Kenya's invasion of Somalia courts terrorist reprisals


 

Action against African neighbour was planned long before killing of tourist and kidnapping of two others

 
 
 
 
Kenyan police secure the scene of an explosion in the capital Nairobi on Monday.
 

Kenyan police secure the scene of an explosion in the capital Nairobi on Monday.

Photograph by: Simon Maina, AFP, Getty Images, Vancouver Sun

There is mounting speculation that Kenya has bitten off more than it can chew with its invasion of southern Somalia as reports come in of heavy fighting between Kenyan troops and gunmen of the Muslim extremist al Shabaab group.
At the same time there are concerns that the Kenyan invasion nearly two weeks ago, which is intended to secure the border against kidnappings and attacks on refugees by al Shabaab, will only spread the violence, insecurity and famine that have plagued the Horn of Africa for over 20 years.
Al Shabaab has promised retaliation with terrorist attacks in Kenya. Already there have been two grenade attacks in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, apparently by an al Shabaab supporter, in which one person was killed.
Four people were killed on Thursday in a rocket attack on a convoy of government officials in Kenya's northern border region with Somalia.
Kenya's invasion in which troops and tanks have pushed about 100 kilometres inside Somalia towards the al Shabaab stronghold in the port city of Kismayu also has stirred factional tensions among members of Somalia's still weak and unstable Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Mogadishu.
TFG President Sheikh Sharif Sheik Ahmed has strongly condemned Kenya for violating Somalia's sovereignty. But TFG Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali told the Reuters news agency on Thursday: "We support Kenya's operation inside Somalia. We are very grateful to Kenya."
In an apparent attempt to contain criticism that the invasion was ill conceived, that the troops have been bogged down by predictable heavy rains and that they do not have the capacity to hold captured territory, Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua said on Thursday, "Kenya has no plans or intentions to stay in Somalia an hour beyond necessary."
Animosity between Kenya and its Somali neighbours goes back hundreds of years, but became a matter of national tensions with the independence of the two states from colonial rule in the 1960s.
Those tensions have stretched to the breaking point since the last functioning government of Somalia was ousted by warlords 20 years ago. The country has descended into clan factional fighting, war-induced famine and - most recently - the ascent to power in most of the south of the country of al Shabaab, which American and other intelligence agencies believe is linked to the al-Qaida terrorist group.
But while many Kenyans believe that Somali immigrants are responsible for a good deal of crime in their country, there is no doubt that Kenya plays its own part in allowing the instability in Somalia to continue.
Much of the drug qaat that sustains and emboldens the al Shabaab and clan fighters in Somalia is grown in Kenya from where it is exported daily in light planes.
Guns and other armaments follow much the same route.
Also, al Shabaab and other factions of militant Islam have followers among non-Somali Kenyan Muslims. The man held responsible for the Nairobi grenade attacks is a recent convert of Islam from western Kenya.
The reason given by the Kenyan government for the invasion was to secure the border after the killing of a tourist and kidnapping of two others, one of whom subsequently died, apparently by al Shabaab. Kenya is one of the major and most successful tourist destinations in Africa. That business is a key part of the country's economy. Then two Spanish doctors were kidnapped, also apparently by al Shabaab, from the massive Dadaab refugee camp that houses about 400,000 Somalis who have fled the fighting and famine in their homeland.
But it now seems that Kenya was planning the invasion of Somalia long before these kidnappings and as a followup to its largely failed policy of arming Somali warlords along the border to create a buffer zone against al Shabaab.
Kenya has one of the most optimistic economies in Africa and successive Nairobi governments have seen chaos in Somalia as a direct threat to their country's prosperity and prospects. Of immediate concern are plans to develop a major port at Lamu, just south of the border with Somalia. Not only were some of the attacks on tourists at Lamu, the future success of the port is affected by the rampant piracy off the coast of Somalia.
jmanthorpe@vancouversun.com

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