Ugandan People’s Defense Forces raid on opposition candidate Bobi Wine’s Headquarters puts US in awkward position

The UPDF has raided the political headquarters of Ugandan opposition MP and presidential candidate Bobi Wine, per Reuters and other news reports.

Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, told Reuters dozens of police and soldiers barged into the offices of his National Unity Platform (NUP) party in Kamwokya, a suburb of the Ugandan capital Kampala

The security personnel, he said, seized documents containing signatures from supporters that his party had collected to back his nomination, as well as 23 million shillings ($6,207.83).

We have Americans working to support Bobi Wine, and presumably Museveni as well, in the campaigns, and Americans working through USAID to support the democratic process. Uganda has always been a challenging environment on democratization–one in which our diplomats face an extra helping of competing priorities.

Uganda has never had a peaceful transition of power but remains more stable under Museveni’s rule than at most times prior to his military ascension in 1986. Museveni is a critic of the West who generally does business with the United States and generally facilitates our humanitarian and development aid programs, while doing business as well with China, North Korea, the former Gaddafi regime in Libya and other non-democratic actors.

Over the years that I have been informally watching (since 2008 really) we have offered occasional but muted criticism of Museveni’s disappointing performance on “deepening democracy”. See, i.e., Uganda: Retiring US Ambassador “stings Museveni for overstaying in power” but emphasizes support for Uganda’s role in regional stability”.

Uganda billboard Museveni and Gaddafi

The use of the Ugandan military is used in the domestic election process against democratic norms, however, prevents a particular problem because of the strong military-military relationship.

Ten years ago, ahead of Uganda’s 2011 election, I wrote a blog post entitled “Democracy and Competing Objectives: We need you to back us up”:

I also had a senior military officer, a general, say to me, “It really doesn’t help us when you all don’t come out and criticize sort of half-hearted democratic elections. You tell us ‘Democracy, Democracy’; then you accept when we don’t have fully up to a minimal level of standard, because you’ve got presumably some other competing objective there that mitigates against that, because otherwise we don’t understand the point of continuing to strive for that standard. We need you to back us up and to back up our societies.”

This was Kate Almquist, now Senior Fellow for Security and Development at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, at a Military Strategy Forum on AFRICOM at CSIS in July (2010). Ms. Almquist was Assistant Director for Africa at USAID from May 2007 to 2009. She is speaking on a panel, relating her recent discussions with senior African military leaders at the Africa Center in response to a question about “competing objectives” regarding U.S. “strategic partners” including Rwanda, Uganda and Ethiopia, and “how do we know U.S. military support is not increasing autocratic tendencies and not decreasing democratic space?”

Since this event we’ve had a substandard election season in Rwanda–as well as the leak of a draft UN report using the term genocide in reference to Rwandan activity in the DRC. In Uganda, Museveni has announced formally that he is running for re-election, while continuing to refuse action to relinquish the unilateral appointment of the Electoral Commission. At the same time, Rwanda is threatening to pull its “peacekeeping” soldiers out of Darfur, and Uganda is offering an additional 10,000 soldiers to be “peacekeepers” in Somalia. The conundrums continue.

Here is a link to the audio and video from CSIS (also available on podcast). This discussion starts at 32:50 in the panel following General Ward’s speech.

Meanwhile in the USA, former Trump Director of National Intelligence raises threat to survival of the American democratic experiment in the conduct of this election

Trump’s ex-spy chief warns American democracy may not survive November electionIntelnews September 18, 2020.

Dan Coats, former U.S. Senator from Indiana, served as Trumps Director of National Security from the beginning of the Administration until resigning last year. His warning came in a New York Times op ed Thursday:

We hear often that the November election is the most consequential in our lifetime. But the importance of the election is not just which candidate or which party wins. Voters also face the question of whether the American democratic experiment, one of the boldest political innovations in human history, will survive.

Our democracy’s enemies, foreign and domestic, want us to concede in advance that our voting systems are faulty or fraudulent; that sinister conspiracies have distorted the political will of the people; that our public discourse has been perverted by the news media and social networks riddled with prejudice, lies and ill will; that judicial institutions, law enforcement and even national security have been twisted, misused and misdirected to create anxiety and conflict, not justice and social peace.

If those are the results of this tumultuous election year, we are lost, no matter which candidate wins. No American, and certainly no American leader, should want such an outcome. Total destruction and sowing salt in the earth of American democracy is a catastrophe well beyond simple defeat and a poison for generations. An electoral victory on these terms would be no victory at all. The judgment of history, reflecting on the death of enlightened democracy, would be harsh.

The most urgent task American leaders face is to ensure that the election’s results are accepted as legitimate. Electoral legitimacy is the essential linchpin of our entire political culture. We should see the challenge clearly in advance and take immediate action to respond.

The most important part of an effective response is to finally, at long last, forge a genuinely bipartisan effort to save our democracy, rejecting the vicious partisanship that has disabled and destabilized government for too long. If we cannot find common ground now, on this core issue at the very heart of our endangered system, we never will.

