Three years after the resignations of a majority of Kenya’s election commissioners, President Uhuru Kenyatta has formally taken notice of the four vacancies and gazetted the process through which he will appoint replacements.
Why now? While the President has not explained specifically to my knowledge, his ruling Jubilee Party is seeking to have the Independent Boundaries and Electoral Commission conduct a constitutional referendum within weeks to approve amendments derived from the “Building Bridges Initiative”. (A version of a proposal to amend the constitution was passed by most of Kenya’s county assemblies positioned as a citizen initiative. It is now before Parliament where there is internal debate among proponents as to whether to approve it for referendum as is, or to allow amendments to what has already been passed by the counties, which would raise additional legal questions. Challenges to the legality of the process to date are pending in the courts already.)
Remember that U.S. president Joe Biden has “been around”, with far more diplomatic experience than any of his four most recent predecessors in the White House. In 2010 as Vice President he met with Kenyan Speaker Kenneth Marende, along with President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga, ahead of that year’s constitutional referendum during the period in which Kenya was deciding between justice-oriented remedies and impunity for the 2007-08 Post-Election Violence.
Kenyan Speaker of Parliament Kenneth Marende seems to be getting an increased international profile. Navanethem Pillay, UN Commissioner for Human Rights, called on Marende on Monday, expressing concern regarding progress on prosecution of suspects for post election violence. According to the Standard she singled out Marende for praise, “saying he had made immense contribution in stabilising the country through some historic rulings and the manner he handled issues in Parliament”.
U.S. Vice President Biden will call on Marende Tuesday as well, along with his meeting with President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga.
Interestingly, Marende says that Parliament “would easily pass” legislation to provide for a “local tribunal” to try election violence cases under Kenyan criminal law “if the ICC acted swiftly by taking away key perpetrators of the violence”.
Biden will leave Thursday morning, the day of the South Mugirango by-election to fill the seat vacated by a successful election petition against Omingo Magara, originally of ODM. As it stands the race is hot, with Raila Odinga campaigning for the substitute ODM nominee, Ibrahim Ochoi, William Ruto campaigning for Magara running as a PDP nominee and heavyweights in PNU affiliates split among Magara and other candidates.
In May 2008 my family spent two weeks traveling around Uganda after finishing my time as Resident Director for East Africa at IRI before I was due to back at my “day job” as a lawyer at home in the U.S. This photo is of our children at a “backpacker resort” on the Nile.
It was a bright change of pace after the failed December election and post election violence in Kenya and associated drama I have been writing about here. The sort of thing I can wish for anyone after the present pandemic.
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.
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.
Two weeks ago, Ugandans on social and mainstream media went into a frenzy after president Yoweri Museveni made a major shake-up of the police hierarchy, appointing four senior army officers to key positions, in a move interpreted as a preparation for the conduct of the 2021 elections.
The president named army men to the positions of Chief of Joint Staff, Crime Intelligence, Human Resource Development and Training, and Human Resource and Administration.
Civil society, the Uganda Law Society and opposition figures said that the appointment of the army officers to top positions in the police amounted to militarising the force, which could lead to impunity and brutality towards citizens.
The Uganda Law Society noted that the army did not have a good history working together with police.
Recent opinion polls show Wine mounting a serious challenge, especially in Kampala. He is encouraged by events in places such as Ukraine, where Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian with no political pedigree, recently won the presidency. “We have a funny saying: ‘If they did it, then we can did it’,” he says, grinning. “So if those people in Ukraine did it, then we also can did it.”
According to Ambassador Ranneberger’s cables to Washington from my FOIA research, in the run up to the 2007 Kenyan electoral debacle the Embassy reported to Washington that there was a desire on the part of the Kenya’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) to emulate Ukraine’s opposition to Soviet then Russian backed government culminating in what became known as “the Orange Revolution”.
The Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004 might never have taken place if not for U.S. aid. First, the former communists in control of the Kiev government declared their candidate won an election. Then, a U.S.-funded think tank tallied up exit polls that showed the government had lied and it really lost the election.
Next, a Ukranian TV newsman trained by a U.S. aid program broadcast the exit polls and set up its cameras on the main square for an all night vigil. Up to one million people came to join the vigil. Then the Supreme Court — which had been brought to visit U.S. courts in action — ruled the election was invalid and the government had to step down.
