U.S. Drones and TFG Join in Kenyan Offensive; Embassy Warns Americans in Kenya

From the Daily Nation:

Al Shabaab militants were on the back foot on Saturday evening as they faced heavy bombardment from multiple fronts from a combined force of Kenyan troops, US drones, African Union peacekeepers and Transitional Federal Government fighters.

Reports from the battlefront indicated that Kenyan troops were advancing towards four al Shabaab-controlled towns as they launched a final push to capture the Kismayu port and Afmadow in Central Jubaland.

There was progress on the diplomatic front, too, when the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) member states endorsed the military offensive against the militants during a special conference held in Addis Abba Ethiopia on Friday.

The Igad Council of Ministers urged the United Nations Security Council to impose a blockade on Kismayu, a move which will effectively cut off billions of shillings collected by the militants to fund their insurgency.

A statement from the military said Kenyan security forces were advancing towards Burgavo town in southern Somalia after capturing Oddo on Friday. (READ: Kenya targets al Shabaab’s lifeline)

Another group was marching towards the town of Badade from the direction of Kolbio which they conquered on Friday. The troops had earlier bombed areas around Munarani near Oddo from the air, flattening an al Shabaab command centre.

“US Warns of Imminent Threat in Kenya” from Reuters in The Standard, indicates that the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi Saturday issued a warning with the usual language regarding risk to Americans in Kenya from reprisal attacks on prominent facilities or places known for concentration of Westerners, and indicated that official American travel to Kenya would be curtailed.

Will Kenyan Military Engagement in Southern Somalia Disrupt Kenyan Reforms?

Readers will undoubtedly be following the news of the Kenyan military moving to challenge al-Shabaab well across the border in southern Somalia.  I don’t feel that I have anything particularly profound to add to what is readily available on the direct events, but I did want to suggest some questions that need to be considered as to how this military action will interact with democracy and governance at a critical time in Kenya.

In Nairobi, three names have now been passed to the President and Prime Minister for consideration for nomination to chair a new Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.  Preparations for the next election are running behind as is the overall “reform agenda” including other key aspects of implementing the new Constitution.  There is progress in some areas, “backsliding” in others, and time is short.

The threat of terrorism by Islamist extremists has been a part of the fabric of Kenyan governance and international relations for a long time now, especially since the 1998 Embassy bombings.  Al-Shabaab has been willing to starve civilians and commit a variety of atrocities on Somalis, and engaged in external terrorism in Kampala last year.  Kenya has a right to be concerned and a right and obligation to protect its citizens and territory.  At the same time, it would be naive not to recognize the potential for this new military action to distract and divert resources from other critical work that needs to be done within the Kenyan government.

Likewise, this new environment will present a big challenge to the United States, and perhaps to the UK and EU in supporting the reform process.  We went through this before in 2006 and 2007.  Compare U.S. criticism of corruption in the Kenyan government before and after the Ethiopians invaded Somalia in December 2006.  (I have no evidence of any correlation between the dramatic change in tone on corruption and events in and relating to Somalia–and no one has ever suggested one to me.  But then, no one has really offered any other clear explanation either, so I have had to wonder about this.)  Heightened military interaction with Kenyan forces could in theory make it harder for the U.S. to push consistently for reforms in Kenyan governance or lower reforms on the list of U.S. priorities.  To me, reform is the best medicine to fight the threat of terrorism and regional instability, and terrorists will always have access to Kenya as long as key pieces of the Kenyan governance structure can be purchased.  But sometimes it is hard for us to keep our eye on that ball when there are challenges from immediate disruptions.

An then there is the upcoming election itself.  If it was ultimately “best not to know” who won in 2007, how much risk can be tolerated to try for a freer and fairer Kenyan election in 2012?

David Axe on “America’s Somalia Experiment”–a timely reminder of policy in the Horn of Africa in 2007-08

David Axe on “America’s Somalia Experiment”  this week in The Diplomat:

The complex US-led intervention in Somalia, a decade in the making, represents offshore balancing at its most potent and urgent. The Libyan rebellion was outside the United States’ core interests. For Washington, intervening in Libya was optional. But Somalia, a failed state since 1991 and an al-Qaeda safe haven, represents a direct threat to the United States, and indeed has inspired the first American suicide bombers.

If offshore balancing, with its emphasis on air and sea power and proxy armies, is to define the US strategic approach to Asia and the Pacific, it first must succeed in Somalia.

