Just what would it take for the Kenya Defence Forces [KDF] currently serving in Somalia under the AMISOM mandate to safely return back home? They only went into Somalia in 2011, four years ago, in contrast the war in Afghanistan started in 2001 and President Ghani over there has requested that US troops extend their stay instead of being withdrawn as planned next year. One might argue that is a different theater of war with dissimilar challenges.
Well let’s explore these situations, firstly President Uhuru’s administration inherited this complex Somalia issue in 2013 from the previous Kibaki regime which had earlier initiated military action against al shabaab through “Operation Linda Inchi”. It’s significant to note that Somalia has been up to 2012 a government less land, this way from 1991’s un-ceremonial exist of Said Barre, This is a country that was divided up among various warlords and terrorist-like authorities; al shabaab & it’s less radical predecessor the Islamic Courts Union [ICU].
In a way that is not un-similar to US President Barrack Obama’s challenge when he inherited the Iraq conflict situation in 2009 from President George W. Bush. The exception is that the previous year President Bush had already signed with the Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Maliki, a US troop withdrawal agreement [Status of Forces Agreement], scheduled to have been accomplished by end 2011. Obama’s campaign committed to undertake a responsible withdrawal of all combat troops in the 16 months remaining. Later while in office he had to adjust those plans. It became apparent to Obama then as it should become instructional to us in our current situation that winding down the conflict situation in Somalia would require more than the simplistic notion of just pulling out all our troops. In Iraq the US needed to leave a stable government in place so as to ensure it remained a friendly country or at least was not an enemy state or a safe haven for enemies. In our case the same can be said for our desire to ensure Somalia is free of al shabaab.
Towards that end this is what needs be done:
Kenya Defence Forces: and if need be with the help of other AMISOM forces, must completely over run all physical locations in Somalia held by the terrorists. This in my evaluation is the basis for everything else. Note if we are discussing Kenya’s national security then the demand is upon our own decisions and actions first before relaying on the assistance of friendly and partner nations. Our government’s goal should be to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al shabaab and to ensure that it cannot return to operate in Somalia in the future, [Paraphrased from President Obama’s speech to Americans on increasing US forces by around 50% of previous levels in Afghanistan]. We must pursue a progressive nationwide disarmament in that country leading to provisional regional withdrawals of our forces leaving Somalian national security authorities to man the territory. In order to achieve that and later to ensure the complete withdrawal of its troops, Kenya may have to begin by increasing its military presence possibly to march the twenty two thousand, strong AMISOM Force. Again a comparative analysis could be drawn with the US, in March 2009 president Obama increased the countries military presence in Afghanistan by 17,000 troops that is around 50% more than were already there. In December of the same year he further increased the level by an extra 30,000 troops. In so doing he severally debilitated the Taliban’s capacity and ability to sustain a credible fighting force. That move also protected law abiding people better and allowed the Afghan government to set up its own administration. I see a similar scenario in Somalia with KDF if the Somalian government is to stand a chance for successful administration of the 638,000KM square of that country. This US-Afghan scenario where soldiers have not been fully withdrawn to date is still another lesson for us, depicting the sensitivity, time taken and level of commitment associated with a responsible withdrawal from a country whose security and administrative infrastructure had been decimated by war and lawlessness.
The Kenyan military action into Somalia was undertaken without an apparent explicit exit plan in place. That is in any case water under the bridge now we must set up Somalian military and internal security mechanisms to the point they can protect and enforce legitimate civilian rule. Whatever the master plan that is devised to do it, this must be shared and coordinated with the AMISOM Command to ensure synchrony of purposes and execution. This is not suggestion that our government cedes its responsibility for our security to other organizations. It is admittance that there are other friendly actors with whom we can corporate to realize our objectives. Yet our national agenda must be the basis upon which we interact in this case. That exist goal will demand for helping in development of a Somalian National Security Strategic Plan including putting up military bases and law enforcement stations throughout the country as appropriate. An effective air force as a critical element of modern warfare may take five or more years to build in Somalia from the ground up. Imagine the effort required in developing an effective border control mechanism. Recruitment to these and other government organs will not be simple either it may call for the wooing back of a Somalian diaspora or for hire of foreign nationals with the education & skill levels required to be really effective.
