Somalia: What is Kenya’s exit strategy?

Sunday October 23 2011

Kenya has taken the decision to start a military campaign inside Somalia in order, it says, to safeguard its borders from constant incursions by the Al Shabaab militia group.

It is a move that has been described variously as daring, knee-jerk and counterproductive. However, this is the biggest opportunity for other countries in the East African region and the Horn to support Kenya to eradicate the Al Shabaab menace, which is a threat to the peace and security of the region.

Al-Shabaab has been associated with terrorism activities, kidnapping and piracy on the Indian Ocean.

These activities are not only a threat to peace and security in the region, but are significantly affecting the economy of the region, especially Kenya’s.

After 20 years of lawlessness, one sure thing is that the Kenyan move is likely to suck in other countries in the region, especially Uganda and Burundi, who are already on the ground under an African Union mandate.

Ethiopia, which has been wary of Al Shabaab’s activities, has given moral support to Kenya and has put its forces on alert at the border with Somalia.

It is now apparent that countries in the region who are affected by the Al Shabaab activities will have to come up with their own solutions, given that the rest of the continent has been paying lip service to the Somalia problem.

More often, African countries promise to provide troops during the AU Summit but later change their minds, giving one excuse after another.

The United States on its part has been expecting Kenya to take the lead in providing solutions to the problem, but has not been willing to commit troops to Somalia.

Now, Kenya has not only shown the way, but has also opened itself to reprisal attacks by Al Shabaab in the form of suicide bombings.

But should not deter other countries from supporting Kenya because this could be the only opportunity to stabilise Somalia.

This is all the more so because, the term of the weak Transitional Federal  Government ends in August 2012  and it will be upon the region to help Somalia hold elections and restore order.

This cannot happen when Al Shabaab are calling the shots.

Still, even as Kenya solicits for support from members of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad), the country should not forget that military intervention in Somalia has never been easy.

The US in 1992 had to retreat with a bloody nose, while Ethiopia had to withdraw in 2009 after three years of heavy casualties.

The Kenyan public and the region in general would prefer an intervention that does not endanger them further.

The public should be told what type of exit strategy Kenya has.