Our key goal should be reassurance. We must firmly, unambiguously reassure all Americans that their vote will be counted, that it will matter, that the people’s will expressed through their votes will not be questioned and will be respected and accepted. . . .

American national security officials decided the time was ripe to talk to “UK Declassified” about CIA/GSU counterterrorism operations in Kenya (updated 9-6)

On the record Americans in Washington and a key American who is not identified by name or specific agency tell most of the story about the development of the US-Kenyan counterterrorism relationship since the 1998 embassy bombing in a two part series from “UK Declassified”.

Particular focus is on the establishment and operation by the Kenyan police paramilitary General Services Unit (GSU) of a special previously secret CIA-supported unit dedicated to capture and render, if not kill in some situations, high value terrorist targets.

This unit was set up under the Kibaki Administration in 2004 and been kept out of the open source media since.

Here is the story (Part One) published in The Daily Maverick through their partnership with “UK Declassified”. And Part Two.

I cannot imagine that the substance of the story is especially surprising to anyone. In a way it’s a story of the interlocking of two bureaucracies and the making of “alphabet soup”. Whereas most Americans paying attention from outside specific national security roles and most Kenyans would have assumed that the counterterrorism operations discussed involved the ATPU (Anti-Terrorism Police Unit) branch of the Kenya Police Service, as discussed, it turns out they involved the GSU branch. On the American side the bureaucratic distinction is that we have been using in this GSU-support role the CIA, a stand alone branch of the Intelligence Community, rather than one of the units under the military command structure.

The fact that some mistakes would be made and “collateral damage” (such as raiding the wrong house and killing the wrong person) incurred in any Kenya Police Service paramilitary operation is hardly surprising. To the contrary it would be foolish not to expect it and my guess would be that the seeming lower volume or rate of errors in these operations compared to what we see from the GSU and the Kenyan Police Service overall has something to do with the involvement of the CIA.

More generally, however, the thing that I was aware of and concerned about as a temporary duty democracy assistance American NGO worker during the 2007 Kenyan election cycle was that these type of counterterrorism tactics–regardless of the letters in the “alphabet soup” or which utensil used to eat it–caused genuine fear among Kenyan citizens and potential voters.

The highest profile use by the Kibaki Administration of the GSU during my time with the International Republican Institute was the deployment of paramilitary troops to form a perimeter sealing off Uhuru Park in Nairobi in the early weeks of 2008 to prevent protests against Kibaki’s disputed swearing in for a second term from accessing the symbolically important venue. (Contra events ten years later for Raila Odinga’s “people’s president” mock swearing in.). See “Were Americans right to be so fearful of Odinga’s ‘People’s President’ swearing in?“, January 31, 2018.

It seems conventional that you would have some general comment from former Ambassadors Bellamy and Ranneberger for the article on counterterrorism but unusual to have the amount of discussion from the CIA side. I have thoughts about why people spoke up now but they are speculative so I will keep them to myself for the time being. Regardless, it is vitally important that Americans and Kenyans learn from experience, including trial-and-error in facing the challenges of terrorism in the context of laws and policies that place hope in democracy, democratization and the rule of law. So I appreciate the move towards increasing public information both from press and those interviewed.

Conspicuously absent though is any reference to the December 2006 Ethiopian invasion of Somalia with US support to displace the Islamic Courts Union from Mogadishu and restore the Transitional Federal Government with related operations by the Kenyan military. This kicked-off the current round of the ongoing war in Somalia, gave rise to the separation of al-Shabaab as an al-Queda affiliate operating a territory-controlling jihadist insurgency in Somalia as well as operator of persistent regional terrorist attacks over the years.

See my post from June, 2018 and articles and posts discussed therein for U.S. support for the 2006 Ethiopian invasion, Kenyan engagement, and the consequences:

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?

Kenya USAID documents show policy shift on Kibaki from 2006 to 2007 election

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

Kenya-Somalia border conflict at Mandera

[Update 3/5: “Kenya and Somalia form teams to ease tensions” Daily Nation]

[Update 3/4: Democracy Assistance news– Longtime International Republican Institute board member, former Rep. Jim Kolbe, quietly leaves Republican Party, registers as Independent.]

Temperatures have risen between the Federal Government of Somalia and Kenya as they have risen with Somaliland:

Kenya accuses Somalia of ‘unwarranted’ attack on border town–Tensions between Nairobi and Mogadishu soar as they accuse each other of encroaching on border territory.Al Jazeera, March 3:

Temperatures rose further after heavy fighting erupted on Monday in the Somali border town of Bulohawo between Somali government troops and forces from the semi-autonomous region of Jubaland.

Legislators from the nearby Kenyan town of Mandera said the fighting was so intense it caused residents there to flee and take shelter.

A Kenyan government statement condemning “violations of the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty” appeared to indicate that Somali forces had crossed into Mandera during the battle.

“Foreign soldiers – in flagrant breach and total disregard of international laws and conventions – engaged in aggressive and belligerent activities by harassing and destroying properties of Kenyan citizens living in the border town of Mandera,” it said. 

