In her new book War Crimes, journalist Rasna Warah attempts to tell how warlords, politicians, foreign governments and aid agencies conspired to create a failed state in Somalia.
The story of Somalia, of Kenya’s complicity with what continues to transpire in Somalia and Kenya’s treatment of both Kenyan Somalis and Somali refugees.
Especially given what she saw as the one-sided media coverage of Kenya’s military offensive into Somalia by Kenya’s own “embedded” journalists. And given the blowback from that offensive: The attack on Westgate Mall and the GoK’s ongoing Usalama Watch — originally titled “Operation Sanitise Eastleigh.”
At last week’s book launch, co-hosted by Amnesty International and the Rift Valley Institute, she focused on her motivations for writing the book — and then read a portion of the book focused on the corruption that she sees as lying at the heart of the world’s complicity in Somalia.
Ali Hersi of the Society for International Development responded with what struck him about the book.
The fact that, in her telling, everybody’s responsible — with the possible exception of five year olds, given that those as young as ten may have become combatants for one militia or another.
The centrality of corruption and how transactional all life becomes in a conflict situation. The deliberate blindness of the humanitarian industry to the pay-offs to militias to ensure at least some distribution of needed relief occurs.
Then there is the two-sided nature of the clan — on the one hand, a source of social capital in the absence of a functioning or effective state, providing far more than official development assistance. And, on the other hand, an ever increasing tool of political instrumentalisation.
The impact of the KDF’s incursion into Somalia on already-present discrimination against Kenyan Somalis and Somali refugees in Kenya. The disorienting effect of Westgate — Somalis as attackers, Somalis as leading the security and rescue response.
And then Nurrudin Farah, renowned Somali novelist, responded. Unlike Hersi, he challenged the credence given by Warah to the notion of the clan, reminding all present of its colonial origins.
And the progressive nationalist rejection of this notion by the Somali Youth Movement, dating as far back to 1931.
He challenged too the idea of anybody purporting to represent “the” voice of Somalis — whether in Kenya or elsewhere — because there always are multiple voices, always in contestation and that contestation should, in his view, be understood in ideological and political terms.
Where the three panellists agreed was on Warah’s fundamental point. That the future of Somalia, the shape of its state, is something that only Somalis can decide.
The conflict resolution model Amisom is pursuing is no different, in the end, to that imposed from Afghanistan to Iraq. It is an “African solution to African problems” that poses no conceptual challenge to the model — and is, in effect, an outsourcing of it.
If her book at least opens up that debate — here in Kenya — that is a good thing.
L. Muthoni Wanyeki is Amnesty International’s regional director for East Africa, covering East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes. This column is written in her personal capacity.