Quote: “There’s no question that there was not an effective plan to win the peace after winning the war”
-- Kenneth Menkhaus, Professor at Davidson College –
In just one and a half months from commencement of fighting in 2003 the US military had already achieved its objective yet apparently no post conflict stabilization had been planned for Iraq. Hence a sectarian divide mushroomed between Sunni’s and Shiite’s, a sort of reaction from the many years of Sunni – Bath Party oppression during Sadam Hussein’s time. The Americans in turn further aggravated the situation with a miscalculated backing of Shiite political leaders who had no intent to nature national reconciliation. History shows wars affect greatly the post war political dynamics of affected countries. Any kind of peace winning plan from government strategists for Somalia must therefore take cognizance of this and adjust their planning to address any evolving negative dynamics. In Iraq the mainly Shiite political leadership that was US government supported went ahead to allow Iran to use Iraqi territory to train and equip hard-line militants. Politically this decision is seen today as a seed that has contributed to the emergence of ISIS. To avoid similar mistakes in Somalia, KDF’s redeployment should be implemented as part of a comprehensive political, diplomatic and moderate religious [mainly Islamic] strategy. In a country which has moved from democracy to krytoracy to warlords and terror gang rule and back to the formation of legitimate government in two decades that is no small feat.
Somalia Political Development: Sustained and focused engagement with the Somalian Federal Government, neighboring countries and the international community is called for. We must ensure that both regional and national acceptability for that government is reasonably achieved. Meaning credible national elections at some point after the fighting is through must be factored into an agreed responsible withdrawal strategy. Anything less than that will only release the years of Somalian past warlord, ICU & al shabaab politics much like the Iraqi Shiite-Sunni-Kurds sectarian violence and politics jumbled any hope for a new improved beginning. Political engineering and power sharing agreements are difficult and may not be acceptable to those affected Iraqi presidency a case in hand. Great effort from all stakeholders within Somalia and among the international community saw the coming into being of a Somali Transitional Federal Government which in 2012 became the Federal Government of Somalia. That government now needs to be encouraged and supported to bring about credible national elections which hopefully will bring greater legitimacy as each citizen votes in their leader of choice. It cannot be forgotten that those development partners who Somalia may look to for this; neighbors like Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and other countries like the Sudan, Saudi Arabia and the US all have their own plans or desires for the outcome. Some have large Somalian or Islamic populations of their own who are bond to influence decisions. Others may have strategic economic interests like Turkey, whose Prime Minister was the first since the 90’s to visit the country. Eritrea was in the past accused of aiding ICU and sending military specialist to fight on the side of the Somali Islamist. It is suspected that some extremist ICU leaders might have sought refuge in Eritrea especially as the Ethiopian and Transitional Federal Government troops gained ground in 2006-2009. Therefore any political solution must take cognizance of strategic interests Eritrea may have in Somalia and the possible dissuasive impetus that may reappear from the dissenting asylum seekers there. The Ethiopian military offensive against ICU instead of clearing Somalia of violent extremism led to the birth of Al shabaab terrorism. Equally for KDF, killing all the shabaab is not an automatic step towards attaining a more secure neighborhood. It is critical we see it that way lest we make the same old mistakes. The Americans have come back with the May 2015, John Carey visit to Mogadishu, is it purely for security reasons or is the US interested in restarting their oil exploration of the eighties and early nineties? What of the Federal Government of Somalia [FGS] can it deal with fears of corruption and incompetence that may have plagued its bid to attract international funding? The last decade or so indicates a Somalian population divided between those who support religious, Sharia based governance as was with the ICU and a sizable others who are desirous of secular rule for their nation as was demonstrated with the TFG or as it is at the moment with the FGS. Having suffered repeated adverse experiences at the hands of various international interventions the locals have deep rooted mistrust of international impetuses. Anyone with designs on that nation must carefully plan and work to build their long term trust. Kenya has to be prepared to hold hands with them for a long time not just for a 2-3year walk that leaves them exposed to the return of evil in the name of extremist religion.