. . . .

The fighting in Somalia is the latest instance of tensions between Mogadishu and its regional governments.

Jubaland authorities in August accused Mogadishu of interfering in its election and seeking to remove President Ahmed Madobe and get a loyalist in power to increase its control.

Madobe is a key ally of Kenya, which sees Jubaland as a buffer against al-Shabab fighters who have staged several bloody attacks across the border.

Kenya has been further drawn in, as it is accused of harbouring a fugitive Jubaland minister who was arrested by Mogadishu for “serious crimes” but fled from prison in January.

Tensions between the neighbouring countries are also high because of a spat over maritime borders, with possibly lucrative Indian Ocean oil and gas reserves at stake.

. . . .

Kenya urged Somalia’s federal and regional governments to focus on defeating the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab.

Observers say the myriad feuds between the fragile government in Mogadishu and its federal states is a major obstacle to fighting the armed group.

On Somaliland and Somalia tensions, I will quote the conclusion of an editorial from Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute titled “Farmajo fights separatism the wrong way” from back in January:

Somalia’s dream of unity is understandable and it can be compelling, just as those supporting Somaliland separatism can find their case persuasive. But, what Farmajo forgets or does not understand is that if Somalia is going to reunite with Somaliland, it must perform better than Somaliland. It must be more stable, more secure, more democratic, and less corrupt. It must have a better economy that will be a regional envy. Somalia cannot force Somaliland into its fold militarily; it is not strong enough and occupying Somaliland will never bring peace. Militaristic rhetoric from Farmajo will only exacerbate mistrust born from his relative Siad Barre’s rule and the human rights abuses he perpetrated in Somaliland. What neither Farmajo nor Yamamoto understand is that economic strangulation also will not compel Somaliland to rejoin Somalia. Indeed, it is hard to imagine Hargeisa under Mogadishu’s control when even Mogadishu is not under Mogadishu’s control.

Somali nationalists can cast aspersions toward Somaliland nationalists, and they can troll on social media. Farmajo’s advisors and his press spokesmen can insult from an official podium before they retreat into armored cars and locked-down compounds, or take official planes to Doha and Istanbul. But none of their tactics will achieve their goals; indeed, they only make them harder to attain. If Somali nationalists want to restore Somali greatness, there is no substitute for reform. Simply put, for there to be unity, Somalia must be better than Somaliland rather than try to suffocate Somaliland.

Uganda: Retiring US Ambassador “stings Museveni for overstaying in power” but emphasizes support for Uganda’s role in regional stability

Outgoing US Ambassador Malec stings Museveni on overstaying in power as she bids farewell Nile Post, Jan 23:

The outgoing US Ambassador Deborah Malac, has aimed a dig at President Museveni and his NRM government for staying long in power saying it might lead to problems in the future.

Having served in Uganda for four years, Malac will late this month leave the country as US Ambassador but also retire to private work after spending 39 years doing US public service, mainly in Africa.

Speaking at her last press briefing on Thursday, Malac said the long stay in power and failure to have a peaceful transition will at one time lead to problems for the country.

. . . .

Speaking on Thursday, Malac however said because Uganda has never had a peaceful transition of power since independence people have a number of concerns over the same.

“I know it becomes difficult in countries like Uganda to talk about succession and transition and not sound political in the sense that you must be against or for a particular group but the issue is figuring out the other voices so they are heard and issues discussed,” she said.

The outgoing US Ambassador who has been in Uganda for four years, has been very vocal on issues of human rights and democracy and has on several occasions been accused of interfering in local politics after being viewed as being pro-opposition but speaking about the same, she said she does not care about what many think of her.

. . . .

Uganda remains a cornerstone of stability in the region says outgoing US Ambassador MalacNile Post, Jan 24:

. . . .

In 2007, Uganda was the first country to deploy troops in Somalia under the AMISOM and turned around what had for long been termed as a “mission dead on arrival.”

The Ugandan troops are deployed in Sector One in Benadir,(has 16 districts) Banadir, and Lower Shabelle regions having pushed Al Shabaab militants for over 200km away from Mogadishu city for normalcy to return to the capital where the militants roamed freely.

. . . .

She said that in her time, the US has supported the training, equipping and deployment of nearly 25000 Uganda military personnel to Somalia to help in improving regional security and stability.

Uganda has been at the forefront of fighting Allied Democratic Forces that have made life difficult in the volatile Eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo where they roam freely and have killed thousands of locals.

Uganda has also played an important role in brokering peace in the continent’s newest country, South Sudan.

. . . .

The Kampala government has also been influential in ensuring peace in Burundi and Central African Republic.

The outgoing US Ambassador said her government will continue supporting Uganda’s efforts to ensure stability in the region.

. . . .

See also “US Ambassador bids Museveni farewell“, Daily Monitor, Jan 17.

