KPTJ Statement

Sharing the statement released by KPTJ this morning:

At this time of grief, we, Kenyans for Peace with Truth and Justice, wish to express our deepest condolences to the families of those who have been lost or remain missing, and wish a swift recovery to all those who have been hurt. We applaud the contributions of our fellow Kenyans to support rescue and security work and medical care for victims, as well as the unity our nation has demonstrated throughout this crisis. We condemn this despicable attack and support all work to rescue those still trapped at Westgate, and to end the situation as soon as possible and without further loss of life.

Two things to read after the Westgate attack (updated)

Simon Allison in The Daily Maverick has a piece today entitled “Nairobi attack: Why Kenya and why now?”  that strikes me as solid and recommended priority reading.

As far as where things are in Somalia this is probably a good time to read, if you missed it, Matt Bryden’s report “Somalia Redux?: Assessing the new Somali federal government” for the Center for Strategic and International Affairs, which provides a sobering corrective to any notions that recent progress in Somalia is more than a set of limited early steps toward any long term formation of a stable state.

Add this on the Kenyan security situation: “Kenya mall al-shabaab attacks reveal security cracks” Africa Report.

Why Westgate? [updated 9-24]

I certainly claim no special insight into the minds of Al Shabaab, but by virtue of having been around long enough to have been marked in childhood by the memory of the “Black September” attack on the Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, it isn’t a surprise to read that “Westgate Shopping Mall is one of several Israeli-owned businesses in Kenya.” “Shopping mall in premier complex that is home to international brands”, Saturday Nation.

Likewise, Nairobi’s upscale malls are hubs for internationals and expats, as well as symbols of the prosperity and comfort that can be found by the affluent in Nairobi and a source of local pride. The psychological and economic impact from mass murder at such a place is entirely different than mass murder of a similar scale in some other town or village, or in the slums.

I have to say I don’t believe these people would be sated if they ruled all of Somalia without challenge.

[Update: This post was an early reaction to news of the attacks. With the crisis nearing an end after three days, we don’t seem to really know much yet about the attackers and the specifics of the operation. Variety of contradictory information and lots of opinions, some derived from some substantial amount of experience and knowledge, some from little.]

Somaliland Update

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Britain warns of “specific threat” to Westerners in Somaliland and urges its citizens to leave. This is sad; I found Somalilanders to be most welcoming and especially appreciative of the interest and attention of Western visitors. Likewise, during 2007-08, Hargeisa just felt safer than Nairobi, or Addis or Khartoum for that matter.

Former Ambassador David Shinn recently gave an interview with the Somaliland Sun that will be reassuring to Somalilanders wondering about the impact on them of the U.S. decision this month to give formal recognition to the new Somali government:

While I don’t speak for the U.S. government, I doubt that the formal recognition of the new Somali government will have any significant impact on Washington’s interaction with Somaliland. I believe the U.S. government will continue to work with Somaliland as it has in recent years. While there may not be public references to the two track policy, the separate administration in Somaliland remains a reality and I believe Washington will treat it as such. It is up to the leaders of Somalia and Somaliland to determine the nature of their relationship. I see no indication that the United States has abandoned any commitments reached in last year’s London conference. Nor do I expect this development will change in any perceptible way U.S. policy on combatting piracy in the region.

See David Shinn’s blog here.

Red Sea

Kenya Update: election campaigns, teachers strike, Mombasa unrest

Close to 100 Kenyan civil servants tendered their resignations by Monday’s deadline in order to run for public office in the upcoming elections. The Standard reports.

Perhaps the most conspicuous is controversial Government Spokesman Alred Mutua who will seek the Governorship of Machakos County through the Wiper Party, formerly ODM-Kenya, headed by V.P. Kalonzo Musyoka.

Charity Ngilu, Water Minister from Kitui South, has entered the presidential race, the second female candidate along with Martha Karua. Ngilu was the first Kenyan woman to run for president in 1997.

Kenya’s public school teachers have gone on strike, from the Daily Nation:

School activities have been paralysed as teachers went on strike to demand for more pay.