Furthermore, U.S. legal, legislative, journalism and other trainers taught judges, prosecutors, legislators and journalists how to do their jobs in a democratic system.
In Kenya, however, unlike in Ukraine, the U.S.-funded exit poll was suppressed rather than broadcast. TheNew York Timesreportedthat USAID’s agreement with the International Republican Institute to fund the poll stipulated that IRI should consult with USAID and the Embassy before releasing the poll, taking into account technical quality and “other diplomatic considerations”. (The USAID agreement was subquently, eventually, released to Clark Gibson of the UCSD, the primary author of the poll and consultant to IRI, under a FOIA request. I had the contract all along, of course, since I supervised the poll as IRI’s East Africa director but waited for the FOIA to write about this provision in the contact providing for Embassy diplomacy input with IRI on the release decision.)
Yanukovych was officially certified as the victor by the Central Election Commission, which itself was allegedly involved in falsification of electoral results by withholding the information it was receiving from local districts and running a parallel illegal computer server to manipulate the results. The next morning after the certification took place, Yushchenko spoke to supporters in Kiev, urging them to begin a series of mass protests, general strikes and sit-ins with the intent of crippling the government and forcing it to concede defeat.
In view of the threat of illegitimate government acceding to power, Yushchenko’s camp announced the creation of the Committee of National Salvation which declared a nationwide political strike.
Ranneberger noted in his cable that the situations in Ukraine and Kenya differed, but did not elaborate. In Ukraine there was ultimately a re-vote and in Kenya the altered election results showing a Kibaki win stood, with a partially implemented power sharing agreement eventually leading to a new constitution. How was Kenya in 2007 different from Ukraine in 2004? How would the U.S. react to a potentially disputed election in Uganda where Museveni has arguably even more control over the election management body than Kibaki did?
Michael Ranneberger, whose controversial tenure as United States ambassador to Kenya is well remembered, is the managing partner at Gainful Solutions.
Comparing his posture back then, his flip from the high priest of justice and human rights, to the devil’s advocate cannot escape attention.
Former assistant secretary for African affairs Jendayi Frazer, is another US top gun diplomat who is well known for her consultancy services across East and Central Africa since leaving US government service.
At issue here is whether American diplomacy, as represented by Frazer and Ranneberger, subscribes to any universal values at all. It is obvious that the duo are exploiting the networks made during their career, to make hay today.
In an ideal world, the stakes in South Sudan are so high, that they should be adequate incentive for anybody to think beyond the short-term gains an individual could make out of the situation.
Ultimately, however, external interference cannot be discussed without examining the role of the African politician who has been a willing accomplice by shunting aside the national interest in favour of self-preservation. [this is EA revised text]
[(East African) EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been corrected to remove the association earlier made between big infrastructure projects in Uganda and Ms Jendayi Frazer. Ms Frazer has not been involved in any infrastructure deals in Uganda and her name was inadvertently mentioned in that segment of the leader. We regret the error.]
Editorial criticism of Ranneberger and Frazer of this type is not the East African’s usual approach, as reflected in the defection of many of their Nation Media Group opinion columnists to The Elephant’s East African Review, as well as to The Standard, in the wake of the handling of coverage of the Uhuruto re-election fiasco in 2017-18and Jubilee crackdowns on the media. Some years ago the East African passed up a friend’s offer to put together my experience and investigation from this blog on how Ranneberger and to some extent Frazer played the 2007 Kenyan election while they were in the State Department from my “War for History” series.
So kudos to theEast African now for calling this issue out editorially, even if the news departments have not been covering these developments in the past. Maybe that can change.
One of my questions in looking at the current Kenyan presidential race has been how Dr. Frazer will play it, especially given that there is no way to know now who will be in power then in Washington. Assuming that the current “handshake” holds and that Frazer’s first relationship is with the Kenyattas, would she affirmatively step up for Raila in the face of a serious challenge from Ruto in a competitive “two-horse” presidential race? Or would she approach this differently? (She was firm in her position that what was done in the Rift Valley in the wake of the 2007 election fraud was “ethnic cleansing” even though “Main State” would not adopt her terminology, so it would arguably seem pretty awkward for her to support Ruto, wholly aside from the current corruption situation with Ruto). She was vital to the Uhuruto ticket in the 2013 race and to its perception and reception in Washington in the Obama years thereafter to my way of thinking. Getting called out publicly in the East African and not just having dealings with Uhuru and Kagame is a wild card.
