Kenya: Six Months Into Operation Linda Nchi, Time for Soul-Searching-allAfrica.com:
A few weeks from now- April 16th to be precise-Operation Linda Nchi will be entering its sixth month since the launch in mid October last year. It is time for some serious soul-searching and honest appraisal. There are several pertinent questions that ought to be asked of our policy makers over Kenya's military operation in Somalia.
What are Kenya's long and short-term strategic objectives in Somalia? What mechanism has been put in place to evaluate the attainment of these objectives?
What is Kenya's exit strategy from the battleground once the objectives have been obtained? Finally, where is the roadmap that will take Somalia back to a nation state?
Without clear and discernible policy objectives, Operation Linda Nchi could easily be Kenya's Vietnam. Such military expeditions end up being much more complicated than originally envisaged; especially on the political side of things and exit strategy. Early this week I had an opportunity to sit down for a long discussion on the Somalia issue with one of the more illustrious sons of this war torn country. The Syracuse University trained Dr Ali Khaliif Galaydh is a man of sterling academic accomplishments besides having risen to high political offices in his native country of Somalia.
Dr Ali is a former Prime Minister of Somalia (2000 to 2001), a fellow of Harvard University and a former Cabinet minister in the government of the late Somali strongman Mohamed Siad Barre. As such, when it comes to Somalia politics, Dr Ali Khaliif Galaydh has been there, done that. In essence, he is a man with a broad knowledge and understanding of issues around Somalia from local and international perspectives. The former Somalia Premier is convinced that Kenya had good and justifiable reasons to launch Operation Linda Nchi.
Nevertheless, what worries Dr Ali is the apparent lack of a political strategy to go hand-in-hand and supplement the military strategy. The term of the Somalia caretaker Transitional Federal Government headed by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed comes to an end in August. This means that in about four months from now, there is a likelihood of a power vacuum in a country that cannot afford such political luxury even for a minute.
The genesis of Somalia crisis traces its roots to the power vacuum that emanated from the overthrow of President Siad Barre in 1991. Since then, regional and international efforts have been made to restore Somalia back to the 'league of nations' but the country has persisted in operating on the fringes of a failed state.
Presently, Kenyan and Amisom forces have created a semblance of peace in significant parts of Somalia. But what is happening is pushing a military operation without a political back up plan. There is little (if any) evidence of consultations with Somalia opinion leaders on the way forward once the Kenyan and Amisom forces withdraw from Somalia.
As Dr Ali argues, much as Somalia needs military assistance to help restore normalcy, military alone will not provide a lasting solution. If anything, an unchecked military expedition could actually exacerbate the problem. Take the case of Ethiopia military expedition in Somalia to prop up the TFG regime of President Abdullahi Yusuf in 2006. Granted, Ethiopian troops moved in to help the Somalia government against threats posed by the radical groups under the umbrella of Islamic Courts Union.
But those knowledgeable in Somali affairs reckon that this foreign intervention is ironically what planted the first seeds that gave birth to Al Shabaab. The involvement of Ethiopian troops in Somalia had the effect of hardening radical groups even further and, at the same time, brought out extremist nationalism among some moderate Somalis. Why so? Because Ethiopia and Somalia have a history of disputes and fights going back over a hundred years! As such, it was hard then-as it is now-for Somalis to look upon Ethiopians as honest brokers.
On the other hand, as Dr Ali points out, Kenya enjoys significant goodwill among the Somalis and is viewed as a broker with a pair of clean hands. Besides Kenya, the Republic of Qatar is another country which has significant clout in Somalia. Qatar has the leverage to bring radical groups to the negotiating table. If this can be achieved, then it would be a win, win situation where even those vanquished militarily are made part of the solution to building a peaceful Somali Republic.
It is this goodwill that the Kenyan government should also use to drive the peace process in Somalia not just using military might, but even more significantly, political goodwill. The Somali crisis becomes even more urgent now that the country has discovered oil. If oil has destabilised countries far more stable than Somalia, one shudders to imagine what this natural 'gift and curse' can do to a country as volatile as Somali.
A Somalia where radical groups are in control of vast oil resources would be a nightmare not just to Kenya but the entire Eastern Africa region. In such a situation, high impact and high profile projects such as the recently launched Lamu Port would end up stillborn. The proximity of Lamu to Somalia means the Port project will go absolutely nowhere unless we have permanent peace in Somalia. As such, Kenya should flex its diplomatic and political muscle to get Somalis involved in finding a homegrown solution to their problems.
A good starting point would be to start engaging groups such as Khatumo (State) of Somali Initiative, which brings together Somali professionals in the Diaspora, who have an interest in finding a Somali solution to the Somali problem. It is only by involving the Somalis themselves that resilient nationals of our neighbour to the north will one day be able to sing their national anthem "Soomaaliyeey toosoo (Somalia wake up) to peace, unity and an end to fighting..." with a sense of real meaning.