Rule of Law and our required leadership: Growth of an effective national legal system is critical right from the initial bilateral agreements covering things like the legal jurisdiction under which our forces will continue to operate under while in Somalia. Possibly ratified by that parliament to the building of sufficient court houses in which adjudication for cases can be carried out properly across the country. Even with a new constitution passed in 2012 by the Somalian parliament, the culture of respecting the law especially by leaders who may still brandish control over armed militia is a challenge that our partnership with that country will need to work out. Kenya must take responsibility to develop & lead the execution of the entire withdrawal master plan. What I would do to see created a ‘department of Somalia’ in the ministry of foreign affairs manned with experts from all contributory disciplines and some from major NGO stakeholders and the like operating in the region, to manage implementation of this strategy. Remember we already took decisive steps to finish al shabaab when we chased them into Somalia in 2011. The war is not over and we shouldn’t relinquish our leadership to anyone, powerful or not, before we accomplish what it is president Kibaki authorized the forces to go and do. Kenyans have supported and been directly involved in senior and even government ministerial positions in South Sudan can we lend similar help to Somalia even as we grapple with our own woes back home?
Significant to the entire Somalia effort is the question; can the Somali people make the right decisions for themselves? After more than two decades of war, terrorism and famine will the desperate local at the level of basic survival, have the fortitude to make qualitative decisions on issues like corruption, negative clannism or the joining of extremist groups? The international community may have in Somalia’s intervention an obligation akin to that a parent or guardian has for their younger children. As much as we allow the kids to make their own choices as they grow up we manage those decisions to ensure they learn how to be responsible members of society, to be self managing and most importantly that they do not injure themselves while growing up. I propose an unprecedented UN/AU sanctioned ‘Protectorate of Somalia’ where the Federal government has certain authority but is overseen in its implementation by UN/AU joint governance working group. Given a 10 year strategic plan possibly extendable for an extra 5years with approval of the Somali Federal Government I’d say the country and the Somali people will have been drawn back from the abyss and will then hopefully be mature enough in their national culture to run their own show effectively. But who will push and fight for that agenda? I’d say it’s up to Kenya, where the instability in Somalia has hit hardest outside that countries own boundaries.
Somalia’s Economy: the country is an immense demographic disaster zone for its youth unemployment, industrial and agricultural sectors vanquished by over 25years of war, a poorly functioning health system, broke down mass transportation etc. Life after al shabaab may actually have taken another undesirable turn as warlords and clan politics took over land in areas now vacated by the terror gang. Yet there is hope for the country it has a thriving informal economy trading in food stuffs, charcoal, livestock money transfer etc. Opportunities exist with major trading partners like the Arabian Peninsula which has been a major market for Australian livestock. The country is also known to have deposits of natural resources including: uranium, copper, iron ore, gypsum, tin, bauxite, salt and natural gas. Recent oil and mineral finds in countries like Kenya, Tanzania and others all around Somalia should also excite more exploration and investments in these extraction industries. These resources could be leveraged through limited agreements for their future exploration, to support critical reconstruction costs among many others the costs associated with building and equipping national security organs that are needed immediately. In other parts of the globe some of this natural wealth has proved to be a curse more than a blessing how the Federal Government chooses to manage it in the reconstruction of Somalia will decide the nation’s fate. Evolving a national economic structure that will act as a substitute to livelihoods currently being earned through unwanted means like terrorism and smuggling so as to decrease susceptibility of the population to recruitment or perceived indifference to crime is critical to our ability to finally finishing off al shabaab and thus to our forces withdrawal. Kenya through strategic agreements and or by leveraging other international actors should get about organizing an economic stimulus package geared towards rebuilding Somalia as did the US for Europe after the 2nd world war through the Marshall plan. Definite milestones on that stimulus package will then inform on the countries readiness to move on without the presence of our forces.