The teachers defied a court order issued on Friday declaring the strike illegal and failed to report to the more than 30,000 public primary and secondary schools countrywide.

A survey by the Nation established that no learning took place on the first day of Third Term.

In Mombasa, a Muslim cleric, Said Abubaker Shariff Ahmed, suspected of involvement in terrorism has been charged with inciting the deadly riots following the killing of his associate Aboud Rogo.

Mudslides, Terrorism and Tourism

The death toll rose to three from the grenade attack on a nightclub north of Mombasa Sunday. In the meantime, in the Mt. Elgon region, on the Ugandan side of the border, there are 18 confirmed deaths from this season’s current mudslides, with 450 missing.

The Kenyan government protested the U.S. warning about a threat of attack in Mombasa as “economic sabotage” given the obvious potential impact on tourism, as well as a “betrayal of trust”, while insisting that it was ahead of the game and fully cooperating with U.S. agencies to stop any such planned attacks. Contrary to some initial reactions on twitter, the local bar attack was clearly not the kind of event that the American Embassy was warning about.

At the same time, Mombasa residents have accused security agencies, especially the National Intelligence Security Services (NSIS), of sleeping on the job.

“As residents of Mombasa, we are disturbed by these attacks which are occurring without any arrests. The police should work around the clock and arrest people suspected to have committed the incident,” said Mr Abdul Abdulla.

Since Kenya sent troops to Somalia last October, a series of explosions have rocked Nairobi, Mombasa and North Eastern region in what is believed to be retaliatory attacks by the Al-Shabaab.

Meanwhile, some American and British tourists on Monday down-played the travel advisory, saying the country was safe.

Mr Kevin Schmidt from California, USA, has been in the country for three weeks and said: “A lot of it is precautionary, they (US government) want to make sure everybody is informed,” he said.

“Man arrested over attack at drinking den,” Mark Agutu in the Daily Nation.

The bigger terrorism issue relates to the seizure of bomb making materials tracked to the port from Iraq and the arrest of two suspects thought to be Iranian.

U.S. Embassy warns of imminent threat of terrorist attack in Mombasa

From the Saturday Nation:

The United States has ordered its government officials to leave the Kenyan city of Mombasa over an “imminent threat of a terrorist attack.”

The US also suspended all government travel to the coastal city until July 1.

“This is to alert all US citizens in Kenya, or planning to travel to Kenya in the near future, that the US Embassy in Nairobi has received information of an imminent threat of a terrorist attack in Mombasa, Kenya,” read a statement issued by the Embassy Saturday.

“All US government travel to Mombasa is suspended until July 1, 2012.  All US government personnel are required to leave Mombasa.”

However, the Embassy said US private citizens were not affected by the travel advisory but “should consider this information in their travel planning”.

On Wednesday, two containers tracked from Iraq by international police were traced to the yards of a container freight station (CFS) in Mombasa.

This seems to be getting bigger coverage in the international media than in Kenya’s media so far.

AGOA, AFRICOM and the “Three Ds”

Just as the big annual African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Conference is kicking off in Washington, and USAIDs Frontiers in Development conference has ended, the Washington Post has run a large story, “U.S. expands secret intelligence in Africa” which will continue to draw attention, discussing military operations as opposed to anything involving the traditional intelligence agencies.

Briefly, my “macro” level observation is that this is an example of the choices confronting Americans in simply deciding who we want to be in Africa.

There is perhaps a certain irony that in 2012, all these years after the Cold War, the Chinese Communist Party government leads an expansive, rapidly growing commercial presence across Africa, while the U.S. does seem to be specializing more in the military/security area. “Comparative advantage”? Bureaucratic momentum and politics in Washington? Sound policy making reflecting that the U.S. sees itself as quite rich already and has a main priority of preventing future tragic “embassy bombings” and “9-11s”; whereas the Chinese government is relatively speaking “young and hungry”, and needs to build its economic power to hold power at home against any possible future “regime change” from democratization or other domestic pressures?