Uganda campaign flyer on tree says vote NRM Yoweri Museveni for peace, unity and transformation for prosperity

Kenya’s long awaited “Building Bridges Initiative” report published on-line

Following the post-election negotiations between Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga during December 2017 – March 2018, culminating in the famous March 9, 2018 “handshake” between the two, Kenyans have witnessed a prolonged period of political stasis in which Kenyatta has run the Government as he sees fit without opposition and former Prime Minister Odinga and Deputy President Ruto and their factions have carried on their 2022 campaigns.

We now have a 150+ page published report from the Government of Kenya representing the work product of a dual team of insiders for the two “sides” (Raila/ODM and Uhuru) making various recommendations for political governance issues as are always “on the table” in “post-Colonial” Kenya.

Formally, this has been called the “Building Bridges Initiative” implemented by the “Building Bridges to Unity Advisory Taskforce” and has incorporated the usual process of donor supported public “input” sessions around the country to “popularize” the process, the teams of insiders and what they will agree on and eventually announce.

The adjustments proposed from the public comments and news so far appear to be relatively nondramatic and reflect what one would expect for an elite consensus process where the primary issue is the adjustment of interests among those at the table.

Here is the official website for the Building Bridges Initiative.

For background, here is my post from December 7, 2017, “Trump Administration’s top diplomat for Africa visits Nairobi, public statements adjusted to call for ‘national conversation’ as substitute for ‘national dialogue’“:

I was pleasantly surprised by the previous statements from the State Department both from Washington and in Nairobi, calling for “national dialogue” in the wake of Kenya’s fraught and objectionably violent environment in the wake of the boycotted October 26 presidential re-run.

In the latest release from Washington on December 4 the State Department said “the Acting Assistant Secretary will travel to Nairobi, Kenya from December 4-6, where he will meet with representatives of the Kenyan government, as well as with Kenyan civil society. The visit will encourage all sides in Kenya to participate in a national dialogue following the presidential election.” (emphasis added)

Today, however, following the talks, a new statement was issued–by the Ambassador–backing off from the language “national dialogue”. Instead, along with a call for Odinga drop a “people’s swearing in”, and a generic call for protesters to avoid violence and the Government’s security forces to avoid unnecessary killing and to investigate themselves on the outstanding accusations that they had been doing so, the State Department now recommends a “national conversation”.

Why is this different? Well, you would have to ask the Embassy or Main State Department and/or the White House why they changed the language, but “national dialogue” is a clear reference to the formal process resulting from the February 2008 settlement agreement between Kibaki and Raila leading to the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission Report (censored and held in abeyance by the Uhuruto Administration–an issue in the August election), the Kriegler Commission on the 2007 Election (leading to the buyout of the Kivuitu led ECK), the Waki Commission on the Post Election Violence (leading to the aborted ICC prosecutions) and constitutional reform process that led to the 2010 Referendum adopting the new Constitution which mandates the 2/3 gender rule (declined so far), diaspora voting (mostly declined so far), devolution (in process), and such. A “national conversation” is a nice notion and probably a good thing to do here in the United States as well as anywhere else culturally divisive politics.

See “Reformers vs. The Status Quo: Is it possible to have free and fair polls” by Eliud Kibii in The Elephant to put the current election disputes and contest in the complete post-Cold War context.

Update: Ambassador Godec’s tweet of Dec 11:

NASA’s decision yesterday is a positive step. We again call for a sustained, open, and transparent national conversation involving all Kenyans to build national unity and address long-standing issues.

Barbaricum, another firm in which Sanitas International’s Christopher Harvin is partner/co-founder, is hiring Military Intelligence Advisors for the State Department’s Africa Bureau for Ethiopia, Chad, Tunisia and Nigeria

Gainful Solutions and Sanitas International lobbyists Michael Ranneberger, Constance Newman and Christopher Harvin meet with Salva Kiir in SouthSudan

And in South Sudan if Sanitas and Harvin can help Gainful Solutions get U.S. sanctions lifted on Salva Kiir’s regime and persuade the Trump Administration to spend more on counterterrorism through Kiir, perhaps there could be similar opportunities available in Juba advising the SPLA.

Here is Harvin’s bio from a SXSW presentation on doing business in Cuba from 2016:

With two decades of experience in the industry, Mr. Harvin has provided strategic communications solutions in over 60 countries. He is a founding Partner at Sanitas International, a global strategic communication, public affairs, digital media and political advisory firm based in Washington DC. Mr. Harvin is also a Partner at Barbaricum, a Service-Disabled, Veteran-Owned Small Business and SBA certified HUBZone which provides advisory services to the US Government. 

Mr. Harvin, who was recognized as one of the top public relations practitioners under 40 by PRWeek in 2013, has served the White House and has held senior communications and public affairs positions with the Secretaries of Defense and Veteran Affairs, Members of Congress and the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. He has represented multiple Heads of State, corporations, and sovereign governments in emerging markets around the globe. 

Mr. Harvin serves as a Board Member and Advisers to the Washington Inter-Governmental Professional Group, a DC-based organization with over 3,000 members from the private sector, diplomatic community and staff members from Congress and the Federal Agencies. He is a Member of the Board of Advisers for the Department of Communications at Georgia Southern University, is a Member of the Board of Advisers for The Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage (“ARCH”) International, Inc. and is an active member of the Public Relations Society of America. Mr. Harvin is a native of South Carolina, he resides in Washington DC.

