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Will Kenya succeed in fighting Al-Shabaab?

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Former Somali transitional President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed (L) shakes hands with Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki (R).

By Hassan Isilow

Is the Kenyan government paying a price for deliberately not intervening earlier in solving the Somali crisis, which has been ongoing for two decades? This is the first thought that came to my mind last week, when suspected Al Shabbab sympathisers hurled grenades at innocent civilians in Nairobi.
One would expect Kenya to have intervened in the Somali crisis, as early as the 90’s, because the two countries share a border and an ocean. Kenya also has a long history of friendship and co-operation with Somalia. Another factor bonding the two nations is the large Somali ethnic population which occupies Kenya’s entire north Eastern province.
However, when former Somali president Mohamed Siyad Barre, was overthrown in 1991, Kenya turned a blind eye on the brewing crisis in neighboring Somalia.Several years later the situation became worse in Somalia, with different warlords battling for leadership. Kenya did not intervene in preventing this crisis from getting worse.
As a result, thousands of Somali refugees today seek refuge in Kenya. There have also been reports of arms smuggling from Somalia into Kenya, which some believe is responsible for an increase in Kenya’s crime levels. If Kenya had intervened earlier in the Somali crisis, would it have been paying such a high price today? As far as I can remember, Kenya has only been applying quiet diplomacy in the Somalia crisis.
The biggest role Kenya has ever played was to provide a mediation venue in Nairobi where different warlords and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) officials came together to discuss the way forward. I acknowledge this mediation effort, but I think Kenya could have done better by sending troops into Somalia at the onset of the crisis. This, I believe, would have prevented the situation from getting out of hand.
As I write this piece today, the clock is ticking, heading towards a fully fledged war between the Kenyan government and Al Shabbab fighters in southern Somalia. This comes after Kenya recently deployed troops in southern Somalia to pursue suspected pirates and Al Shabbab who entered the coastal territory and kidnapped an elderly French woman. The woman later died while in custody. This incident scared off many tourists from visiting the Kenyan coast, one of Africa’s main tourist destinations.
With tourism being one of Kenyans main foreign exchange earners, the state had to act by sending in the troops. To many this was a bold move, however, if Kenya had acted sooner in southern Somalia, Al Shabbab would probably have been history by now. Regardless of the foregoing, the Kenyan government should also observe human rights as it embarks on its mission against Al Shabaab inside Somalia.
On Sunday Doctors without Boarders (MSF) reported that an internally displaced people’s camp in southern Somalia had been bombed by Kenyan military. Three people were reportedly killed and 52 injured, mostly women and children. Kenyan police officers have also previously been accused by human rights groups of raping female Somali refugees crossing into Kenya.
The Kenyan government has to act decisively on any officer implicated in sexual violence. But its police should also stop victimizing Somali refugees living in Nairobi’s suburb of Eastleigh, because not all Somalis sympathise with Al Shabbab. The continued victimization and extortion of money from these people will only lead to radicalism, making it difficult for Kenya to succeed in its war against Al Shabbab

This article was first published in Uganda’s The New vision (


Written by africawitness

October 31, 2011 at 11:15 am

Posted in Xenophobia

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