I sincerely apologize for having abandoned you for much of the month of September. When last I wrote, I was starting my transit from South Sudan with a brief layover in Kenya, a week of reintegration into DC life, and a week of transition from my current position into a new, albeit temporary one. But I’ll speak to that later.
When I left for my trip in mid-August, I joked to my friends and family that I was relieved to be out of the country for the Republican National Convention (RNC) and the Democratic National Convention (DNC). Election season seems like it started forever ago, and everyone here tends to hold their breath until it’s over. That can get exhausting after a while, so I was happy for a respite.
It had been years since I’d been abroad during election season. I spent most of 2003 and the summer of 2004 in Brazil, where my Brazilian friends would ask me why Americans liked to elect retired wrestlers and body-builders-turned movie stars for governors, and why, oh why we were seriously considering re-electing George W. Bush. It was the first time I realized how much attention people abroad pay to U.S. politics.
I’d forgotten all about that by the time I arrived in Juba last month. My second week there coincided with the RNC, of which I was able to view snippets during a meeting with a government minister who had it playing on his flatscreen (on silent) during our meeting. Grumbling about the diversity, or lack thereof, of the convention, he arose from his armchair to hand me a printout of a Washington post article on the same topic. I was pretty impressed that, not only was he watching the convention, but he or someone in his office was closely following the media coverage of it as well.
Part of the next week, I was in Kenya on my way home, where I was able to catch up on what I’d missed from the DNC with some friends who were, like the South Sudanese minister, following developments closely. This surprised me less, since I’d been with the same group in the spring of 2011 right after Osama bin Laden had been killed and had had a huge disagreement with them over whether or not this, alone, was enough for Barack Obama to win a second term. At the root of my argument was that not only do Americans vote with their pocketbooks (that is, the economy matters most), but also that we’re short-term thinkers and no one would care about the raid on Abottabad a full 18 months after the fact. In spite of our still-heated disagreements on how the American electorate votes, we spent hours pouring over footage, exchanging perspectives on how each speaker did, which constituency we thought they were reaching out to, what veiled message they were trying to get across, etc.
Both of these brief snippets of politically-minded people in South Sudan and Kenya engaging me on the developments in an election in my own country were a welcome addition, since it’s more variety than I get from the major news networks that I channel surf while working out at the gym. Plus, Lord knows when next I’ll be in a position to get like perspectives these so close to presidential elections in 2016, 2020, 2024…
And then I returned to the U.S. And then Chris Stevens, U.S. Ambassador to Libya, and three of his colleagues were killed in the attack on our consulate in Benghazi. And instead of being a pure tragedy that brought our country together, it was politicized, and I was ashamed. Ashamed because I knew people abroad – not just the ones I knew of – were watching this very appalling American political discourse as it unfolded. Ugh. I’m not naïve – I know issues that shouldn’t be politicized probably end up so everywhere else in the world. But I think the experience of being so physically removed from my DC life and getting to dissect the American electoral process from abroad made me idealize it a bit.
Anyway, now I’m back, fully reintegrated into my DC life, and preparing to take a one year assignment at the Center for Complex Operations at National Defense University. There, I’ll continue working on Phase 0 interagency theater security cooperation, most likely in the AFRICOM AoR for the next 12 months. I hope to continue writing and posting regularly, but one can never tell what surprises life has during times of transition. :)
(Originally published on RUSI.org on September 5, 2012)
In October 2011, the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) invaded southern Somalia with the stated purpose of dismantling Al-Shabaab and seizing the port city of Kismaayo, from which the Islamist militant organisation earns the majority of its revenues. After an initially swift invasion, Kenyan forces languished in southern Somalia for seven months before conquering the city of Afmadow, which lay only 90 miles from its common border with Somalia. Upon seizing Afmadow, both Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga and KDF Chief of General Staff, General Julius Karangi projected that Kismaayo would fall by 20 August – the date of the expiration of the mandate of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG). Like previous targets articulated during the course of the Kenyan military’s involvement in Somalia, the attack on Kismaayo has since been delayed, but is imminent nonetheless.
When Kenya sent troops across the border last autumn, there were many reservations about the KDF’s prospects for success. The failure, to date, of successive military interventions by the United States, Ethiopia, the United Nations (UN) and, until recently, the African Union (AU) was but one of these concerns. Although the KDF is a professional military that has formerly participated in AU and UN peacekeeping operations, it had no expeditionary experience outside of these deployments, and has had limited experience fighting an unconventional adversary like Al-Shabaab. Compounding these challenges, Kenyan forces entered Somalia right at the outset of the rainy season and were stalled for several months, burdened by the logistical challenges imposed by the poor infrastructure of southern Somalia.
(Read the rest of the article on the RUSI website.)