In 2013, Mr. Harvin presented as a panel expert on the influence of social media in the Middle East at SXSW during the presentation “I Overthrew My Government: Now What?”

The 2013 SXSW presentation pairing Harvin and political consultant Joe Trippi could be seen as prefiguring their 2016 partnership in the not-for-profit Vanguard Africa Foundation which has been most notable for its democratization support work in The Gambia. Vanguard has also been representing various candidates in other African countries in Washington as well as providing campaign consulting:

Founded in 2016, Vanguard Africa represents the synthesis of best practices in campaign management with the mission-driven focus of a pro-democracy organization. We have convened previously isolated networks — campaign consultants, government and public relations experts, business leaders and human rights advocates — to provide unrivaled access and strategic solutions for pro-democracy leaders.

Executive Director Jeffrey Smith is an experienced human rights and democracy in Africa hand. (Perhaps someday independent South Sudan will have its first elections and Vanguard can get involved.)

What happens to social media after a Twitter revolution?” Mashable.com, March 9, 2013:

Two years after the Arab Spring, questions still remain as to how much social media actually helped fuel and drive the uprisings that arose in Tunisia and swept across the region. But regardless of what happened during those Twitter-fueled revolutions, what’s happened afterward? 

That’s what social media analytics firm Crimson Hexagon and Sanitas International wanted to find out when it decided to analyze tweets coming out of Egypt, Libya and even Syria, where there still is a war going on. The results of its 3-month study, which will be discussed in a panel at SXSW on Sunday, underscore the changes these countries are undergoing.

. . . .

Sanitas International - I overthrew my government, now what?

If Kenya’s remaining IEBC Commissioners have committed to stick with the 2017 OT-Morpho (n/k/a IDEMIA) “Election Management System” they should explain why they sole sourced that firm in March 2017 and disclose the contracts

At a briefing hosted this week by Kenya’s permanent internal election observation organization, ELOG, a Commissioner representing the IEBC indicated that the intention for the 2022 election was to reuse the KIEMS (“Kenya Integrated Election Management System”) system that was at the heart of the problems leading to the Supreme Court’s annulment of Kenya’s last presidential election.

Without scratching the surface into the deeper intrigues involving the re-election Of President Kenyatta and the technology involved, such as the pre-election abduction, torture and murder of acting ICT Director Chris Msando, or deported campaign consultants and police raids on data centres– not stuff for civil society seminars in Kenya–it would surely be the least Chairman Chebukati could do to explain why he and the Commission chose OT-Morpho/IDEMIA for the job in March 2013 in the first place.

Especially given that Kenya’s Parliament voted to debar IDEMIA and that Oberthur Technologies (OT) is subject to a world Bank debarment for bribery. Not to mention the firm’s strange role as a sole sourced substitute provider of problematic technology in 2013, when the Government of Canada stepped in to loan funds to the Government of Kenya to buy Biometric Voter Registration Kits after the supposedly independent IEBC had decided to go with a manual system instead. (According to what I’ve learned so far from a 2015 Freedom of Information Act request, IFES which was funded by USAID to assist the IEBC, reported back to USAID that the inability or unwillingness of the IEBC to resist this pressure from the Government to reverse its decision on the BVR system was a major setback in preparations for that election that reverberated through the failures with poll books and the Results Transmission in months ahead).

If the reasons for selecting OT-Morpho are to remain shrouded, the contracts themselves are public records and should be published. For some reason they do not appear to have been tabled in the 2017 Supreme Court cases about the presidential election–I am sure that was just an oversight and it is easily rectified now for the upcoming vote.

Ramping up air strikes after 12 years, does the Trump Administration have a new strategy for the war in Somalia or is this escalation “mission creep”?

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

The Trump Administration’s escalation of the air power part of the war in Somalia in recent months has caught the attention of American journalists. See recent reporting in The New York Times and Amanda Sperber’s investigative reporting in The Nation. A recent Amnesty International report that U.S. air strikes have caused 14 civilian casualties since 2017 had enough salience now to draw a formal AFRICOM denial in response. Al-Shabaab has maintained a recent high rate of suicide bombings causing mass civilian casualties as well as targeting government officials.

[Update 2: On April 5, AFRICOM released this statement regarding civilian air strike casualties, indicating that records had been discovered showing two civilians killed in April 2018 with further review to be conducted.]

[Update: See April 3 from the Council on Foreign Relations, “Controversy over U.S. Strikes in Somalia“,]

Meanwhile, Kenyan forces under AMISOM are reportedly continuing to pull back into more defensive position and thus leaving previously secured villages.

