Kenya Defence Forces soldiers under the Africa Union Mission in Kismayo, Somalia, on November 20, 2015. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP
Kenya has to prepare to be new praetorian guardian of democracy in Horn of Africa
Almost uncannily, in Kenya, as elsewhere, the month of October has become synonymous with military strategy and defence of freedom and democracy.
Strategy guru, Professor Richard Rumelt, openned his powerful classic, Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why it Matters (2011), with October 21, 1805: the battle of Trafalgar during the Napoleonic Wars, when Britain’s Admiral Lord Nelson commanding a line of 27 British ships defeated 33 French and Spanish ships, sinking 22 ships in the Franco-Spanish fleet without losing a single British vessel. It was a triumph of strategy over numbers, which decisively ended the French plans to invade the Island nation.
This week, October 14, 2016 was the 4th Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) Day, which was celebrated under the theme of “Enhancing Security for a Prosperous Nation.” In 2012, Kenya set aside October 14 as the day when the military shows support for the families of fallen soldiers, honour those injured during operations and recognise the contributions by Kenyan soldiers to national, regional and global peace and security.
Five years ago, Kenya entered Somalia to rout al-Shabaab Islamist group in a military operation codenamed “Operation Linda Nchi” (protect the nation). In the same vein, next week, on October 20, Kenya will be honouring its heroes (mashujaa) who, 54 years ago, embarked on one of Africa’s most illustrious armed struggles for freedom, which inspired other struggles, including Nelson Mandela’s Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) in South Africa.
In a deep sense, the two events highlight Kenya’s historic commitment to democracy. The country’s new constitution (2010) not only launched the country on a democratic path to development and prosperity but also created a reformed KDF as the “praetorian guard” of the new democratic order.
Even prior to the new constitution, Kenya’s armed forces steered clear of two types of potential dangers to a democratic order that Plato recognised 2500 years ago: Politicians, who have military ambitions, and military with political ambitions. Blissfully, Kenya was spared the scourge of military rule that bedeviled the continent.
Kenya’s war on al-Shabaab has transformed the KDF from what was lampooned as a “ceremonial military” to a bulwark of regional security.
Kenya’s entry into Somalia may be an offshoot of the events of the Black Hawk Down on October 3-4, 1993, when Somali forces allied to Mohamed Farrah Aidid downed two United States UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters triggering the Battle of Mogadishu, the most intense close combat in US military history since the Vietnam War where 18 Americans and hundreds of Somalis were killed.
America and the international community scrambled out of Somalia, literally leaving the country and its neighbours to the dogs. Somalia would become a graveyard of failed diplomatic efforts. In its official account, Operation Linda Nchi: Kenya’s Military Experience in Somalia (2014), KDF lists no less than 20 such efforts.
Although the Eldoret Peace Process of 2002 and the Djibouti Peace Process of 2008 gave birth to the Transitional Federal Governments (TFG), no functioning government emerged in Somalia. Instead, the country has become a haven for cells of international terrorists while providing a fertile ground for the emergence of homegrown terrorist groups, including the Al Ittihad Al Islamiya (AIAI), Islamic Courts Union and the deadlier and al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabaab group.
The TFG in Villa Somalia was unable to contain al-Shabaab or to prevent them from attacking Somalia’s neighbours. Between 2006, when it was formed, and 2011, the militia carried out cross- border raids in Wajir, Garissa, attacked police posts and killed tourists and security personnel and abducted nuns, civil servants and tourists for ransom. Kenya was under pressure to act.
On its part, the TFG needed protection. Although the African Union’s Peace and Security Council created the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) in January 2007, whose mandate was approved by the United Nations Security Council, al-Shabaab thrived, posing an existential threat to Kenya.
Five years after KDF entered Somalia, the question raised is whether it has achieved its goals, and whether it should pull out of Somalia. Obviously, KDF routed the militia from cities and towns in Southern Somalia, including Kismayu. Life has gradually returned to normal in Somalia. “I saw a traffic jam in Kismayu”, said a Kenyan journalist who visited Somalia recently. But nobody should have any illusion that defeating an ideologically embedded terrorist group is easy.
Kenya’s encounter with al-Shabaab in the last five years has galvanised its security, won the public to the need to build a strong, well-coordinated and equipped security architecture to not only protect the borders but also to secure the region. As a result, Kenya has reduced al-Shabaab retaliatory attacks on its soil from 100 in the 2011-2015 period to less than five in 2015-2016 hiatus, mainly in the remote parts of counties bordering Somalia.
But al-Shabaab remains a versatile and brutal force. As a case in point, on October 12, 2016 the militia reportedly beheaded four elders, known to be peacemakers, in Hiiraan region of Somalia, accusing them of supporting the Somali Government in Mogadishu and spying for Amisom forces.
This followed the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces from the Hiiraan region, which enabled al-Shabaab to take over towns left by Amisom. Al-Shabaab is also going for the hearts and minds of the Somali, supplying food aid to residents in towns like Jilibi in Southern Somalia, which it has re-taken and re-occupied.
Al-Shabaab’s apparent resurgence follows an internal crisis of democracy in Ethiopia signified by a year of anti-government protests involving two major communities — the Oromo and Amhara — which constitute over 60 pc of the Ethiopian population. The government has declared a countrywide six-month state of emergency following the death of over 500 people in police crackdowns.
The unravelling of Ethiopia, which together with Kenya constitutes a “dual regional power”, attests to the adage that only a just, prosperous and democratic state can be a reliable bulwark against violent extremism and bastion of regional peace and security.
With Ethiopia’s withdrawal from parts of Somalia, Kenya has to prepare itself to take up its new role as the new praetorian guardian of democracy in the volatile Horn of Africa region.
Prof Peter Kagwanja is chief executive, Africa Policy Institute.