For advocates of the strategy, there are reasons for hope. US offshore balancing in Somalia came together gradually, almost by accident, as separate interventions chased the converging problems of famine, terrorism and piracy. Today, this increasingly unified US effort seems to finally be bearing fruit, as American-supported foreign armies rapidly gain ground against al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamist fighters.

However, sceptics too might find ammunition in the United States’ Somalia strategy. For while current US efforts in Somalia have managed to avoid a major ground-force deployment – and  indeed have been essentially bloodless for Washington – they have at the same time failed to bring a speedy end to the country’s crises. The recent territory gains are encouraging but hardly decisive – and certainly reversible.

.  .  .  .

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. In 2007, the Pentagon formed a new regional command called ‘Africa Command’ to oversee operations in most of Africa.

.  .  .  .

In Somalia, the Ethiopian invasion and subsequent two-year occupation only served to rally the country’s Islamic extremists. Al Shabab coalesced from the remains of the ICU’s armed wing and launched a bloody, and surprisingly popular, insurgency against the Ethiopians.

Also targeted: the UN- and US-sponsored Transition Federal Government, formed under the protection of the Ethiopians, plus the new African Union peacekeeping force composed mostly of Ugandan and Burundian troops and funded by the United Nations and Washington.

Al Shabab also strengthened ties with al-Qaeda, which had sent operatives to advise clan forces during the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu and, more than a decade later, still maintained a small presence in Somalia. The al-Qaeda-Al Shabab alliance helped Al Shabab pull off a twin suicide bombing in Kampala, Uganda, on July 11, 2010 that killed 74 people.

.  .  .  .

US support for the peacekeepers and the TFG represents the proxy portion of Washington’s offshore balancing in Somalia. Naval patrols, Special Forces raids and strikes by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles round out the strategy. At first, however, the main air and sea initiatives weren’t directly tied to the proxy fight on the ground.

In parallel with its support for Ethiopia’s attack on Somalia, the Pentagon in 2006 was in the process of standing up an East African counter-terrorism complex anchored by secret bases reportedly in Ethiopia and Kenya. From there, US Special Forces and armed drones struck at terrorist targets in Somalia, occasionally in cooperation with naval forces.

In 2007, Special Operations Command aircraft launched at least two helicopter raids on al-Qaeda and Al Shabab operatives in Somalia. On no fewer than three occasions in 2007 and 2008, commandos spotted targets for US warships firing Tomahawk cruise missiles at Somali targets. Some of the same warships help make up Combined Task Force 150, a US-led international naval force assigned to intercept arms shipments bound for Al Shabab and al-Qaeda in Somalia.

Enough: Menkhaus on Somali Famine–Somaliland, al-Shabaab and TFG

Here are excerpts from  “Q&A:  Somalia Expert Ken Menkhaus on the Famine”, at the “Enough Said” blog (h/t to AidNews)

How are independently governed areas like Somaliland and Puntland faring? I understand the crisis hasn’t been as severe in those areas, but it’s interesting to consider how governance factors in to either prevention or response to the famine.

MENKHAUS: Actually, the drought has been quite severe in the north of Somalia as well, but what is interesting is that the north is generally much more arid than the south. The south has rivers and generally has better rainfall. But the north, despite being more arid and being affected by the drought, has not seen famine. The reason for that is pretty straightforward: There is a social peace, [managed by clan elders]. There is governance. The Somaliland government has been able to maintain a reasonable level of security and stability that has allows for the flow of commercial food, and as the drought hit, for the flow of international assistance. As a result, they have been hosting more and more displaced people from the south.

There have been conflicting reports on whether the militant group al-Shabaab would let aid groups into the most gravely affected parts of Somalia or not. But you’re in touch with people in the region all the time – local sources, aid groups, governmental entities. How has the group’s presence impacted the response?

MENKHAUS: We’re pretty sure that Shabaab is splintering now. The famine has been a source of tension within the organization, and the hope is that we’ll see some breakaway wings again that would say, ‘our people are starving, and we welcome aid.’ It would be very risky for those splinter groups, but desperate times call for desperate measures. That could open some space for aid groups to come in. That’s the last best-case scenario we’ve got left, because right now we have people flooding the Kenyan border, and that creates a massive, long-term refugee crisis that will haunt us.