Cooperation through influence to culture is also something GoK should pursue aggressively in our efforts to win the peace after winning the war. Turning to our country’s experience as that of other Common Wealth nations, the British education in colonial times drove later cooperation and sharing of values. We have the unique opportunity to develop something similar with neighboring Somalia. Once the initial threat is neutralized there is an entire generation without formal schooling in Somalia that is not a challenge it is the greatest opportunity to undertake ‘Kenyanization’, by sending our teachers and professionals to build back that country. We have discussed many topics in the securing of our nation; I personally believe this part to hold the greatest potential for our nation’s safety regionally. We could deliberately plan how to influence positively into the ‘responsible withdrawal strategy’, for example how to undertake a ‘moderate Islamic’ religious drive to share with many Somalians the values of peaceful religious practice and coexistence with other religions as is widely practiced by Kenyan Muslims. [a national de-radicalization program]
Grand Plan Failure: at the time it becomes apparent that ‘responsible withdrawal’, will not work, say after 8 of 10years what happens? One option for Uhuru Kenyatta or in that case, Kenya’s next president, may be to borrow a leaf from Barrack Obama and set an ultimate date for the withdrawal of KDF from Somalia. Obama in facing the situation in Iraq did so and said;
"…..What we will not do is let the pursuit of the perfect stand in the way of achievable goals. We cannot rid Iraq of all who oppose America or sympathize with our adversaries. We cannot police Iraq's streets until they are completely safe, nor stay until Iraq's union is perfected. We cannot sustain indefinitely a commitment that has put a strain on our military and will cost the American people nearly a trillion dollars." -- US President Barrack Obama--
As easy, as simply getting out may be, we will still have Somalia as our neighbor unlike US and Iraq. Therefore in facing that possibility of strategic failure we must lobby the AU very aggressively and persuasively for alternative military partners for AMISOM so they takeover after we are gone. In such an event how we will manage internal security and daily living in Kenya will have to resemble very closely how the Israelis manage their own having survived the Arabian Peninsula neighborhood from 1948. Some of the fears analysts need to convey to Kenya’s decision makers should include the possibility of Somalia reverting into al shabaab hands which in turn opens up a massive terrorist haven for among others Al Qaeda who they are allied to. As a group they have been hit by broken governance structures and with its internal power struggles for the top office after Abdi Goddane’s demise last year it is no stretch of the imagination to see ISIS or its “run off”, gaining credence over a waning Al Qaeda in some factions of al shabaab and establishing themselves in Somalia, especially so when joint military action against them in current areas in Syria and Iraq starts hitting hard. Then there is Boko Haram, whose traditional territory in the north of Nigeria and Cameroon is quickly being retaken by joint military action with Chadian and Cameroonian forces. Somalia under al shabaab would make a perfect retreat for them, as it may also be for groups out of Egypt and in Libya where IS affiliated fighters were reported to have taken over the international airport in recent days.
Specific Time Frames: need not be shared although official public estimates need to be made with a clearly communicated understanding that those are estimates to give the public some understanding on what is happening. More detailed briefs can be delivered to parliament or its relevant oversight committees. In this way we the Kenyan citizens remain briefed of what government is doing to allow proper oversight of these processes. Similar specific discussion with development partners and the Somali government will likewise help everyone prepare and act in response to the plans. US President George W. Bush in 2005 through a White House Press Release, said;
"Why would you say to the enemy, you know, here's a timetable, just go ahead and wait us out? It doesn't make any sense to have a timetable. You know, if you give a timetable, you're conceding too much to the enemy."
The Will and Vision of the People: Somalia has not been an easy nut to crack from 1991 to date it has been in various forms of conflict and divisions of society. Eating through strategic intervention after another from UN, US, Ethiopian and AU missions To succeed now, the Somali people must be involved and they must want it bad enough to act individually and collectively in order to earn that elusive peace, security, legitimate government, development and international acceptability. In many places around the world people have united, stood and won against oppressive regimes and other major challenges. If they did it in South Africa against apartheid, USA in the Civil war, Israel against all odds and Cambodia against the Khmer Rouge so can the Somalians if they want to.
History has demonstrated: that it is important for leaders to learn from mistakes including from mistakes of others and to do so quickly. Bush first and then Obama pushed to remove US troops from Iraq, a country which had gained a level of political stability having gone through an election in 2010. But the country was still fragile, without established security structures and facing highly charged sectarian distrust. These mistakes have now given way to the largest terrorist breeding ground in the world. Do we want a repeat of the same in a neighboring country? President Uhuru and his senior advisors are now on the driver’s seat, will they learn from those events? Given all the above factors I cannot see a full and responsible withdrawal of KDF troops from Somalia, all matters remaining constant in less than fifteen years from inauguration of an official ‘responsible withdrawal’ strategy. Yet it is for our leaders to make that call, whatever they do next, there will be no room to fail in it; the fate of all peaceful law abiding Somalians’ and that of our beloved motherland, Kenya, even that of the entire horn region, I dare say, depends on it.