

The recent attack has also re-ignited debate about whether Kenyan forces should continue being dispatched to Somalia and whether it is time for an exit strategy.

The attack has also exposed the fault lines within Amisom.

In June last year, Vanda Felbab-Brown, writing in Foreign Policy magazine, said that despite some success in rooting out Al-Shabaab in many parts of southern and central Somalia, Amisom has been unable to completely vanquish the terrorist organisation as there is a weak command structure within Amisom and little coordination between the different countries whose soldiers are serving under the mission.

She said that offensive operations are decided mostly on a sector basis, with the forces in each area reporting and taking orders from their own capitals, rather than from Amisom.

Because of this fragmented and uncoordinated approach, there is a perception that Amisom is being politically manipulated by troop-producing countries, especially Kenya and Ethiopia, who have geopolitical interests in Somalia.

In my opinion, as countries that share a border with Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia should have never been allowed to serve under Amisom, as doing so presents a huge conflict of interest.

Ethiopia and Kenya should also have been sanctioned for invading Somalia in 2006 and 2011, respectively; both countries should have placed their troops along their respective borders, rather than sending them on a military mission within Somalia.

POLITICAL INTERESTS

Advocates of Kenya’s invasion of Somalia argue that had it not been for the Kenyan forces, Kismayu would still be in the control of Al-Shabaab.

This may be true, but after having captured Kismayu why didn’t the Kenyan forces retreat, as they promised to do, and hand over the port to Amisom?

Why did they insist on staying on re-hatted as Amisom? By staying on, Kenya seems like an occupying, rather than a liberating, force.

Kenya also needs to review its cosy relationship with the Jubbaland administration of its ally Ahmed Madobe, whose Ogaden clan has been blamed for excluding other clans, including minority clans such as the Somali Bantus, from political leadership.

There is also widespread speculation that the Kenyan Somali political elite, which is largely from the Ogaden clan, could be manipulating events taking place in Jubbaland to ensure that political leadership in the region is dominated by the Ogaden.

As we mourn our soldiers privately, if not officially, we must re-think our Somalia strategy.

Waging a secretive and controversial war that seems to have no end in sight runs the risk of turning Somalia into an Iraq, with pro- and anti-government factions using the Kenyan forces as proxies to advance their own clan or personal agendas.


Rasna Warah is a Kenyan writer and editor with more than 20 years of experience. From 1994 till 2009 she worked for the United Nations as editor of the State of the World’s Cities report and Habitat Debate, and has written for a variety of international and regional publications, including the Mail and Guardian, the East African, Cityscapes, State of the World, UN Chronicle and Kwani? She can be reached at [email protected]


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