After three months it is now quite clear, if it wasn’t always, that Kenya’s military offensive against Al Shabaab across the border and into the Jubbaland region will be of indefinite duration rather than any type of quick strike. The fact that Kenya has sought and obtained UN approval for its forces to be added into the AMISOM “peacekeeping” mandate makes it clear that the Kenyan government does not have intentions to achieve any predetermined goals, declare victory and withdraw.
This creates an important dynamic in regard to the Kenyan election that doesn’t seem to be getting the discussion it deserves. A number of questions: will the heightened security requirements associated with the threat of terrorism from Al Shabaab also help secure the country against election violence? Or will security forces be used to intervene in the campaign instead, as in 2007? Will donors and international institutions supporting the election process be that much more unwilling to challenge electoral misconduct for the sake of perceived “stability”? Will Al Shabaab attempt to disrupt the elections or the campaign, or international support efforts? Will his role in the process enhance the campaign prospects for George Saitoti? What will be the impact on other candidates? What will be the impact on the presidential campaigns’ appeals to Muslim voters and organizations and will there be efforts by candidates to mobilize votes on the basis of religious tensions as well as ethnicity? I could go on and will try to explore this in coming posts.
Somalia: Kenya’s Military Offensive in Somalia
Kenya’s defence minister, Yusuf Haji, has called on the international community to provide logistical and financial support for his country’s on-going military offensive against Al-Shabaab in Somalia, particularly to enable the operation to take over the port-town of Kismayo. In justifying his call, the minister argued that even though Kenya’s Operation Linda Nchi was in response to a provocation by Al-Shabaab, Kenya is acting broadly in the collective interest of advancing international peace and security and fighting terror. It therefore requires the support of the international community in order to meet its objectives. Haji stated that the prime aim of the operation is to create a buffer on the Somali side of the border which should prevent the incursion of armed groups into Kenya. The debates and expectations of taking over Kismayo, in his view, are only imaginary.
The call for resources comes in the wake of developments regarding the United States’ withdrawal from Iraq and the recent United Nations endorsement of the merging of the Kenyan Defence Forces into the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Within this context, there are good chances of Haji’s call being heeded by international actors and stakeholders. The uncertainty concerning the taking of Kismayo, however, raises two key issues. Firstly, in the event that the strategically important town remains untaken it would ensure that Al-Shabaab would remain a strong threat. Furthermore, the group can continually access the necessary resources needed to resist Kenya’s incursion. Secondly, given the expectations that have been built among the public about the taking of Kismayo, any delay or a change in strategy needs to be clearly communicated to Kenyans so as to help sustain public support for Operation Linda Nchi. This will help allay the perception that operational challenges and Kenyan fatalities have prevented the taking of Kismayo.
In a related development, Al-Shabaab is reported to have elevated Sheikh Ahmad Iman Ali, a leader of the Muslim Youth Center in Kenya, to the position of supreme leader (Emir) for the Al-Shabaab cell in Kenya. Sheikh Ali and his organisation have in the past been blamed for supporting Al-Shabaab through fundraising and the recruitment of fighters. He is known to have been operating in Somalia since 2009. His elevation appears to be a move by the group to organise its activities in Kenya more robustly in order to be able to take the battle into Kenya. Moreover, this comes in the wake of security alerts by western embassies in Nairobi that a terror plot seems to be underway. Sheikh Ali, has also created propaganda videos and called upon jihadists in and outside Kenya to join his cause. In a recent video produced by Al-Kataib Media Foundation, the official video wing of Al-Shabaab, Sheikh Ali appealed to the group’s loyalists to join the battle, declaring Kenya a war zone and Somalia a land of jihad.