It’s important to flag the breaking news that Shabaab has pulled out of Mogadishu. We’re still trying to make sense of that – Is it a tactical measure? Do they want to launch more hit-and-run attacks instead? There are a lot of possible explanations, but it could be that the social pressure now is so great that clans are rebelling, that the group is fragmenting and actually being pushed out by local Somali communities. That would be a major break for the famine response. Regardless, Shabaab’s in trouble. [The famine] is just disastrous for this group – by blocking food aid, blocking people from getting out, they have just shredded what little credibility they had left with Somalis and jihadist around the world.

What lessons should the international community take away from this present humanitarian crisis? How should the U.S. government revamp its approach to Somalia or to the Horn more broadly to help prevent crises from continuing to occur in regular intervals?

MENKHAUS: This crisis is a potential opening, both for humanitarian response and for new policy directions on Somalia. The scale of this crisis has forced people to do a fundamental rethink of all of our policies and assumptions.  .  .  .But the broader question is what do we do about governance in this country. Shabaab may be crumbling, but the TFG remains irrelevant and is just a source of massive corruption. I think what we’re going to see over the next year is a rethink about continuing to support the TFG versus finding alternatives. But it’s difficult to get people to think about alternatives when we’ve got such immediate problems.

Ongoing East African Food Crisis Continues to Worsen

“Famine in East Africa: A Catastrophe in the Making,” Der Speigel:

Eastern Africa is baking under a merciless sun; the last two rainy seasons have brought no precipitation at all. It is said to be the worst drought since 1950. And hunger comes at its the heels. In Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, and Uganda, people are suffering like they haven’t in a long while. The UN estimates that some 12 million people are already faced with hunger. And that is likely just the beginning.

There are many indications that the situation will only worsen in the coming weeks. For the moment, many of the regions in eastern Africa are classified by the UNHCR as “emergency” areas. But on Wednesday, the UNHCR declared famine in two regions in southern Somalia and said that it could spread unless enough donors can be found to help those in need. “If we don’t act now, famine will spread to all eight regions of southern Somalia within two months,” said Mark Bowden, humanitarian coordinator for Somalia.

It is a catastrophe that has been a long time in coming. Experts have been warning of the approaching famine for months and the causes are clear. They also know that the current disaster won’t be the last. As a result of climate change, it has become increasingly the case that rainy seasons fail to materialize in the region. Adding to the problem, the population in the countries currently suffering has quadrupled in recent decades, from 41 million to 167 million. Plus, aid organizations tend to budget most of their money for emergency situations, leaving little left over for wells, fertilizer, seeds and efforts to teach farmers how to make the most from their plots of land — all measures that could forestall the next disaster.

Somalia has been especially hard hit because the Islamists from the al-Shabab militia, who are fighting against the country’s government, have chased almost all aid organizations out of the country.  .  .  .

.  .  .  .

Despite the difficulties, the WFP has managed to more or less rebuild the harbor in recent years. Warships from the European Union anti-piracy mission Atalanta guide freighters full of aid supplies through the pirate infested waters and into the harbor.  .  .  .

. . . .

An equally large problem is the phenomenon known in aid circles as “donor fatigue.” People around the world are becoming tired of sending money to Africa, where nothing ever seems to change. Just last year, the WFP asked rich countries for $500 million to combat hunger on the Horn of Africa. They were unable to raise even half of that. And that despite the fact that the scientists working for the US-based Famine Early Warning System have long been warning that first the crops, then the animals and finally the people themselves would begin dying should the rainy season fail to materialize.

“Refugees flee famine stricken Somalia”, NPR

Somalia Policy Update

At The Sahel Blog, Alex Thurston discusses Assistant Secretary Carson’s recent comments on Somalia in an interview with allAfrica.com.  In summary:

Stepping back, Washington is clearly happy to see AMISOM make headway against al Shabab, but it seems that Washington’s disappointment with the TFG outweighs that happiness. The parliament’s reach for more time alienated the US, and it appears that going forward Washington will decentralize its political contacts in Somalia even more. What that says for the TFG’s future I can’t say, but August is not far off, and from the TFG’s standpoint it’s a bad time to have run afoul of Washington.

I’ve added a link to a good site from the “Movement for an Independent Somaliland” to the Organization roll at right.  As Washington’s “two track” policy seems to be becoming more established and bearing at least some fruit, perhaps the next evolution is a “three track” policy that moves closer to “the facts of the ground” in acknowledging Somaliland’s functional independence.  At some point, it seems to me there needs to be some type of grand bargain among Somaliland and Puntland and the local groups to establish a relatively understood and stable border between Somaliland and Puntland.

In the meantime, Burundi is sending 1000 more troops to the AMISOM mission.