AFRICOM is an experiment of sorts and it is evolving. The Post story points out that AFRICOM is still doing “aid” projects–by which I assume they mean things like the traditional humanitarian and medical missions carried out by troops, and things like the fish farming program for the DRC military in Eastern Congo I noted some time back along with the military-focused democracy and governance and rule of law training, aside from the more usual military and security training assistance. At the same time, the budgetary pressure in Washington is hugely increased from anything that people would have had in mind back during the finance bubble when the decision to roll out AFRICOM as a “new kind” of combatant command was made. Spending on “development” and “diplomacy” are lowercase priorities when the budget axe swings, verses “the big D” on the traditional military side of a “three Ds” national security strategy.

On one hand, AFRICOM could provide a bureaucratic umbrella of sorts to help shelter some “development and diplomacy” efforts from the budget storm. On the other, it could suck up dollars to pay for programs that are neither efficient nor well coordinated, nor carried out by people who have development or diplomacy as their primary mission.   Regardless, I think it is fair and appropriate to say that at least some people on both the civilian and military side of the effort, who believe in the concept of a “new kind” of command, are concerned about the staying power of the model as conceived and approved against the bureaucratic pressure for military homogenization in the context of the global war on terrorism formerly known as “the Global War on Terrorism”.

Yesterday at the Frontiers in Development program Jim Kolbe, former Republican Congressman and longtime IRI board member, emphasized the importance of development for U.S. national security. I agree.  Having worked in the defense industry myself for 12.5 years, including the time of the USS Cole bombing (the ship was repaired at my workplace), 9-11 (I was in Washington), 7-7 (got the news of the London bombings as an election observer in Osh, Kyrgyzstan) I do not downplay terrorism or undervalue U.S. security–I just want very much for all of us as citizens to take responsibility for making good and deliberative decisions about our long term interests and ultimately the broader role we want to play in the world.

“War, Guns and Votes”? What will be the impact of Kenya’s war with Al Shabaab on the 2012/13 election?

AfriCommons, on FlickrGoing For Water

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.

Here is the latest summary on the war from the African Conflict Prevention Program from the Institute of Security Studies in Pretoria:

Somalia: Kenya’s Military Offensive in Somalia

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.

Here is the link to a new policy paper from Ken Menkhaus for the Enough Project: “After the Kenyan Intervention in Somalia”.

Inter-faith peace efforts in North Eastern Province after Garissa church attack

There are encouraging signs that Kenyans are sticking together in spite of the tensions associated with the Al Shabaab conflict:

Nairobi, Kenya (ENInews). After grenade attacks on a church in northern Kenya blamed on Islamic extremists, religious leaders said they were redoubling inter-faith peace efforts. At the same time, about 100 kilometers away, Christian relief agencies were carrying out humanitarian work in Dadaab, the world’s biggest refugee camp, despite security threats.

Two grenades were lobbed into the East Africa Pentecostal Church compound in the town of Garissa on 5 November, killing two people and injuring five others. The attack has been blamed on al-Shabab militants who are facing a Kenyan military operation in southern Somalia.

“We are alarmed by this blatant attempt by evil forces to drive a wedge between Christians and Muslims,” Sheikh Adan Wachu, general secretary of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims told a news conference on 10 November in Nairobi.

Speaking under the auspices of the Interreligious Council of Kenya, he said the militants had hoped to ignite Christians-Muslims violence, but had failed. He said the faiths were united against groups that misuse religion to cause anarchy and would be preaching that message in churches, mosques and temples.

“We have lived peacefully with one another for long. Therefore we choose not to interpret this as religious war,” the Rev. Joseph Mwasya, a clergyman from Garissa said on 8 November at a news conference.

At Dadaab, many agencies have scaled down since October when threats escalated, but the Rev. Eberhard Hitzler, the director of the Department for World Service of the Lutheran World Federation said on 8 November the organization will continue to deliver humanitarian relief at the camp.

“We have not yet the impression that the current situation in Dadaab constitutes a serious crisis, despite the security risks increasing for the organization; so we should set up a team to respond to it,” said Hitzler whose organization is responsible for housing and security in the camp. The 20-year-old settlement now contains more than 460,000 refugees who have fled war, famine and disease in Somalia.

[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]