History–Kenyatta, the Kenyan military and GSU; origins of U.S. military assistance

From 1975 intelligence briefing for President Gerald Ford’s Nation Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft:

2. Nairobi has traditionally maintained one of the smaller armies in sub-Saharan Africa, (see table). The Kenyan leaders — especially President Kenyatta — have not wanted a large standing army. Tribal considerations have been a major factor in this decision. The army has long been the only significant institution in Kenya not under direct control of the Kikuyu, Kenyatta’s tribe. Kenyatta, however, has been gradually but effectively changing the balance to favor the Kikuyu through reorganizations and promotions. Apparently as a counterweight to the army, Kenyan leaders also have made sure that the elite paramilitary General Service Unit remains heavily armed, mobile, and dominated by the Kikuyu.

3. The Kenyans have in the past been able to take some comfort in a mutual defense pact with Ethiopia and a long-standing tacit agreement with the UK that provides for British assistance on request in the event of major internal trouble or an external attack on Kenya. Nairobi now realizes that the chances of Ethiopian assistance have been diminished by Addis Ababa’s internal instability, its problems with Somalia, and by troubles with insurgencies in Eritrea and other provinces. Nairobi also believes, rightly in our view, that it can no longer count on British assistance in the event of an emergency.

[Map of the Horn of Africa]

The Kenya-Uganda Balance

4. Relations between Kenya and Uganda, never smooth since Idi Amin came to power in 1971, have reached their nadir in the last few months. In February, Amin laid claim to part of western Kenya. Nairobi responded by stimulating a series of virulent anti-Amin demonstrations and a boycott at Kenya’s harbors of goods destined for Uganda.

5. The Kenyans later eased the boycott, but imposed a number of economic restrictions on Kampala. They cut in half Uganda’s fuel allotment from the Nairobi refinery and are requiring cash payment for petroleum products and other goods. The sanctions appear to be hurting the Ugandan economy. This may have provoked the mercurial Amin into launching some cross-border forays by helicopter -borne Ugandan troops this month — allegedly in search of rustled cattle. Amin has followed this up with verbal threats against Kenya that he has linked to criticism of Secretary Kissinger’s trip to Africa and charges of collusion between Washington and Nairobi.

6. Other factors have contributed to tensions between Kenya and Uganda. Nairobi newspapers have frequently published stories of alleged atrocities by Uganda perpetrated against Kenyans. Such stories have recently gained increased credibility among Kenyans by the well publicized disappearance in Kampala a few months ago of a Kenyan student, now widely presumed to have died at the hands of Ugandan security police.

7. Kenyan leaders have long been uneasy about Amin’s erratic behavior. Their concerns have been heightened by Amin’s accumulation of Soviet weapons, by the presence of Soviet advisers in Uganda, and by Amin’s ties to radical Arab states and Somalia. Kenya is concerned that Amin might make some supportive military move if Mogadiscio instigated a renewal of insurgency in northeast Kenya — it supported such an effort in the 1960s — or ordered the Somali army into action against Ethiopia or Kenya.

8. Amin is probably planning to keep alive the threat of additional cross-border raids to keep Nairobi off balance and to emphasize for domestic consumption the “threat” to Uganda. The Kenyans are nervous over reports that Amin has been stirring up his senior officers with threats to “crush Kenyatta.” Nairobi fears that the likelihood of some erratic move by Amin — a terrorist incident, an assassination attempt against Kenyatta, or the seizure of some Kenyan territory — will increase when Amin ends his term as chairman of the Organization of African Unity in July. Our judgment is that these concerns in Nairobi are exaggerated, but we cannot completely rule out such actions because of Amin’s personality.

9. The Kenyans are being careful not to push Amin too far publicly. President Kenyatta has returned the two Ugandan helicopters and several soldiers captured during the recent incursions, although he has privately issued a stern warning to Amin. Nairobi may ease the current economic restrictions once it feels it has made its point. Amin is already complaining loudly about a fuel shortage, and the Kenyans are probably wary about giving him grounds for justifying some military move by claiming he is being economically strangled.

10. Nonetheless, Nairobi has recently begun providing limited covert support for a group of Ugandan exiles in Kenya who have been plotting the overthrow of Amin. The group does not appear well organized, and the effort could backfire on Nairobi by providing justification for Amin to take counteraction against Kenya. For example, Amin might respond to any Kenyan-supported attempt to unseat him with a greater show of force on the border. In such a case, a major border incident could arise from a miscalculation by either side.

11. Kenyan concerns about Amin are compounded by his overwhelming superiority both in weapons and number of troops. Although Kenyan units are better trained and disciplined than Ugandan forces, Kenyan leaders are uneasy over an official assessment questioning the will of the army to defend the nation’s borders. Some army officers are concerned that the attention Nairobi is paying to Uganda will divert it from what they see as the far more serious Somali threat.

12. Recognizing its military inferiority, Kenya has approached the US and other potential sources for military assistance, especially aircraft. (Kenya continues, however, to turn down Soviet offers of military assistance.) Kenya has tried to interest the British in providing troops or aircraft for a joint exercise or some other show of force, preferably near the border, but London apparently has turned Nairobi down.

.  .  .  .

The Horn of Africa

15. Kenya’s policy toward the Horn of Africa countries continues to be marked by an alliance with Ethiopia, its partner in a 13-year-old defense pact, and by a deep distrust of Somalia, which claims about one fifth of Kenya as well as a large part of Ethiopia and all of the neighboring FTAI. Kenya supports Paris’ announced intention to grant independence to the FTAI, and has called for OAU and UN guarantees for the independence and territorial integrity of the state.

16. The likelihood of military conflict between Ethiopia and Somalia over the FTAI has sharpened Kenya’s worries about its security and the intentions of the Mogadiscio government. Kenya fears it would be drawn into such a conflict because of its defense pact with Addis Ababa.

17. Nairobi also believes that a successful Somali takeover of the FTAI would encourage Mogadiscio to reassert its claims to the northeastern part of Kenya inhabited primarily by ethnic Somalis and to press a new insurgency effort there. The Kenyans already suspect that Amin’s recent claims to parts of Kenya were made in collusion with Somali President SIAD in an effort to keep the Nairobi government off balance. We have no hard evidence to support the Kenyan suspicions, but relations between Amin and SIAD are relatively close.

Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for Africa, Box 3, Kenya. Secret; Noforn; Nocontract; Orcon. Prepared jointly by the Central Intelligence Agency, The Defense Intelligence Agency, and the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Sent to Scowcroft on May 7 by B.E. Layton, Acting National Intelligence Officer for South and Southeast Asia and Africa, Central Intelligence Agency.

Comparison Table of Military Forces

Somalia  Kenya  Uganda

Air Force
Personnel 750 760 2,000
Bombers 3 6 None
Jet Fighters 50 3 68
SAM Battalions 4 None Unknown
Helicopters 12 None 9
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5 thoughts on “History–Kenyatta, the Kenyan military and GSU; origins of U.S. military assistance

  1. Pingback: So what does the history of Kenya’s military and GSU from the Kenyatta era mean now going into the 2012 elections? « AfriCommons Blog

  2. Pingback: “Competition for Military Superiority” between Uganda and Kenya not a sign of political maturity | AfriCommons Blog

  3. Pingback: Kenyan Election Violence: why would anyone expect the Kenyan Police to play a positive role in March 2013? | AfriCommons Blog

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