Kenya’s attempts to intervene politically in southern Somalia will complicate the search for stability in the war-torn country.
A decision to prop up armed militias from a leading clan in the years before ‘Operation Linda Nchi’ has created competing centres of power opposed by both Al Shabaab and the Transitional Federal Government. Internal rivalry among these allies in southern Somalia is now affecting joint operations against the Al Qaeda linked terror group.
While the re-deployment of Kenyan forces under the African Union Mission in Somalia, Amisom, has ensured Kenya and her neighbours work together to eliminate Al Shabaab, there are concerns that power struggles and differences over political strategy risk undoing progress on the battlefield.
This is the warning from international experts concerned about the rivalry between Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia over how to bring stability to Somalia. The experts point to a rift over the regional strategy, warning that unless the rivalry is tackled and a common approach developed, each may seek to undermine the other’s efforts, compounding Somalia’s political and security crisis.
“In the absence of improved co-ordination, Somalia could in effect be carved into spheres of influence,” warns the International Crisis Group, a non-profit group committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict.
The rivalry has made itself felt most recently in a power struggle over Amisom briefings.
The Kenya Defence Forces wants to give public accounts of its operations in Somalia without the approval of the head of Amisom, a Ugandan military officer.
However, UPDF bosses upset at how ‘Operation Linda Nchi’ drew international and regional attention away from the work Amisom was doing in Mogadishu insist on clearing all messages with the chain of command.
The Kenya Government’s political missteps in Somalia lie in both how it chose its allies in that country and how it dealt with neighbouring countries with a stake in the country’s future.
Over two years ago, Kenya hatched a plan to create a local administration in southern Somalia. Known as Jubaland, and later Azania, it was intended as a buffer between Kenya and Al Shabaab-controlled territory.
To set it up, Kenya trained some 2,500 militiamen and helped set up an administrative structure headed by Mohamed Abdi Mohamed ‘Gandhi’, then the TFG defence minister and now president of Azania.
When Gandhi’s forces did not perform well in 2010, Kenya began to support Ahmed Madobe and his militia, called the Ras Kamboni Brigade. Support for the two men is now said to have divided the government.
“Madobe has the backing of many Kenyan-Somali army officers, while Gandhi is reportedly closer to Kenyan intelligence bodies and politicians among them Defence Minister Yusuf Haji,” read a report from the International Crisis Group.
Madobe also reportedly finds support from the head of the Muslim caucus in the Parliament, Dujis MP Aden Duale, and an unnamed Orange Democratic Movement member.
Friction between Madobe and Gandhi is now said to be one of the headaches for those planning for life after Amisom’s mandate runs out.
One of the strongest criticisms of the controversial Jubaland project was that it was seen as dominated by members of the Ogaden clan.
In the final years of the Siad Barre regime, the Ogaden and Marehan controlled the region, but many Harti, Hawiye, Dir and Rahanweyn have since moved there.
The US also declined to support the idea due to fears it would compete with its backing for the Transitional Federal Government.
Many in Somalia fear it would produce an administration controlled by Kenya.
It was the opposition to this political strategy that apparently informed the alleged Al Shabaab plot to assassinate Defence Minister Yusuf Haji and Deputy Speaker Farah Maalim, who are both Kenyan Somalis from Ogaden sub-clans. Al-Shabaab members are predominantly from the Hawiye clan.
Kenya’s strongest ally in Mogadishu, Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, is reported to have advised Nairobi to go slow on the Jubaland idea.
The idea was such a hot potato that President Sheikh Sharif, who is allied to Uganda, reportedly met with President Yoweri Museveni in Kampala in November last year to discuss the risks it posed to himself and the TFG.
Museveni would later meet Sharif and President Kibaki in Nairobi on this threat.
In Somalia and Ethiopia many people are concerned with the possible Ogaden domination of the proposed buffer zone. The Meles Zenawi administration was particularly concerned an Ogaden-dominated semi-autonomous state, with a large port, could support the Ogaden National Liberation Front, which is fighting a secessionist war in Ethiopia.
Despite official statements of support from Horn of Africa nations, it has since emerged that Kenya’s incursion did not go down well in many capitals.
This was partly because there was no diplomatic effort to seek support for the action before it began. Former Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetang’ula led delegations to several countries after the entry of KDF into southern Somalia.
The ICG report reveals that when Wetangula travelled to Addis Ababa to obtain the support of Ethiopia President Meles Zenawi and the chairperson of the African Union Commission, Jean Ping, Ethiopian officials were less than enthusiastic.
An Intergovernmental Authority on Development meeting convened a week after the offensive had begun released a “half-hearted communiquÈ” welcoming the operation.
This miscalculation has left Kenya scrambling to manage the political differences with its neighbours even as it worries about its local allies in Somalia.
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