State should re-think Somalia peace efforts
Saturday, July 06, 2013
Kenya’s strategy in Somalia has always been something of a gamble, with a prudent military approach married to a more risky political arrangement. The success of the former, however, should not blind the Government to the inherent dangers of the latter.
As we warned in the first week of April last year, when this newspaper reported exclusively about differences between Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia over how to bring stability to Somalia, the plan to intervene politically in southern Somalia will complicate the search for stability in the war-torn country and put Kenyan soldiers at risk.
Therefore, all actions on this front must be weighed carefully and with an eye to getting Kenya disentangled from Somalia at the earliest convenience.
A decision to prop up armed militias from a leading clan in the years before ‘Operation Linda Nchi’, the Kenya Defence Forces’ entry into Somalia, created competing centres of power opposed by both Al-Shabaab and the Transitional Federal Government then in power. Internal rivalry among these allies in southern Somalia was a challenge to joint operations against the Al-Qaeda linked terror group.
President Kibaki’s Government managed to walk carefully through the minefields this situation presented, by securing the port city of Kismayu from Islamic militants and rehatting as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia, (Amisom).
Sadly, things have taken a turn for the worse in the months since Al-Shabaab was routed. The power struggles and differences over political strategy risk that risked battlefield progress have been traded for an alleged ‘proxy war’ between Mogadishu-backed militiamen and forces loyal to Ahmed Mohamed Islam, the leader of the Jubaland administration Kenya insisted on creating as a ‘buffer state’.
The fears of Somalia being “carved up into spheres of influence” seems to ring true of at least this part of the country. After a series of confrontations between Somalia’s new national government and KDF, Mogadishu is apparently demanding Kenya’s removal from the region.
Al-Shabaab remnants and clan militias backed by Mogadishu to oppose Jubaland’s leader are also rallying people against Kenya. One of the hot button issues they point to is the alleged harassment of military and government officials sent from Mogadishu. While the details of these matters remain obscured, we trust that Kenyan troops would not violate their rules of engagement under the Amisom mandate and expose themselves and the country to greater political risk from the Jubaland adventure.
Let us not forget the political missteps made so far. One of the strongest criticisms of the Jubaland project was that it was seen as dominated by members of the Ogaden clan. In the final years of the Siad Barre regime, the Ogaden and Marehan controlled the region, but many Harti, Darod, Hawiye, Dir and Rahanweyn have since moved there.
Many in Somalia fear it would produce an administration controlled by Kenya. (It was the opposition to this political strategy that apparently informed the alleged Al-Shabaab plot to assassinate former Defence Minister Yusuf Haji and Deputy Speaker Farah Maalim, who are both Kenyan Somalis from Ogaden sub-clans.
Al-Shabaab members are predominantly from the Hawiye clan.) Today, Hawiye Darod tensions are at play in the battle for the control of Kismayu. In Ethiopia the Meles Zenawi administration was particularly concerned an Ogaden-dominated semi-autonomous state, with a large port, that could support the Ogaden National Liberation Front, which is fighting a secessionist war in Ethiopia.
Despite official statements of support from Horn of Africa nations, Kenya’s incursion into Somalia did not go down well in many capitals. This was partly because there was no diplomatic effort to seek support for the action before it began.
Foreign Affairs minister Moses Wetang’ula led delegations to several countries after the entry of KDF into southern Somalia. This ‘miscalculation’ left Kenya scrambling to manage political differences with its neighbours. Today, actions in Kismayu risk putting the country in similar bind. To avoid the trap being laid by Mogadishu’s proxies, Kenya needs to be in lockstep with its partners in Amisom in its political and military actions in Kismayu.