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.

Good reads

“Kenya’s once safest town, now famous for the wrong reasons” Xinhua,

Kenya’s northern town of Garissa that was once voted as the safest town in East and Central Africa by Interpol has all of a sudden lost its glory as it continues experiencing a spate of grenade and gun attacks allegedly being executed by Al-Shabaab militants. . . .

“Somaliland Elections: Everything’s fine, except when it isn’t” Progressio Blog.

“Why fighting corruption in Africa fails” by William Gumede in Pambazuka News.

The Citizen reports on the release of the 2012 Afrobarometer “Round 5” poll for Tanzania, highlighting growing public perception of corruption by the CCM government.

Kibaki gets ahead of news on Kismayu, as Kenyan forces conduct assault from beach [updated Sat. Sept. 29]

[Update Sept. 29–Reuters reports that al-Shabab announced they had pulled most of their fighters out of Kismayu overnight Friday, continuing the pattern of avoiding heavy direct fighting.]

Friday afternoon, Sept. 28: BBC News–Somali militants hold Kismayo under Kenyan force attack:

Kenyan and Somali forces launched a beach assault on al-Shabab’s last major stronghold, but by late afternoon were still some miles from the city centre.

Clashes were reported just north of the city and residents report Kenyan shelling of al-Shabab positions.

Kenyan troops are part of a force trying to wrest control of the country for the new UN-backed president.

The BBC’s Gabriel Gatehouse in Nairobi says it is probably a matter of when, not if Kismayo falls. . . .

Simultaneously in the Daily Nation, published hours earlier: “Kibaki commends Kenyan forces over Kismayu victory”:

President Kibaki has commended the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) for capturing Kismayu terming it a defining moment for Somalia and the region.

The seizure of the port city in southern Somalia is a “game changer”, the President who is also the Commander in-Chief of Kenya Defence Forces said Friday.

“This is a game changer for the people of Somalia, it is a defining moment.

Here is The Standard story: “How KDF took Kismayu”.

It is interesting to note in the context of an amphibious assault that as I understand it, the Kenyan Navy, unlike the ground forces, is not directly integrated into the AMISOM forces.

Update: From Jeffrey Gettleman’s New York Times report, also from Nairobi:

On Friday evening, one Kismayu resident said that the environment inside the town was “very tense” and that “we don’t know where to hide.” The resident, who did not want to be identified, said the Kenyan army was rapidly approaching but that the Shabab were still in control of the city center.

Some analysts predicted that once nightfall came, the Shabab would sneak away under the cover of darkness. Other analysts said that, if cornered, the Shabab fighters who remained in the town might stand and fight.

Kenya’s invasion of Somalia is the most aggressive step it has ever taken against another country. Kenyan officials said they needed to go into Somalia to protect their borders after a wave of kidnappings, and the first troops rolled in last year. But they have also acknowledged that Somalia’s relentless chaos was hindering Kenya’s fast-growing economy and that the invasion was a long-planned objective to secure the coastline and allow Kenya to move ahead with an ambitious, new, multibillion dollar port on the Indian Ocean, not far from the Somali border.

It is not clear what may happen next. Setting up an inclusive, widely accepted local administration for Kismayu will be crucial for any pacification efforts. But Kismayu has always been a tricky place to rule .  .  .  .

UN Monitoring Group reports strong Kenya links to both sides in Somalia

Kevin Kelley in the East African:

Kenya serves as “a major base” for Islamist groups battling Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, the United Nations says in a recent report that also details the Kenyan government’s training of TFG forces — in apparent violation of a UN embargo.

Kenyan nationals account for about half of all foreigners fighting in Somalia under the banner of the Al Shabaab insurgency force, the report says.

Many of these fighters are recruited through a support network in Nairobi consisting of “wealthy clerics-cum-businessmen, linked to a small number of religious centres notorious for their links to radicalism,” the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia states in its March 10 report.

Leaders of Al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam, the other main insurgent group in Somalia, “travel with relative freedom to and from Nairobi, where they raise funds, engage in recruitment and obtain treatment for wounded fighters,” the Monitoring Group finds.

Some African and European diplomats based in Nairobi meanwhile engage in visa fraud that enables the smuggling of illegal migrants into Europe and other destinations for fees of about $12,000 for a man and $15,000 for a woman, the UN says.

In the meantime today, BBC reports that hundreds marched in Mogadishu in a second public protest against al-Shabab