Westgate aftermath: Is KDF’s presence in Somalia a misadventure?

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The Star – Kenya

AS Kenya comes to terms with the gruesome Westgate attack that left 67 people dead and more than 200 injured, debate is raging on whether Kenya ought to withdraw its troops from Somalia or not.

Analysts are divided whether continued presence of the Kenya Defence Forces in Somalia threatens the peace and stability of the country.

Other leaders say time has come to ‘dismantle’ the terror gang that has wreaked havoc in the Eastern Africa region.

“We went as a nation to Somalia to fight the war against terror unleashed on Kenyan people, Somali people and people around the world,” Kenyatta said during his address to the nation hours after the Westgate attack. “This is not a Kenyan war, this is an international war.”

The former Prime Minister Raila Odinga said withdrawing forces from Somalia is out of question.

“We will not be intimidated or blackmailed by these desperate acts of terrorism because we did go to Somalia for a reason and that was to protect our own territorial integrity which was under threat.

We already had a lot of terrorist attacks before our troops went to Somalia.

Our presence in Somalia has helped to stabilise that country, we have weakened al-Shabaab substantially in Somalia and normalcy has returned to a very substantial portion of the Somali territory,” Odinga told South Africa’s eNCA last week.

He said al Shabaab insurgents are part of al Qaeda and must be defeated. “This is not an issue that can be eradicated overnight. It has a process, but the international community is determined to proceed with this and Kenya must play its part in this whole confrontation,” he said.

Edwin Murunga, the deputy director of the Africa Leadership Centre in Nairobi, said Kenya has no option but to remain the ‘central cog’ in the struggle to restore peace in the war-torn Somalia.

“There are historical reasons for this – in addition to the fact that Kenyan defense forces are already entrenched in Somalia. For better or worse, history connects Kenya intricately with East Africa in ways that are difficult, if not impossible, to separate. Not only is Kenya the gateway to several East African countries, some of them are Kenya’s main trading partners,” Murunga said in an opinion piece for CNN.

He said “Somalia’s security and political history have become a part and parcel of Kenya’s socio-economic reality”.

The presence of KDF in Somalia has dominated debate for the past one year, with some questioning whether it is in the best interest of the country’s homeland security.

Mandera Senator Billow Kerrow said despite the weakening of al Shabaab by the Kenya forces and the African Union Mission in Somalia, attacks have escalated against Kenya over the last two years. “What are we doing in Somalia? We went in ostensibly to get the terrorists who kidnapped tourists and aid workers in Kenya, and threatened our security.

So, if KDF has killed hundreds of the terrorists and pushed them far into Somalia, why are we still in Kismayu?” he posed in his weekly column in the Standard on Sunday last week.

“Or worse still, rather than decline, why have terrorist attacks escalated? Have we lost our purported ‘aim’ of going into Somalia and ended up focusing on side issues?” he pondered.

He termed Kenya’s incursion into Somalia on October 16, 2011 as a ‘misadventure’ informed by ‘other political expediencies’. “Since 9/11, the US spends billions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries to keep terrorists off their soil and seem to have succeeded.

We have spent billions since October 2011 on our KDF forces in Somalia but have only succeeded in transferring more terrorists onto our soil,” Kerrow said. He said Kenya should first police its own towns before engaging in external wars.

Kenya sent its troops into the Horn of Africa nation following attacks and kidnappings of tourists in North Eastern and the Coastal regions. Kenya Defence Forces with Amisom forces defeated the militant group and dislodged them out of the port city of Kismayu, a town that was its main economic mainstay.

In return, al Shabaab has vowed to ‘teach Kenya a lesson’. It has since claimed responsibility for many attacks in the country which led to the loss of many lives including the latest Westgate Mall attack.

“What does Kenya have to do with the mess in Somalia to attract al Shabaab’s wrath?” asked Abdi Ismail Samatar, a professor of geography at the University of Minnesota.

Prof Samatar said Kenya’s military intervention in Somalia has given al Shabaab an excuse to export its terror. He alleged that although most Somalis welcomed the liberation of Kismayu from al Shabaab, they were dismayed that Kenya did not behave as other AMISOM forces in the country’.

“Most Somalis originally thought Kenya had been a benign neighbour since the collapse of the Somali state in 1991, but Somali feelings have hardened since the occupations and consider Kenya as a hostile government. Unfortunately, the terrorist group, al Shabaab, wants to exploit these legitimate Somali grievances against the government of Kenya. But most Somalis loathe what al Shabaab stands for and the atrocities it has visited on innocent people in Kenya, Somalia and others in the region,” said Samatar who is also the President of the African Studies Association in an article published on Aljazeera website.

Speaking on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York last week, the Somali Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fouziyo Yusuf Hajji Adan, said despite the latest attack on Kenya, the crisis would not force Kenyan troops out of Somalia. “Al Shabaab represents an aggression against humanity. It is an invasion against the Eastern Africa region and must be defeated in unanimity,” she said.

Al Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane said Kenya will ‘live to regret’ if it fails to withdraw its forces from Somalia. “We tell the Kenyan public: You have entered into a war that is not yours and is serving against your national interests,” Godane alias Abu Zubeir or ‘The Emir of al Shabaab’ said.

“You have voluntarily given up on your security and economy and lost many of your sons,” Godane said in a video message posted on You Tube with English sub-titles. “So make your choice today and withdraw all your forces from Somalia, otherwise be prepared for an abundance of blood that will be spilt in your country, economic downfall and displacement,” said Godane, whom Washington has put a $7million (Sh602 million) bounty on his head.

Kenya has borne the largest number of attacks among the countries that have its troops in Somalia. Uganda has suffered twin bombings in 2010, which killed 74 people in an attack targeted on football fans during the World Cup finals. Al Shabaab claimed responsibility. “Uganda is one of our enemies. Whatever makes them cry makes us happy,” Sheik Ali Mohamud Rage, an al Shabaab spokesperson, said then.

Analysts say the Westgate siege attack was meant to send a message that al Shabaab is alive and retains the capacity to strike beyond Somalia borders.

The United States and other nations pulled out of Somalia 20 years ago after 18 American soldiers were brutally killed in what was called the “Black Hawk Down” incident. “Black Hawk Down” has since been acted as a movie.
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