It’s Time for Kenya to End Its Occupation of Somalia
December 7, 2014 § 6 Comments
Just days after a deadly attack in which the Somali militant group Al Shabaab killed 28 Kenyans on a bus from Mandera, a new raid by the militant group in the town left 32 people dead. In the first attack, Al Shabaab gunmen commandeered a bus leaving Mandera, and separated non-Muslims from Muslims who they then proceeded to shoot dead. The militants said the massacre was in response to Kenyan Muslims being “attacked in places of worship and in their homes.” In the weeks leading to the attack, the Kenyan government had ordered the closure of four mosques in Mombasa, with police shooting one person dead and arresting more than 200 Muslims.
In the second attack the heavily armed Al Shabaab operatives struck at a miners’ camp at dawn, and again separated the non-Muslims from the Muslims before shooting dead and beheading 36 Kenyans. In claiming responsibility for this second attack, Al Shabaab said it was carried out in response to:
(a) “Kenya’s occupation of Muslim lands and their ongoing atrocities therein, such as the recent airstrikes on Muslims in Somalia which caused the death of innocent Muslims and the destruction of their properties and livestock,
(b) As well as the continued suffering of Muslims in Mombasa.
(c) As Kenya… kills innocent Muslims,
(d) Transgresses upon their sanctities and throws them into prisons.”
The militant group went on to promise further attacks, should the Kenyan government fail to address these issues.
A Record of Failures
Since October 2011 when the Kenyan military invaded Somalia, insecurity in the country has spiraled out of control, with attacks that largely target non-Muslims on killing sprees, becoming common occurrences in Nairobi, the coastal region, and parts of North Eastern. Earlier this year, close to 100 non-Muslims in Mpeketoni, Gamba and Hindi areas of the Kenyan coast were killed by Al Shabaab militants.
Following the assault on the Westgate shopping centre in September of last year, which left over 70 dead, the Kenyan government responded by putting forth various security strategies that have since proven to be failures. First, they instituted the ‘Nyumba Kumi’ (know thy neighbor) ten houses initiative. This concept is based on dividing homes into groups of 10, with the household members holding each other accountable by sharing information on any suspicious activity. While appearing neat in theory, the concept proved impotent in foiling the ever-mutating Al Shabaab attacks.
After the Mpeketoni, Gamba and Hindi attacks, the government then instituted Operation Usalama Watch. This involved the large scale state-led ethnic profiling, scapegoating and collective punishment of the entire Somali community for the crimes of a few. During this operation more than 4000 Somalis were arrested and detained at Kasarani stadium in dehumanizing conditions. Rather than improving the security situation, this security sweep touched a raw nerve, exacerbating the already tense relations between the Somali community and the state.
Kenyans Continue to Die
Acting under the umbrella of the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM), a regional military intervention in Somalia that included African soldiers from other western proxy countries and client states, Kenya assisted in pushing Al Shabaab out of Mogadishu. A further push took away Al Shabaab’s control of the port city of Kismayo, which in turn diminished the capacity of the militant group by denying them their core source of revenue. Following this success, the Kenyan government and military were quick to pronounce the defeat of Al Shabaab to Kenyans. But this was a deadly exaggeration.
As we can see from the Mandera attacks, despite its diminished capacity, Al Shabaab has had no problem whatsoever in carrying out attacks in Kenya. If anything, these recent attacks are a sign that, to the militants, Kenya remains vulnerable and open for staging even more “spectacular” attacks.
Moreover, the Al Shabaab strategy of bleeding Kenya through multiple attacks in far-flung vulnerable areas like Mandera will only contribute in making the country look increasingly unsafe to outsiders. As we speak, Kenya’s tourism industry continues to suffer the negative effects of western travel advisories issued following the Mpeketoni, Gamba and Hindi attacks, warning westerners not to travel to certain areas in Kenya due to security concerns.
Ever since Kenya invaded and began its occupation of Somalia, Kenyans from all walks of life – commuters, the poor and rich, miners and policemen, Somali, Kikuyu and Luhya – have all suffered the effects of insecurity. From bomb explosions to grenade attacks, massacres and ambushes – more and more aspects of the daily lives of ordinary Kenyans are being impacted by this violence that only continues to spread. As with previous attacks, the Mandera attacks have left the nation shaken, sowing fear anew in a country that is sadly growing accustomed to sophisticated attacks of murderous brutality.
The attacks by Al Shabaab have also laid bare deeper issues and fundamental problems that Kenyans face, which have nothing to do with the militant group or even the conflict in Somalia:
(a) Politics of fear: The Kenyan political elite thrive on manipulating the public into supporting their harmful policies through scare-mongering and the exaggeration of threats in order to instill fear.
(b) Politics of ethnicity: Even after Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the Mpeketoni attack via live broadcast, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta instead blamed internal politics, dissidents and outlawed groups, claiming that a specific ethnic group had been targeted. This move was characteristic of the polarizing ethnicity that continues to plague Kenya.
(c) An incapable police force: The failure of all the security strategies implemented by the security agencies charged to protect Kenyans is a sign that Kenya’s police force lacks efficient investigative abilities.
(d) An unprofessional and undisciplined army: Following the Westgate massacre, CCTV footage of looting by Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) was released, serving as evidence that the Kenyan military lacks integrity and consequently the capacity to bring about lasting peace to the region.
What Kenya Needs to Do
Even as the perilous Al Shabaab threat looms ever larger in Kenya, the government seems hell-bent on leaving Kenyans vulnerable to more shocking violence. In response to the latest Mandera attack, President Kenyatta addressed the nation saying: “We will not flinch or relent in the war against terrorism in our country and our region.” He then moved to fire Cabinet Secretary for the Interior and Coordination of National Government, Joseph ole Lenku, while accepting the resignation of the head of police, Inspector General David Kimaiyo.
However, this move to change security personnel is just a political sideshow to divert the attention of public from the true cause of the spiraling attacks: Kenya’s continued presence in Somalia. It’s time for Kenyans to realize that it’s not the policy-implementers like Kimaiyo and ole Lenku that are the problem – it’s the policy itself of continued occupation of Somalia.
Firing ole Lenku and having Kimaiyo resign will not solve our grave national security problem. To prevent more Manderas, the Kenyan government must define its Somalia exit plan. All efforts at countering the Al Shabaab security threat must be linked to a clearly defined strategy for exiting Somalia. The current policy of an open-ended stay of KDF in Somalia has only led to mission creep. And now Kenya, once posturing herself as “liberator” has been transformed into an invading occupier.
While some of my fellow Kenyans may find it admirable when our President talks tough, this dogged insistence on remaining in Somalia is not sustainable, given the growing insecurity within our borders. As Kenya’s indifferent politicians continue with their tough stance, and instead use this key national security issue to score political points, Kenyans continue to die. The adventures of KDF in Somalia and every other security measure have not only failed to improve security and stop Al Shabaab attacks, but seem to have worsened the already grave situation. The only way to guarantee the safety and security of all Kenyans is by the Kenyan political leaders mapping out a strategy to end the occupation of Somalia.