More context: what happened between Fall 2006 and Spring 2007 that might have changed State Department priorities on democratic reform in Kenya and Kibaki’s re-election?

Kenyans going for water in Eastern Province with jerry cans on red dirt
Kenyans going for water

One key event: the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in December 2006.

See my post from September 2011: David Axe on “America’s Somalia Experiment”–a timely reminder of policy in the Horn of Africa in 2007-08. Quoting Axe in The Diplomat:

The ICU didn’t explicitly advocate terrorism, and there were probably only a handful of al-Qaeda operatives hiding out in Somalia at the time. But that nuance was lost on the George W. Bush Administration. Washington pledged support for the Ethiopian attack, including ‘intelligence sharing, arms aid and training,’ according to USA Today.

With this backing, plus air cover provided by US AC-130 gunships and carrier-based fighters and assistance on the ground by US Special Forces, the Ethiopian army launched a Blitzkrieg-style assault on Somalia in December 2006.

Ethiopian tanks quickly routed the ICU’s lightly armed fighters. ‘The Somalia job was fantastic,’ Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan told then-US Central Commander boss Gen. John Abizaid in 2007.

The Bush Administration agreed with that assessment, at least initially. And the proxy approach to African security challenges quickly became central to Washington’s policy for the continent. . . .

And here is Daveed Gartenstein-Ross (of the Foundation for Defense od Democracies) and Daniel Twombly on America’s 4-prong strategy for Somalia” in The Atlantic from October 2011:

American national security planners have viewed Somalia as strategically significant for some time. In 1999, for example, staffers on the National Security Council suggested that Osama bin Laden’s most likely destination was Somalia if he lost the Taliban’s protection in Afghanistan. But U.S. interest in the country has appeared to grow dramatically since 2006, when an Islamist group known as the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) captured the capital of Mogadishu and soon after made a number of strategic gains. Late that year, the U.S. backed an Ethiopian invasion designed to push back the ICU. Though Ethiopia rapidly reversed much of the ICU’s geographic gains, it wasn’t able to prevent a powerful insurgency from taking root.

Al-Shabaab emerged as a force distinct from the ICU during the course of the insurgency; not only was this new group more hardline in ideology, but a number of its leaders openly declared their support for al-Qaeda. As Ethiopia withdrew and was replaced by troops from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), al-Shabaab emerged as the country’s dominant insurgent force. It soon took control of significant swathes of territory in southern Somalia. Al-Shabaab even established governorates in some of the areas where it was dominant. During much of this period, the U.S. lacked a real plan for the region. America tried to help AMISOM protect Somalia’s UN-recognized transitional federal government from being wiped out by al-Shabaab, but otherwise lacked a strategy to reverse the jihadi group’s gains.

In 2006-2008, the Bush Administration disclaimed significant involvement in the Ethiopian invasion to the American public and others interested. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer even asserted that we told the Ethiopians not to do it. Over time the work of journalists and scholars (and document leaks) led to an established conventional wisdom that what we were told in that regard was not actually true, as reflected in the Axe and Gartenstein-Ross, Twombly pieces from 2011.

Update: For further specific discussion, see Ronan Farrow’s new book, The War on Peace; The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence, Chapter 19, “The White Beast”.

At the time of th quoted pieces in 2011 Kenya, during Kibaki’s second term and with support of his now-“Government of National Unity” partner Prime Minister Raila Odinga, invaded the Jubaland region of Somalia and joined the ongoing war approaching its fifth year and the next year were formally incorporated under AMISOM for cost reimbursement.

Today the war continues, and the third American administration involved has increased direct U.S. strikes and added some more support troops. There has been significant progress in some respects in terms of stability and we can certainly hope that some day down the road the new Somali Federal Government will be self-sustainable. It is a formally Islamist government but it aspires to aspects of democratization that would see an eventual status quo that would differ from the old ICU or other regional governments in Saudi Arabia, the UAE or Qatar, for example.

See this from Saferworld, an NGO supporting democratization in Somalia and Somaliland.

As for Kenya, its politics were frozen by the openly stolen election in 2007 as I wrote last year in The Elephant. The leading figures now were the leading figures during the murder and mayhem ten years ago. The backsliding has not led to complete reversion to the “faux multipartism” of Moi’s last decade in office, but the ruling Jubilee Party is consolidating hegemony nationally. Odinga, having raised a ruckus about the lack of electoral reforms, boycotting the presidential re-run after his Supreme Court victory nullified the August 2017 election, eventually conceded through a “handshake” with Uhuru Kenyatta and “got right” with Kenya’s donors, led by the U.S., who were publicly most focused on economic matters (and presumably maintained the foremost underlying concern with war?).

“Correlation does not prove causation.” The circumstantial evidence suggesting that the invasion to displace the ICU in Somalia–with an accompanying increase in military cooperation and access from Kenya–might explain the pivot in U.S. policy to “building capital” with Kibaki and away from fighting corruption and reforming the election process might not be explanatory. But it seems to make sense in the context of the time, place and people involved.

Ken

American lawyer. Took leave from corporate career to “assist” democracy in East Africa. After stolen '07 election in Kenya and violent aftermath I have tried to bring out truth of events for those who care in hope we can learn and do better.

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