Monday, June 25, 2012
The Kenyan military appears well on its course to clearing Al-Shabaab from the strongholds near the border that the militants have held since 2006.
But the question which hangs over the whole enterprise is: Who will fill the void left by Al-Shabaab?
Are the administrations being installed in the areas liberated from the militants strong enough to resist the militants once Kenyans pull out?
And what is Kenya’s long-term objective when its surprise incursion into Somalia comes to an end?
A tour of the areas from which the Shabaab have been pushed out and interviews with local players offers a broad outline of the central idea behind the military offensive.
The mission — long denied by Kenya — is to create a semi-autonomous zone similar to Puntland in much of southern Somalia, from which the Shabaab cannot operate with a free hand near Kenya’s border.
Under this vision, the region would be controlled by whomever the elders of the dominant Mohamed Zuber clan pick to be their leader.
Kenya appears to have succeeded in luring to its side some of the key power players in southern Somalia, especially the former Islamic Courts Union chief in the region, Sheikh Ahmed Madobe, and one of the main generals in the Somali National Army, Brig Gen Ismael Sahardid.
That leadership would head a government of a federal unit near the Kenyan border, with its headquarters in Kismayu. It is a strategy that carries both risks and benefits.
But this approach is likely to face resistance from whoever emerges as the president of the whole of Somalia once elections are held at the end of the transitional period in August.
That could raise the spectre of conflict between the centre and the emerging semi-autonomous regions such as the one in the south and others that exist such as Galmudug and Puntland further north.
To adopt federalism
According to Sheikh Madobe, the head of Ras Kamboni Brigade, which has been fighting alongside the Kenyans, there is no alternative but for Somalia to adopt federalism.
“We have fought for 24 years because of the problems that began in Mogadishu. I don’t think we will now go back to absolute central control by Mogadishu.
“We can have a central government there but with majimbo that allows people to make their own decisions.”
Brig Gen Sahardid sounds a more cautious note. He says Somalia’s problems began when people felt that resources were being dominated by Mogadishu.
But he says the question of the degree of federalism Somalia will adopt should be left to the constitution drafters.
If the south comes into confrontation with Mogadishu, it would mean that Kenya by extension could be sucked into a wider conflict. The most important question for the Kenyan security establishment is what becomes of Al-Shabaab.