For an interesting look at a policy challenge in Somaliland, an article from IRIN discusses a recent run-up in the price of charcoal, which is the dominant fuel source for urban residents (and of course helps drive deforestation which impacts the rest of the population which is primarily pastoralist).

Development Challenges: Ugandan Elections and Hunger in NE Kenya

Uganda ElectionsHere is an interesting report regarding the various NGO efforts to the potential violence that is a growing concern in relation to Uganda’s upcoming February 2011 elections. Concerns expressed include questions about excessively expensive or wasteful projects, the need to distinguish between important and effective groups and those “which are just parasitic”, and the degree to which donors should dictate the use of funds and the extent to which this may influence the political process.

One project singled out for scrutiny is a soccer tournament “to reconcile the warring political parties” organized by the Global Peace Festival Foundation, an organization launched by Prof. Apollo Nsibambi, the prime minister, on August 30.

In total, the two football competitions will cost GPFF Shs 610 million–enough money for a strong opposition party to run a successful compaign. Moreover, experts say that the majority of NGO funds are spent on workshops, furnished offices, and workers’ remuneration, leaving very little for the real projects.

According to the NGO registration board, there are over 8500 civil society organizations in Uganda and of these over 1000 are aimed at preventing violence or promoting election integrity.

Northeastern Kenya–high levels of child malnutrition continue to exist in spite of better rains recently according the the World Food Program. The previous drought reduced herds, so pastoralists continue to lack meat, milk and blood. Likewise, general underdevelopment from lack of health care facitlities, lack of roads and transportation, and lack of education (mothers’ illiteracy contributes to lack of knowledge about proper nutrition for children). A report today on IRIN entitled “Instability Without Borders” explains that the spillover effects from instability and al-Shabaab control of bordering areas of Somalia has driven some aid organizations out and greatly driven up costs for others, reducing the ability for service delivery to address these problems. While the border is porous to the flow of small arms and raids, it appears from the report that Kenya’s police high police presence has helped prevent major escalations on the Kenyan side of the border, the threat from previous cross-border kidnappings and raids, along with the general insecurity and prevalence of arms has resulted in a daily 12-hour curfew and a standard requirement that all travel include armed escort and has led many organizations to park their own vehicles and only travel in hired transport.

Al Shabaab takes credit for Uganda murders

Islamist Militants Claim Responsibility for Uganda Attack
By JOSH KRON and MOHAMMED IBRAHIM
Published: July 12, 2010
The Shabab, a Somali insurgent group, claimed responsibility Monday for the coordinated bombings that killed more than 70 people in Kampala.

Bits to Start the Week–Coffee, Al Shabaab, EA Common Market, CIA

More on Kenyan coffee branding from the Business Daily. Kenya’s coffee sector makes up 3.5% of GDP–annual production is currently 50,000, having peaked at 130,000 tonnes in 1989/89, with the decline attributed to “mismanagement, indebtedness and bad returns”
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“Al-Faisal’s gone, questions linger” from Muthoni Wanyeki’s column in the East African.
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Also from the East African, Charles Onyango-Obbo on the East African Common Market: “Who’s Afraid of Big Bad Kenya?”

One commonly hears statements like the “Kenyan economy is bigger than Tanzania’s and Uganda’s combined.” Yes, but that was 20 years ago.

Kenya’s gross domestic product in 1990 was $11 billion. Tanzania’s was $5.4 billion, and Uganda’s $4.03 billion. Kenya’s economy then was bigger than Tanzania and Uganda combined; twice that of Tanzania, and nearly three times Uganda’s.

By 2008, Kenya’s GDP was $31 billion. However Tanzania’s was $21 billion, and Uganda’s $15.8 billion. It’s no longer bigger than Tanzania’s and Uganda’s combined; it is not double that of Tanzania; nor is it three times bigger than Uganda’s. Indeed, depending on the GDP figures you look at in three or so years, Tanzania could be East Africa’s largest economy.

The story of the past 20 years in East Africa, therefore, is not how large Kenya’s economy is compared with those of its neighbours, but rather how much the others have closed the gap.

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“Row Clouds Process to Pick New KAA Boss to Replace Muhoho” from the Sunday Nation is a “must read” as for anyone that wants to assess how locked down or open opportunities in Kenya are now in the second Kibaki administration and how public business gets done.
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Last for now, but not necessarily least, the Standard on CIA Director Leon Panetta’s visit to Nairobi.