When The Starhad me write some columns in the spring of 2013, they headlined the one dated March 23 challenging Dr. Frazer’s support of the Uhuruto defense in the Supreme Court of the IEBC’s questionable numbers to avoid a runoff after “failure” of the Results Transmission System in the election petition by civil society and the opposition as “Jendayi Frazer lacks moral authority“. Read the whole piece if you are interested in Kenyan elections or U.S. democracy assistance, but I concluded:
The thing that is most striking to me about this now, in light of the current litigation about the manual vote tally by the IEBC in this election, is that Jendayi Frazer was the head of the Africa Bureau at the State Department during 2007-08 when the previous Exit Poll was withheld and the misleading “press guidance” put out [by the Africa Bureau as I had just learned from FOIA]. Today, as a private citizen, Dr. Frazer is aggressively arguing in the Kenyan press and in the press back in Washington to once again uphold the disputed work of the Kenyan election officials against the concerns raised by the opposition. I cannot justify how this was handled when she was in charge in 2007 and 2008.
When I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Frazer the first time later I did apologize to the extent of noting that the phrasing of the headline itself was not something that I myself would personally have written, although I stand by the content of what I did write. When I published “The Debacle of 2007: How Kenyan Politics Was Frozen and an Election Stolen with U.S. Connivance” (again, the headline is not mine) in The Elephant in June 2017, I focused primarily on my direct dealings with Ranneberger. Frazer’s exact role as his superior and the intentions of any formal policy beyond the law as such have never been made fully clear. Ranneberger’s cables as provided under FOIA from before and immediately after the election leave gaps and questions as to what was reported to Washington before Frazer and later Rice were dispatched to Nairobi starting several days after the vote during the post-election violence (although it would be unfair to Ranneberger to make assumptions from that circumstance alone, and various facts were misrepresented in Washington after the vote regardless.)
More broadly, I have agreed with some of Dr. Frazer’s many policy approaches and disagreed with some. What I would think about her personal integrity regarding the 2007 election would depend on whether she was acting per instructions of policy or making it herself. In 2013, I did not appreciate her public role and have not qualified my reaction based on anything I seen since.
At the same time, Frazer seems to have been a primary architect of some policy approaches in Africa that were quite positive and that left the U.S. in better stead in the G.W. Bush years in Africa than elsewhere, in spite of conspicuous controversy regarding Somalia. Arguably with PEPFAR and other initiatives there was some actual “compassionate conservatism” undertaken in SubSaharan Africa even as the anti-compassionate forces reflecting the Vice President’s approach changed the direction of the Bush Administration foreign policy elsewhere in the wake of 9-11. Post-Bush Administration she is relatively ubiquitous in elite U.S. institutions associated with Africa, especially as an African-American as well as her various “Afrocapitalism” engagements. So in that regard she earned respect and a willingness on my part not to assume the worst even if there are some things that look bad.
Ultimately, in spite of the fact that she tends to be quite assertive in her positions, I find her to be a bit of an enigma really. Regardless, anyone as involved in as many things in as many places as she is is going to be wrong some of the time. As a diplomat that involvement may not always be optional absent resigning, but it is a choice for a private citizen.
6. The Consultant will charge the Client a flat fee of $3.7 million dollars for the services (the “Compensation”) for this two-year Contract.
7. The parties acknowledge that $1.2 million dollar’s of the Compensation has already been paid to the Consultant as ofthe date hereof, as a non-refundable retainer. The Consultant will invoice Client quarterly for amounts due.
Here is the new 2019 World Press Freedom index from RSF, with the United States down to No. 48 (!) and France and the U.K. at 32 and 33 respectively. Namibia at 23, Ghana at 27 and South Africa at 31 lead SubSaharan Africa. Burkina Faso at 36 and Botswana at 44 also outrank the United States.
Thus, five African nations are ranked above the United States for press freedom this year according to Reporters Without Borders. The United States continues to rank above all of the East African nations.
Here are the East African Community member rankings:
South Sudan 139
Elsewhere in the East and Horn Region: Ethiopia 110; Somalia 164; Djibouti 173; Sudan 175.