In a nutshell, the current chapter of war in Somalia has been underway since December 2006 with the Ethiopian invasion to restore the Transitional Federal Government which had been forced out of Mogadishu and was under threat of complete collapse in the face of fighters supporting the Islamic Courts Unions. There is a fair bit of fog on the details of the U.S. role. Secretary Condoleezza Rice wrote in one of her memoirs, No Higher Honor, that Ethiopian leader Meles Zenawi, already having expressed concern about spillover effects in Ethiopia from an extremist takeover in Somalia, called her on December 29 to let her know that his military was going in and, “Frankly, I did not try to dissuade him”. While there seems to be no surfaced evidence that we initiated the idea and some Americans involved in dealing with the Ethiopians could have been more discouraging at some prior point–clarity will await the historians–we nonetheless got directly involved without any public debate or disclosure to the American public. By the “go date” –just prior to December 29–we ended up providing air support and special forces hunting terrorists, at least, as well as coordinating with Kenya in the south as reported.

See “David Axe on ‘America’s Somalia Experiment’ provides a timely reminder of policy in the Horn of Africa in 2007-08“.

Rice’s memoir indicates she had no high regard or expectation regarding the TFG. She also writes that the Ethiopians were supposedly intending to be quickly in and out. Given these two factors, it is hard to understand exactly what was hoped for or expected (one has to be at least reminded of Libya or Afghanistan or Iraq where we were supposedly intervening militarily to prevent bad behavior without having a clear plan for the aftermath).

There has been some argument from commentators that we opposed the Islamic Courts Union because it was “Islamist”. The United States has close and supportive relations with a variety of Islamist governments, most conspicuously of course the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia itself which has had such a big ideological footprint in re-shaping education and worship among Muslims in Kenya, Somalia and throughout East Africa (and globally) so it does not make any sense to think that the U.S. supported a military ouster of the ICU just because they were Islamist rather than either tolerant or secular.

Nonetheless, Ethiopia had become a military ally of perceived importance and the invasion made sense for Meles Zenawi as head of a EPRDF regime that had its own reasons be concerned about a consolidating Islamist government regime next door, in an environment in which it had cracked down on political expression following a strong opposition showing and protests from the May 2005 election. For the U.S. I suspect that the motivator, in addition to supporting Meles, was the notion of the ICU as providing a “safe haven” for al Qaeda figures, including especially suspects in the Kenya and Tanzanian Embassy bombings, rather than issues more specific to the civil war or otherwise of internal governance. Al-Shabab has a long history with al Qaeda connected foreign fighters in leadership, and al Qaeda’s involvement in Somalia predated the ICUs by many years, although al-Shabaab it did not publicly and formally declare allegiance to al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri and become an open affiliate until 2012.

In 2002 the United States Central Command had established its base in Djibouti for the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.  In December 2006 the new “Africa Command”–AFRICOM–had been announced but did not become operational and take over the Somalia war in its Area of Responsibility until late 2008, or almost two years into the war. AFRICOM has continued to be headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany for ten years now and relies on the CJTF-HOA as its only formal “base” on the continent, although in layman’s terms it has many small “base-like facilities” with various “MILSPEAK” labels across the north and central parts of the continent. Journalist Nick Turse in particular has identified facilities for American readers who do not have the opportunity to see these locations for themselves by seeking records and public sources, while sparring with the AFRICOM public affairs function who seem to have orders to make sure only skeptics will report most of what AFRICOM does. Several of these facilities, such as Camp Simba at Manda Bay near the Somali border in Kenya, are particularly relevant to the warfighting in Somalia. See “Africa is a Command: from Bush to Obama to Trump“.

Following the Ethiopian action, in early 2007 the African Union AMISOM “peacekeeping” force was established to continue to defend the restored TFG and it’s internationally sponsored “transition”, with the EU funding the AU to pay for troops from Burundi, Uganda and other providers.  In October 2011 Kenya entered the war with a land invasion from the south and roughly nine months later in June 2012 formally enrolled their Kenya Defense Forces fighters in the AMISOM mission for reimbursement. In September of 2012 Kenya AMISIM conducted a successful amphibious landing and joint attack with the Somali National Army and local militia, taking over the lucrative port at Kismayo, a regional charcoal and sugar smuggling venue that was controlled by al Shabaab and had been their key urban center since they were replaced from Mogadishu in 2011. Kismayo is capital of the Jubaland region that Kenya has long seen as a potential buffer beyond its own underdeveloped and ethnic Somali frontier. At present, Jubaland’s nascent regional government, led by former local warlord, is negotiating the possibility of resuming cooperation with the nascent Somali Federal Government, successor to the TFG, and is to hold a presidential election in August. Kenyan forces over the years have suffered significant, but officially obscured, losses in major attacks on two of their positions, but have generally avoided any sustained pace of conflict in supporting the regional Jubaland administration. Smuggling reportedly continues to be lucrative and shared by the KDF with al-Shabaab and non-al-Shabaab Jubaland Somalis. Kenyans at home have suffered high profile terrorist attacks from al-Shabaab and its supporters from both countries and the Kenyan “frontier region” seems to be more contested than at any time in the last 40 years, although political devolution seems to provide some examples of integration-supportive development progress. See “Now to that next step: evaluating the Kenya Defense Forces role in Somalia and Kenya’s security needs“.

