Our presence in Somalia is seen no different from the Russian or American presence in Afghanistan. And, like in Afghanistan, the hostilities will never end.
It was a little exciting to hear the President’s war cry against the al-Shabaab the other day. It reminded me of a similar war cry by the President’s father, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, against dictator Idi Amin who claimed part of Kenya as Ugandan territory. But weighing the reasons for Kenya Defence Forces remaining in Somalia against the arguments for them to leave, I would say that the President’s war cry was more emotional than rational.
Somalia is Africa’s Afghanistan. It is a complex society with intricate under-lying dynamics that most foreigners do not understand. Russia and America discovered similar complexities when they invaded Afghanistan. It gets more complicated every day until you cannot remember why you invaded them in the first place.
The one thing to understand about Somalia is that, left on their own, they can engage in ruthless inter-clan wars. But when an outsider engages in the fight, they forget why they were fighting and gang up against the foreigner.
The Somali Nation abhors foreign domination for whatever reason and will put their differences aside to fight it. That is what they did to America on October 4, 1993 in what is known as the “Black Hawk down”. American soldiers trying to arrest warlord Mohamed Farrah Aideed were attacked by militia men and the general population. The ordeal left 18 American men dead and 70 wounded.
No one knows this better than Ethiopia. Ethiopia has fought Somalia over many years and has learnt many lessons about the country. One of the lessons is to go in, complete your mission, and get out. When Ethiopia invaded Somalia and rescued Mogadishu from the Islamists, they handed the city to the African Union forces and withdrew back to Ethiopia. Ethiopia would never agree to get bogged down in Somalia.
Although the Kenyan forces rescued Kismayu, they are bogged down in argument over who it should be handed over to. The Somalia Transitional Government wants it, but it is being said that Kenya prefers to hand it over to Jubaland, an aspiring secession government setting up in Somalia.
A new civil war is likely to break out regarding this issue and the Kenya Defence Forces will have to stay in to support the nascent government of Jubaland. Then Somalia will become our Afghanistan.
Further, it is always the best practice not to get involved in your neighbour’s domestic problems. The fighting could spill over into your own house. When the United Nations Security Council first approved an allied African force against Somalia, in Resolution 1725, it was clearly stated that none of Somalia’s neighbours will be members of that force. I do not know when this resolution was amended, international law experts are better informed than me on this, but there was clearly good reasoning right there.
Then there is the religious question. Ninety-nine per cent of Somalia citizens are Muslims. Somalia is not a declared Islamic state but its religious identity is undeniable. When armies from countries with largely Christian identities march into Somalia, religious questions are thrown around and become a rallying point for Islamic fundamentalists.
The presence of our troops in Somalia attracts the attention of Islamic extremists all over the world. It is little wonder that al-Shabaab was able to raise international volunteers against Kenya. Little wonder too that some of the grenade attacks in Kenya have been conducted by indigenous African Muslims who are citizens of Kenya. Al-Shabaab propaganda has turned the invasion to save Somalia into a religious issue.
Our troop’s presence in Somalia is seen no different from the Russian or American armies’ presence in Afghanistan. And, like in Afghanistan, the hostilities will never end. I miss the days when we were truly non-aligned.
The writer is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya