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KDF calls for use of soft power in fight against Al-Shabaab in Somalia

By Abuga Makori in Nairobi , Garowe Online
Outgoing Chief of Defence Forces General Samson Mwathethe. PHOTO/COURTESY

NAIROBI, Kenya - Mastering the art of war is not enough, Kenya's outgoing Chief of Defense Forces General Samson Mwathethe said during his farewell, hinting at a possible change of tact in the fight against Al-Shabaab militants, who have wreaked havoc in the Horn of Africa.

Curtains fell for Gen. Mwathethe after 42 years of a rather successful career with KDF, in a colorful ceremony at the Department of Defense, which culminated in a stylish handover to a successor, Gen. Robert Kibochi, who will formally assume office on Monday.

But perhaps the uniqueness of the ceremony, which was attended by both senior and junior military officials, alongside civilians, was the launch of a new book, which recounts Kenya's exploits in neighboring war-torn Somalia.

The book titled "War for Peace Kenya’s Military in the African Mission in Somalia, 2012-2020", urges the need for use of soft power, a deviation from the traditional combative approach in the fight against the militants.

Also, the publication, which is the fourth literature by the KDF, gives a reflection of Somalia post AMISOM and some of the strategies that need to be implemented before the impending exit. The AU Mission has tentatively scheduled 2021 for exit from Somalia, a move that ends Kenya's decade of exploits in Somali.

“The book delves into the unfinished agendum of Amisom’s coming exit—and what it means for Kenya. It is a worthy tribute to our soldiers who fought and even paid the ultimate price and an invaluable read for students, experts, and practitioners of military history and strategy,” Mwathethe writes.

The KDF chief emphasizes need to change tactics by taking a new approach which is not necessarily combative, arguing that "in a rapidly changing geopolitical environment, the search for peace can be as elusive as shooting moving targets".

The book that is organized in 12 chapters includes an epilogue, literally “the last word”, by the incoming CDF, General Kibochi. Kenya first invaded Somalia in pursuit of Al-Shabaab militants in 2011 under Operation Linda Nchi but would join AMISOM a year later.

Some of the chapters include a history of KDF as a force for peace, Kenya and Somalia prior to Operation Linda Nchi, the history of extremism from Al-Ittihad to Al-Shabaab, the propaganda war in the Somalia incursion and the new geopolitics of peace operations in the Horn of Africa.

Notably, it lays grounds for KDF troops coming exit from Somalia, gives a vision of post-Amisom security order, and concludes with a war cry for peace. The transition will be spearheaded by Kibochi, who served as Mwathethe's deputy for the last two years.

At the end of the ceremony, Mwathethe lauded KDF for "keeping the enemy on toes" in Somalia, citing various successes by the close to 3,500 troops, who man Sectors II and VI of AMISOM jurisdictions, mainly within the Jubaland state.

"Throughout this period, we've managed to liberate strategic towns in Somalia, and importantly, our troops are keen to help the country establish a stable government," he said, adding, "we cannot use guns all the time, we must discover the defining factor for long-lasting peace".

It's during Mwathethe's 5 years at the helm that KDF lost close to 300 soldiers in Somalia. Perhaps, the most notable of all setbacks are the 2016 and 2017 Al-Shabaab raids in El-Adde and Kulbiyow respectively, which didn't feature in his 20-minute tribute.

"As I bid you farewell, I am confident that I leave behind warriors who are well disciplined, professional, battle-tested, well trained, and well equipped," he added, moments before being escorted out of DoD by a group of Brigadiers and Major Generals.

Kibochi, who takes over for the next four years, is set to oversee the withdrawal of troops from Somalia next year, besides coordinating President Uhuru Kenyatta's anticipated succession in 2022. The Kenyan president is set to retire after 10 years of service as per the constitutional dictates.

The incoming Chief of Defense Forces, who at one time served as Kenya Army Commander and later Vice Chief of Defense Forces, vowed to carry on with the legacy of his predecessor, arguing that "we shall carry on with your good deeds".

“I will remember your calmness in the face of challenges. Your concern for the welfare of personnel will continue to inspire us, to continue the good work and raise KDF to higher levels,” he said. “I am profoundly honored for this opportunity to lead the fine men and women of the force. I undertake to do it diligently.”

The suggestion for the use of soft power seems to corroborate with the US military persistent observation in the fight against Al-Shabaab. Stephen Townsend, the commander AFRICOM, recently said: "military power cannot alone solve Somalia challenges".

US Africa Command, which has close to 600 personnel in Somalia, trains Somalia's Danaab forces. In recent weeks, the command has heightened its operations against Al-Shabaab, significantly degrading the group in central and southern parts of the country.

The KDF book was edited by a team comprised of Prof. Peter Kagwanja as the Chief Editor and Brigadier Stephen Mutuku James as Assistant Chief Editor. Others who co-edited were Col. Paul Njuguna, Col. Njoroge Gitogo, Col. Ahmed Saman, Lt Col. Charles Imbiakha of AMISOM, Lt Colonel David Kwach and Lt Colonel Daniel Muguro.

Some of the books so far launched are The Soldier’s Legacy: The Kenya Army at 55 (2018), Operation Linda Nchi: Kenya’s Military Experience in Somalia (2014), Kenya Air Force Story 1964-2014(2015) and Kenya Navy: A 50-Year Voyage (2017).

For the past decade, Al-Shabaab has leftover 4,000 civilians dead in their quiet to topple the fragile UN-backed Somalia government. But in return, the Al-Qaida linked militants have lost large swathes of rural southern and central Somalia, besides being knocked out of major urban centers.


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