Over the years since 2007 the war has ebbed and flowed on a seemingly sustainable, semi-permanent footing.  Both the recognized government and al-Shabaab have territory and funding and some resilient will even if leadership seem frequently fluid. AMISOM expert and George Washington University Professor Paul Williams has suggested that AMISOM could reasonably hope to pass off to a Somali defense in as little as ten more years, which would mean we are slightly more than half-way through a 22-year mission.

For some reason, there seem to be disruptive elements in recent months aside from the continued high number of suicide bombings and the major January terror attack in Nairobi’s Westlands. First, there seems to be the strange notion that AMISOM should draw down troop numbers now because someone years ago guessed that something more like ten years rather than twenty would be adequate.  This strikes me as quite irresponsible.  Inertia is not a substitute for a strategy and tactics that adjust to interim successes and failures.

Second, the big increase in air strikes. The strikes are not explained other than announcements after each in which al-Shabaab fighters are said to have been killed and that the strikes were in support of operations of the Somali National Army and/or AMISOM or protecting our troops supporting same.  Reportedly we only have around 500 “warfighters” of our own deployed so it is the volume of air strikes rather than personnel that represent a significant change and raise the question why?

Sometimes, the question of the deployment of 500 American warfighters can achieve major political resonance with the United States–such as the recent back and forth within the Administrations about residual deployment numbers for eastern Syria.  Others, as in the case of Somalia seem nearly invisible.

Reading through the AFRICOM public communications, one gets the impression that the Command has a concern to re-assure our African “partners” (“partner” in this context means any government in the Area of Responsibility that is not off limits for reason of some egregious human rights situation or other policy matter that will agree to let us help them with training and capacity building in return for access and cooperation) that we are not going to abandon them to their “violent extremists” as we are calling the various Islamist guerrilla forces that use terrorism among their insurgency toolkits. 

The Trump Administration has announced that it is re-orienting American National Defense Strategy toward defending against major power competitors (i.e. Russia and China) rather than the “violent extremists”.  The timing may seem worrying to African defense leaders since the “violent extremist” problem is significantly worse in many areas now than when AFRICOM started in 2008, just as a recent CSIS report has documented what we all know casually: the situation has worsened globally (“Despite nearly two decades of U.S.-led counterterrorism operations, there are nearly four times as many Sunni Islamic militants today as there were on September 11, 2001.“)

In the case of AFRICOM, the official “MILSPEAK” term for a ten percent drawdown in American forces in Africa associated with the new National Defense Strategy is “Optimization”.  (One could suggest that this is the defense assistance analog to USAID’s “Self Reliance” focus coinciding with the Trump Administrations budget proposals to dramatically cut assistance budgets while increasing overall defense spending.)  Of course we are all in favor of being optimal, and self-reliant, just like we all want to be best, but these kind of words mean different things to different people, especially when used as public diplomacy labels to win support for changes in policy.

Could increasing air strikes seem to someone in the process in Washington a way to “show commitment” to fighting al-Shabaab even as our global posture shifts?  Could they indicate concerns of more al-Queda related transnational terrorists coming in with the territorial defeat of ISIS in Syria or otherwise?  Or if AMISOM is going to be allowed to draw down is there a desire to substitute air strikes or expedite the pace of fighting to keep al-Shabaab from waiting out AMISOM before the Somalia National Army is capable?  These are all just hypotheticals for me as an American not employed or contracted by my government to be personally involved beyond paying the taxes and preparing my children for the debt load.

Part of the challenge with Somalia is that we are not ready, at least yet, to acknowledge being “at war” even though there is not any serious factual debate about the fact that we are and have been.  The fact that we are fighting is not officially secret, but neither are we open about it.  We are not seeking public support in either the United States or in East Africa for what we are doing since we are willing to talk about it only in a way that is patently condescending rather than inviting engagement.

I have always wondered to what extent the war effort on Somalia, and the decision not to talk about it, hamstrung Ambassador Ranneberger and others who were supervising our democracy assistance and election preparation in Kenya. And once I eventually saw recently through FOIA that by April 2017 the Ambassador was describing a new approach of “building capital” with Kibaki rather than pushing reforms as per the older USAID program I would inherit within a few weeks, I am left with the heightened collaboration with Kenya during those initial months after the Ethiopian invasion as the most obvious change in facts that could explain the Kenya policy change. Was our failure in election assistance in Kenya with its devastating consequences facilitated by an unwillingness to discuss and account for Ethiopia and Somalia policy overlaps? If so, are we facing this kind of risk again as we escalate an air campaign without discussing why?

I am hoping that somewhere in my Government someone has come up with a new strategy for this war and that it went up the military and ultimately civilian chain-of-command before we started this escalated air campaign. The other possibility is pure self-perpetuating institutional “mission creep” which would be disturbing and irresponsible:

The escalation of airstrikes, as well as the introduction of manned gunships, has transformed the Defense Department’s Africa Command, based in Germany, into a war-fighting element akin to Central Command, which directs the wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Africa Command, which was created only in 2007, has stressed that its role on the continent is to focus on training and equipping allied troops on the continent, but the rise in strikes points to a change in both posture and mission. Current and former American officials previously told The Times that there wasn’t one clear reason for the increase, but they noted that the drawdown of American military operations elsewhere in the world has given Africa Command more drones and gunships to use in Somalia. The loosening of regulations under the Trump administration on using force in the country has also contributed to the rise.