And other “development partners”: Norway 1; Germany 13; Japan 67; UAE 133; Russia 149; Egypt 163; Iran 170; Saudi Arabia 172; North Korea 179
The East African Community as currently constituted with the addition of newly independent but unstable South Sudan has six member states. Arguably Kenya under its corrupt but seemingly stable one party dominant “handshake” government over the past year following annulled then boycotted 2017 elections is about as far along the democracy continuum as any of the six–on balance, the region seems to be experiencing authoritarian consolidation.
EAC Chairman Paul Kagame, who initially took power in the first instance through leading the 1990-1994 invasion from Uganda, engineered a referendum to lift term limits last year and was then re-elected with nearly 99% of the vote over his two closest opponents with less than 1% each, after jailing a more conspicuous challenger and expropriating her family’s resources. Suffice it say that Paul Kagame is one of the world’s more controversial leaders–both loved and hated, praised and feared among Rwandans and among politicians and journalists from other countries. The slogan of the EAC is “one people, one destiny”; the website invites users to memorialize the anniversary of “the genocide against the Tutsi”.
I think we could all agree that Kagame operates Rwanda as a heavily aid-dependent developmental authoritarian one party state “model”. Western diplomats and politicians, aid organizations, educational institutions and companies and foundations are free to participate so long as offer support rather than any form of dissent. Likewise journalists and scholars are welcome to spread the good news. Some see deep real progress from a genocidal baseline and a “cleaner”, “safer” more “orderly” less “corrupt” and more business-friendly “Africa”; some see a cruel dictatorship killing its opponents and silencing critics to hide its own dark past while supporting catastrophic regional wars and looting outside its borders while offering international busybodies and ambitious global operators gratification or absolution from past sins for cash and protection. Whatever one thinks of the relative merits of democracy and developmental authoritarianism, in Rwanda specifically or in East Africa or the world-at-large, I think we can agree that Rwanda is not a model of democracy.
Tanzania has regular elections which are always won by the party that always wins. In the world of East African democracy, it ranks above Kenya in some respects in recent years for avoiding the tribal mobilization and conspicuous corruption-fed election failures that have plagued its neighbor to the north. But again, no actual turnover of power from the ruling party and lately, civil liberties have been taking a conspicuous public beating. In the last election, the opposition took the seemingly desperate or cynical step of backing a candidate who was compromised by his recent expulsion from Government and the ruling CCM–and who having lost has now abandoned his new friends to return to CCM.
In Uganda, Museveni like Moi before him in Kenya, eventually allowed opposition parties to run, but unlike Moi, as not given up unilateral appointment of the election management body and has gone back to the “constitutional” well to lift first term limits, then the presidential age limit. While extrajudicial killings are not as prominent a feature of Ugandan politics as they are in Kenya, that might only be because Museveni counts on beatings and jail terms to send clear messages.
Burundi is under what would be an active ongoing crisis situation if not for the fact that things have gotten too much worse in too many other places for us to keep up. Whatever you think of Nkurunziza and the state of alternatives for Burundi, I do not think we need to argue about whether it is near to consolidated, stable, democracy.
South Sudan has not gotten far enough off the ground to present a serious question.
So under the circumstances it would seem quite counterintuitive to think that a political confederation beyond commercial of the existing six states would enhance rather than forestall hopes for a more a democratic intermediate future in Kenya or Tanzania. Likewise it does not seem to make sense to expect some serious mechanism for real democratic governance on a confederated six-partner basis anytime in the near or intermediate future unless quick breakthroughs are seem in multiple states.
Someday, after democratic transitions in Rwanda and Uganda and an experience of a change of power in Tanzania, after Kiir and Machar are safely under lock and key or have run off with Bashir to Paraguay, this can be revisited in a new light.
DETERMINED to strengthen their economic, social, cultural, political, technological and other ties for their fast balanced and sustainable development by the establishment of an East African Community, with an East African Customs Union and a Common Market as transitional stages to and integral parts thereof, subsequently a Monetary Union and ultimately a Political Federation;
In Chapter 23, Article 123
6. The Summit shall initiate the process towards the establishment of a Political Federation of the Partner States by directing the Council to undertake the process.
7. For purposes of paragraph 6 of this Article, the Summit may order a study to be first undertaken by the Council.
In the consultations, it became clear that the East African citizens want to be adequately engaged and to have a say in the decisions and policies pursued by the East African Community.
On 20th May, 2017, the EAC Heads of State adopted thePolitical Confederationas a transitional model of the East African Political Federation.
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.
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.
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 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 officialspreviously told The Timesthat 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.
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.