In the wake of the incomprehensible looting at Westgate, Ben Rawlence, Open Society fellow and former Human Rights Watch researcher has published a candid look at the context in “Kenya’s Somali Contradiction” at Project Syndicate:
. . . if the Kenyan government’s aim was, as it claimed, to destroy al-Shabaab, the intervention has been a spectacular failure . . . In fact, retaliation against the militant group was little more than a convenient excuse to launch the so-called Jubaland Initiative, a plan to protect Kenya’s security and economic interests by carving out a semi-autonomous client state . . .
. . . the United Nations monitoring group on Somalia and Eritrea reported in July that Kenya’s Defense Forces have actually gone into business with al-Shabaab. . . . [T]he Kenyan state’s endemic corruption constantly undermines its policymakers’ goals. Indeed in Kismayu, Kenya’s officials have reverted to their default occupation — the pursuit of private profit. . . .
Going back to my time in Kenya during the 2007 presidential campaign, it is well to remember that the multimillion dollar Anglo Leasing scandal that was subject to John Githongo’s whistleblowing involved corrupt contracts that were to have provided for the purchase of passport security technology, a forensic lab, security vehicles and a Navy vessel, among more than a dozen national security procurements.
Ultimately the exposure of the scandal proved to be a huge missed opportunity for the U.S. and the international community as a whole to address a pervasively corrupt security apparatus that we have continued to help underwrite. While everyone was grateful for Githongo’s courage, we didn’t match it with courage of our own to take risks for reform and we ended up letting the Kenyan people rather than the Kibaki administration bear the burden. See my post “Part Five–Lessons from the Kenyan 2007 election and new FOIA cables”.
Unfortunately corruption does not fix itself.
Furthermore, contrary to claims that securing Kismayo put al-Shabaab at a disadvantage, the United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea reported in July that the Kenyan Defense Forces have actually gone into business with al-Shabaab. The group’s profits from illicit charcoal (and possibly ivory) exported from Kismayo have grown since Kenya took control.
CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphThis highlights a fundamental problem: the Kenyan state’s endemic corruption constantly undermines its policymakers’ goals. Indeed, in Kismayo, Kenyan officials have reverted to their default occupation – the pursuit of private profit. Instead of working to achieve the diplomatic objective of defeating al-Shabaab, Kenya’s military, politicians, and well-connected businessmen have been lining their own pockets.
The Somaliland Sun reports that the Government of Somaliland has informed the visiting head of the new United Nations Mission to Somalia (UNSOM) that Somaliland will not host a UNSOM office. Somaliland wishes to continue hosting and receiving aid through various individual UN agencies and organizations but considers the overall UNSOM mission in support of the Federal Government of Somalia incompatible with Somaliland’s independent status.
In the meantime, the questions of governance for Kismayo and the “Jubaland” region remain an immediate challenge as does the unsettled Somaliland-Puntland border. Somaliland has indicated a desire to strengthen relations with Kenya, which shares a common interest in some degree of regional autonomy for Jubaland on the Kenyan border.
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.
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.