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Connecting the dots in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya

Just as the temperature of ‘security threat’ slowly declines in Somalia, it rises in other parts of East Africa

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The Horn of Africa
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Abukar Arman
On 7 January 2013 15:20

On its part the Ethiopian government claims that protesters are extremists who are connected to al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda, hence any use of force and ‘targeted imprisonments’ are necessary and justified. This comes at a time when Ethiopia, according to Amnesty International Annual Report 2012, has been scoring low marks when it comes to dealing with political opposition groups and human rights in general.

Meanwhile, Ethiopian forces operate in various regions in Somalia outside the AMISOM mandate or any other legal framework to keep these forces in check. 

The Gathering Storm

Despite all the goodwill that Kenya has been accruing in the past two decades for being a gracious host to hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees and the venue of a number of “Somali reconciliation conferences”, in recent years it has extravagantly squandered a great deal of its credibility and goodwill capital.  

This downward spiral started with a leaked dubious deal involving Kenya, Norway, a former UN Special Representative to Somalia, and some credulous/corrupt members of the defunct Transitional Federal Government.

The dominoes started to fall one after another when the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) intended to bypass the Transitional Parliament and guarantee Kenya the right to annex a portion of Somalia’s oil-rich maritime continental shelf was leaked. Despite the international embarrassment and the subsequent unanimous rejection of the deal by the Somali Parliament, there is enough evidence indicating that Kenya is not only pursuing that matter, it has been actively establishing facts on the ground to secure her that objective. 

Kenya’s expressed desire to establish a “buffer zone” in Lower Jubba region of Somalia is broadly recognized by the average Somali as Kenya’s relentless pursuit to exploit the ‘loot Somalia’ culture of the past two decades. This suspicion reached great heights when Kenyan Defense Forces – never before used for war – all of a sudden (independent of AMISOM) carried its largest ground invasion on Lower Jubba. 

The original official line that “the invasion was prompted by al-Shabaab’s kidnapping of a foreign tourist in Kenya” proved comical, especially on social networks. Immediately the impetus behind the invasion was modified as Kenya’s neighborly duty to stabilize Somalia. This, needless to say, led to Kenya becoming part of AMISOM, though the KDF – unlike other contingents – still operates autonomously.  

Since KDF’s invasion, that ultimately lead to the squeezing of al-Shabaab out of the strategic port of Kismayo and the takeover of Lower Jubba, sporadic violence has been erupting in various parts of Kenya. Considering how these terrorist operations were going after soft-targets such worshipers inside churches and mosques and crowded markets, worst could be yet to come. Last month a hand grenade blast outside a mosque killed at least three and injured a few more including a Kenyan Member of Parliament, Yusuf Hassan, who is ethnically Somali.

In addition to a several hundred thousand refugees and Somali immigrants, there are approximately 4 million ethnically Somali Kenyans. This particular peaceful population has suffered greatly as a result of the Kenyan military’s effort to crackdown these new threats. There are a number of documented cases of KDF forces carrying out brutal public beatings of Kenyans of Somali descent who are suspected of being al-Shabaab sympathizers. Furthermore, there are a number of cases of rape, setting local businesses of fire, and random killings of members of this community.

Recklessly aggravating this population and questioning their loyalty cannot lead to improved security; neither for Kenya nor Somalia. This population already has the grievance of being economically neglected and being treated like second class citizens in their own country. Adding collective punishment to this might prove a dangerously imprudent endeavor.   

Against this backdrop yet another controversial MOU led by Kenya (in collaboration with Ethiopia) has emerged stirring animated debates in various circles within the government and the in the public sphere. The clear consensus was that the Federal Republic of Somalia cannot and should not compromise its sovereignty and give up, among other things, its authority of oversight regarding regional and newly forming Federal States. 

Absence of Strategic Scrutiny

In the absence of frank and mutually beneficial discussions coupled with broad-based political pressure from the international community, these old and new trends would continue. 

Kenya’s vibrant civil societies that initially protested the militarization of their country are now mainly co-opted as a result of the euphoria generated by KDF’s military success in its first international military operation. Likewise, the current Ethiopian government, though it is seemingly less octopus-like in its attempt to micromanage Somalia’s political affairs, it remains resolved to upholding the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s legacy and hegemonic ambitions. 

Meanwhile, these karmic security challenges continue to threaten the stability of the entire region and dampen the potentially lucrative economic future of this resource-rich region.

Abukar Arman is Somalia’s Special Envoy to the United States

Read more on: somalia's new constitution, African Union Mission to Somalia, somalia, ethiopia, Kenya, Al Qaeda bombings in Kenya, Kenyan political process, al qaeda, horn of africa, and Abukar Arman
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