Kenya’s headache: Al Shabaab goes, then what?

Sunday November 06 2011

As Kenya intensified its military campaign in Somalia last week, Eritrea was fighting off accusations of supporting the Islamist Al Shabaab militia.

Eritrea was said to have supplied three plane loads of arms to the group in Baidoa, a charge it strenuously denied.

An August UN Monitoring Group report on Somalia had accused Eritrea of sponsoring terrorism in the region.

It catalogued Isaias Afewerki’s growing notoriety in the world of terrorism finance, and in particular the global web through which these funds are routed, with Kenya serving as a global transaction distribution hub.

Eritrea’s alleged support to the Al-Shabaab is likely to force Kenya to redesign its strategy in Somalia, with the likely effect being that the campaign could take longer than earlier expected.
The focus is now shifting to how East Africa will manage the transition in the event of victory, and on whether Kenya has an exit strategy that will ensure that the population does not live in constant fear of terrorist attacks by the Al Shabaab.

Rashid Abdi, a Somalia specialist with the International Crisis Group, argued that it is not going to be an easy process because nobody knows what victory will look like. He argues that while it is easy for Kenya to defeat the Al Shabaab militarily, the problem is what will happen later.


“The Al-Shabaab has the capacity to regroup and focus exclusively on terrorism and nothing else,” said Mr Abdi.

Other security experts said while Kenya may be looking for a quick victory, there is a possibility that it could become bogged down in a long occupation that the economy cannot sustain.

“The taxpayers are financing the war, but when the bill gets too high and the body bags start coming back, the government could face massive opposition to the whole campaign and even the current jingoistic media will change their tune,” said Mr Abdi, adding, “Are we really serving our security and well-being? What Kenya needs is to strengthen domestic security intelligence infrastructure, improve intelligence gathering, eradicate corruption in the police force and start dismantling Al Shabaab cells in Kenya.”

As things stand, the Kenyan military forces are trained in conventional warfare and not in counter-insurgency.

Even Ethiopia, with more experience in counter-insurgency, found it hard to deal with this problem when it invaded Somalia from 2006 to 2009.

The overt Kenyan strategy is to create a buffer zone territory known as Jubaland, with its own leadership.

With the Transitional Federal Government proving that it is incapable of setting up local administrations in liberated areas, there are chances that Kenya could influence who will govern the envisaged Jubaland.

But this could put Kenya on a collision course with Ethiopia, which has its interests in how Somalia will be governed in the post-Kenya incursion period.

What is clear is that after 20 years of lawlessness, the people of Somalia have given up on a central government, thus the existence of many regional governments.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga, has since denied that Kenya is planning to create a separate enclave of Jubaland, insisting that Kenya is not an occupation force.

Still, there are the self-declared states of Somaliland and Puntland, both in the north. Puntland last week supported the Kenyan military intervention in parts of southern Somalia.

The breakaway region argued that Kenya’s decision to train TFG forces aimed at liberating the Juba Valley has produced tangible results in Gedo region and parts of Lower Juba region.

Mr Abdi is worried that Kenya has not invested enough in setting up local administrations in liberated areas and that those that Kenya are backing may not have popular support.

Currently, there are two militia groups fighting Al Shabaab in southern Somalia. 

One is led by the self-styled leader of Azania state, Prof Muhammad Gandhi and the second is the Ras Kamboni group led by Sheikh Ahmed Madole. Mr Abdi is worried that these two groups could turn against each other once Al Shabaab has been defeated.

Somalia watchers say that it would be better for Kenya to start popularising the 4.5 Clan formula that was developed at the last peace conference in Nairobi in 2004, but which has never been properly implemented. 

The 4.5 formula was meant to gives equal quotas for representation in government to the four major clans, and a half-point to the fifth, the cluster of minority clans.