See “At War: This New Generation of Weapons Could Mean More Covert Airstikes Around the World”, March 27, 2017, NY Times Magazine.

 See “Somalia and the Limits of U.S. Bombing“, a prescient warning from Jon Temin, now of Freedom House, early in the Trump administration.

For the KDF role, see “Why an open-ended military campaign in Somalia may prove to be very expensive“, Andrew J. Franklin, Business Daily Africa, Dec. 7, 2011.

For background please start with Kenyan writer Rasna Warah’s “War Crimes: How Warlords, Politicians, Foreign Governments and Aid Agencies Conspired to Create a Failed State in Somalia” and the recent “Inside al-Shabaab; The Secret History of Al-Qaeda’s Most Powerful Ally” by Haron Maruf and Dan Joseph, reviewed here in Hiiran Online.

Should the United States offer to replace Ugandan and Burundian troops in AMISOM?

Hargeysa Somaliland Gate

This is in the nature of a “thought experiment” rather than an actual suggestion at this point, but here goes rough sketch of the basic points:

1) We all recognize–whether we are willing to publicly admit it–that Somalia is in a “permanent” war state although progress has been made from the lowest ebbs over the years. Somalia is like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen in the sense that it is a place in which perpetual fighting appears indefinitely sustainable pending some major change.

2) The current phase of the civil war in Somalia started in December 2006 with a full scale invasion by Ethiopia, with US support, at the invitation of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), to displace the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) with a re-instated TFG. In early 2007 this gave way to the multilateral AMISOM “peace-keeping” military force of surplus Subsaharan African national troops seconded by their governments. Funding came from the EU and UN, passed through the African Union.

3) As we approach the 12th anniversary of the Ethiopian invasion with the Somali Federal Government (SFG) having significant influence but not consolidated military or civilian control of the country, we all know that there is no immediate prospect of a complete military defeat of Al Shabaab, the al Queda affiliate that coalesced in the breakdown of the ICU in the fighting in 2006-07. Al Shabaab at present no longer controls any major cities, following the Kenyan-led assault on Kismayo in 2012, but has sustaining financial support and territory, and seems to have wider influence in Kenyan territory in particular than in the past. Likewise the latest International Crisis Group report indicates increased influence in Tanzania.

4) Somalia has not had a clearly established national government since 1991– presumably before most of the foot soldiers on any of the sides were born.

5) Ugandan and Burundian troops have been provided to AMISOM by Museveni and Nkrurunziza, the “elected dictators” of Uganda and Burundi, respectively. Under this arrangement the United States provides training and support, and a patina of international legitimacy, to forces under the command of Musveni and Nkurunziza and they in turn loan out on a fully reimbursed basis some of those forces to the EU and UN through the AU.

6) Conceptually, the advantage to the United States from this arrangement, as I once heard it put a few years ago from a military perspective, is “better them than us.” The advantage to Museveni and Nkurunziza is leverage vis-a-vis the United States, the EU, the UK, the UN and the AU. For the AU the arrangement provides at no cost superficial prestige and legitimacy.

7) The disadvantage for the United States is that it also gives Museveni and Nkurunziza superficial prestige and legitimacy in spite of their repudiation of democratic values. It also gives a hint of reverse leverage in the relationship. Rwandan strongman Kagame has explicitly tried to exploit his dispensation of surplus troops to the UN mission in Darfur to ulterior advantage, for an example of the implications. This creates complications and risks in our relationships in East and Central Africa, whatever the perceived savings in regard to the Horn and Somalia.

8) Museveni and Nkurunziza do not have the mitigating factors on their side that buy indulgence for Kagame, whether legitimately or not. Kagame assuages our feelings of guilt or exposure to embarrassment for not taking action to try to stop the genocide in 1994 during the Rwandan civil war, by operating a micro-model of repressive developmentalism in tiny Rwanda. Those equities are simply not in play for Museveni or Nkurunziza who have chosen to become aggressively repressive anyway. Thus U.S. military partnership and EU funding Uganda and Burundi arguably become nakedly hypocritical and opportunistic.

9) Over the years of the fighting in Somalia the United States has significantly drawn down its forces in Iraq and in Afghanistan. We have now significantly increased our overall defense budget. It would seem that direct deployment of United States military personnel for the type of “peacekeeping” fighting engaged in by Ugandan and Burundian forces would be relatively easier now than in the earlier years if this iteration of the war in Somalia.

10) Meanwhile, questions have continued to grow about the sustainability of Museveni’s repressive government as he has continued to accelerate past the off ramps for peaceful transition. Thus, the quandary for the United States in using his forces in support of notionally democratic nation building outside the country while the idea of democratic nation building recedes within Uganda itself.