Andrew J. Franklin’s “Terrorism and the rising cost of Kenya’s war in Somalia,” in The Standard gives a perspective on cost and “mission creep” since the original Operation Linda Nichi incursion of October 2011. Take time to read his assessment that over the course of what is best understood as a war rather than participation in a “peacekeeping mission” Kenya has come to face an insurgency in the border counties that now poses an existential threat to the county such that the priority for Kenyan security needs to be a focus by the KDF on a comprehensive border security initiative and finally implementing the critical domestic security reforms set out in the law since 2010.
Kenyan political leaders had unsuccessfully sought U.S. support for an operation to secure a “Jubaland” buffer region long before the October 2011 action. There were probably a variety of motives to proceed when Linda Nichi went forward, some of which related to security and some of which related to various opportunities and schemes of a more “commercial” nature.
Without a coalition government in place as there was in 2011, President Kenyatta has the power and the accountable responsibility as Commander in Chief to articulate the mission of the KDF and the strategy to be employed, now. Kenyans are clearly less safe than they were three-and-a-half years ago, so continuing to pursue a muddled mission without an obvious strategy seems quite dangerous.
The Jubilee Government was in a tizzy about stopping Raila Odinga from leading opposition CORD rallies around the country before the Mpeketoni attacks just over a week ago. The attacks then became the focus of attention for Kenyans and the Kenyan media, with Uhuru Kenyatta deflecting things back to Raila and CORD by as much as accusing them of undertaking the attacks and explicitly denying a role for Al Shabaab.
With the victims largely now out of sight and out of mind in the hinterlands the media has moved on to the incessant tribal politics that makes for easy punditry in lieu of actual investigation and in-depth reporting.
I have never been a big fan of rallies in Kenyan politics–not in 2007 campaign when I was trying to help support a better process, not in 2011-12 when they were used to try to stop the ICC, and again, not in the 2013 campaign. Nonetheless, I am pretty well inured to the fact that the usual suspects in Kenyan politics, on whatever side they happen to be at any given time, use these rallies as a primary means to connect directly to their supporters and to get national media for their messages. I wish Kenya’s politics was a little more creative, but then, the political class as it exits always wins, so I guess they don’t feel a lot of incentive to change. Regardless, the rallies are not in and of themselves generally dangerous except to the extent the security forces are engaged to make them so.
Tribal animosities were clearly more raw and pervasive in the spring of 2013 when I was in Nairobi for the election than they were when I left in May 2008 during the immediate post-election period. It appears that the last year has not seen marked improvement. An obvious reason why all this should be expected is that the parts of the February 28, 2008 election peace deal that were to address the underlying issues have not been implemented and the politics of 2011-2013 were so explicitly tribal.
Why haven’t they been implemented? One reason is that the February 28, 2008 deal was made by Kibaki and Raila with Kofi Annan after the larger mediation process between PNU and ODM broke down. PNU was a coalition of parties and not all of them ever supported the deal from the inception. Uhuru Kenyatta’s KANU being one such at the time. Raila and Kibaki cooperated to support the passage of the new constitution in 2010, but the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission plodded along on the backburner. The biggest single thing to galvanize government attention during the remainder of Kibaki’s second term was the fight to block the ICC, and, of course, Raila was running for president again, along with Saitoti and Uhuru and some others. By the time the TJRC report was finalized, the new State House was not prepared to accept it as written.
Rallies will come, and rallies will go. The question is whether the long term work of protecting Kenyans from the persistent threat of terrorism and the long term work of “tribal” reconciliation will be taken up or yet again deferred for some future generation.