Earlier this month, my analysis of Kenya’s invasion of Somalia was published in Vol 3., No. 3 of PRISM Journal, which is put out by National Defense University. The abstract is as follows:
For the past two decades, Kenya has pursued a multilateral and primarily diplomatic approach to Somalia’s instability. However, in October 2011, Kenya launched an invasion of southern Somalia to dismantle al-Qaeda-affiliated Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, and thereby ensure Kenya’s national security and territorial sovereignty. Yet, there appears to be a notable disconnect between Kenya’s stated objectives in Somalia and the level of effort required to achieve its desired end-state. Al-Shabaab is but one symptom of Somalia’s enduring security, political, and humanitarian challenges; as such, the demise of al-Shabaab will not necessarily eliminate the many threats flowing over the Kenya-Somalia border. This article provides a context for Kenya’s invasion of Somalia, and highlights key challenges that may preclude Kenya’s military operations from stabilizing the country.
I’d been waiting to post that my paper had been published for two reasons. First, the paper came out within a week of Kenya taking Afmadow, and there’s been a perception – at least in the media – that this indicates that Kenya’s military operations will ultimately be successful. Second, I wanted to wait and see what subject matter experts from the region thought about some of the assertions I’d made – considering I hadn’t been in Kenya since right after the invasion. So what follows is based on some of the conversations I’ve had with people far smarter than myself this week, and the connections I’ve been able to make to some of the points articulated in or omitted by my paper:
What I’ve gathered is that militarily, the situation in Somalia is improving. In addition to Kenya taking Afmadow at the end of May, we’ve seen troops from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) expanding their control outside of Mogadishu to Afgoye. Ethiopian troops operating outside of AMISOM have been working with Ahlu Sunna Waljama’a (ASWJ) to hold territory in central Somalia and along their common border. Notably, they have not committed the same mistakes they did during their 2007-2008 occupation of parts of Somalia, and they say that they do not intend to remain in Somalia for very long. That said, when Ethiopia and its local allies withdrew from the city of El Buur earlier this month, al-Shabaab reportedly retook the town and beheaded two individuals believed to have collaborated with the Ethiopians. While this does not mean that al-Shabaab is resurgent, it does demonstrate a need for all forces pursuing al-Shabaab to be able to protect civilians from such retributions in the future. Another issue to track is possible human rights violations that may occur as TFG troops move in with AMISOM forces. While al-Shabaab was reviled for its draconian measures employed to control the population, I am told that they do have a relatively favorable reputation when it comes to maintaining law and order. And it would be a tragedy to have the population turn against troops that are either TFG or TFG-affiliated at the same time when they are supposed to be warming to the idea of a central government come August.
I’ve also gathered that the international community has much more faith in the progress in the political transition in Somalia than may actually be warranted. Without getting into too much detail on the end of the transition that is expected by August 20, the sense that I get is that the composition of the post-August 20 government may differ very little from the government that has been so instrumental moving Somalia forward over the past 8 years. (Please note my sarcasm here.) I’ve also been told that there’s a sense that this transition is externally imposed (by Uganda, the AU, UN, US, etc) and most critically, lacks sufficient Somali ownership. Another concerning element is that there is a tension between the need to demonize radical elements of al-Shabaab while simultaneously needing to include them in the transition process – if even for their reputation for maintaining law and order. The equities of the various stakeholders involved in the Somalia transition process with regard to this last point seem mutually exclusive, and I’m not sure how this is all going to get sorted out. What I didn’t get a sense of, however, is to what extent elements of Somali society are exhausted with war and want peace at any cost vs to what extent other elements of society have an interest in maintaining conflict.
Thus, we get to a point that was made by one of my instructors this week about the current situation in Somalia – “military ahead of politics” – meaning that the relative successes we’ve been seeing on the military fronts may not mean much if the political process falls apart or doesn’t result in increased stability across Somalia.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy reading the paper. There’s parts that are spot-on, and there’s parts where my analysis may be off, but I’ll let you determine which is which because it’s time for my last Kenyan dinner. (Insert sad face.)