Why the Opposition wants an exit strategy from Somalia Read

Opinion

Since March, the Opposition has been asking the Jubilee administration to present Kenyans with the game plan for the withdrawal of Kenya’s troops from Somalia.

To every call, the Government has responded with predictable chest-thumping and a zero plan. In the meantime, the soldiers and ordinary Kenyans are dying. When CORD first made the call, the Government declared it an act of cowardice that would embolden the al-Shabaab.

After an attack on a Mombasa church in May and another on the Thika superhighway, followed by numerous others including Gikomba, the Opposition renewed calls for a road map for troop withdrawal.

The Government responded with more chest-thumping, tough talk, and promises to catch the criminals. “Those of us  telling us that we should get out of Somalia are telling us to perform an act of cowardice, run away from killers and terrorists and people who feed on the blood of others. We will not. We will face them, confront them, deal with them and defeat them,” Deputy President William Ruto said.

Tough talk and big promises have been the hallmark of Jubilee rule for a year now. But the Opposition is still waiting for answers. To set the record straight, CORD never asked for KDF to slip out of Somalia through the back door, falsely declaring victory but leaving chaos behind.

CORD is asking that Kenyans be told what the plan is in regard to the war in Somalia. How long will our troops stay? What is the plan for exit? When will it be clear that al-Shabaab is defeated? Where is the roadmap for a secure Kenya and a stable Somalia?

These questions were prompted, not by cowardice, but reality in the country and in Somalia. The Opposition believes Kenyans are paying heavily for the war in terms of our national security, human toll and finances, but we have nothing to show for it.

To date, nobody knows how much Kenya has spent on KDF in Somalia and what the cost will be when the operation finally ends. We know Kenyan troops are part of the AU force in Somalia which should be getting funding from the UN. But there is also information that the Government of Kenya is spending billions on this same operation. Nobody knows how much and why.

True, CORD comprises leaders that were party to our incursion into Somalia. And that is partly the reason it is asking questions.

KDF’s foray into Somalia was pegged on certain expectations. The soldiers were not to do it alone. The war was to run alongside a comprehensive diplomatic, political and economic strategy to stabilise Somalia and secure Kenya.

It is the Opposition’s view that regional and global diplomacy are critical to stabilising Somalia and securing Kenya. Diplomacy was expected to lessen the political problems in Somalia that are bogging down our soldiers and destabilising our country. Diplomacy was also expected to take pressure off our troops and deprive the insurgents of the fuel of anti-foreigners on which they thrive. But a lot has changed about Kenya’s diplomacy since Jubilee came to power.

Our relations with traditional allies in such operations, particularly the US and the EU, is not clear as we court China and nations like Qatar and Nigeria. This diplomatic shift has implications for our plan to stabilise Somalia and secure Kenya. CORD feels that today, the soldiers are fighting alone because of failures on the diplomatic and political front and shifting diplomatic ties.

As a result, we now seem to be banking mostly on a military solution to what is certainly also a diplomatic, political and economic problem.

From the start, political negotiations and leverage were considered crucial to forging any lasting peace in Somalia. Those negotiations were to bring on board members of the Somalia nation who felt they would rather fight because the new Somalia would not have a place for them.

There was also the expectation that sooner rather than later, Somalia forces would take the lead in securing their nation and Kenyans would spend their energy and resources on securing our borders. Yet today, despite the best efforts of our troops and their Somali counterparts, Somalia still faces a violent and persistent insurgency and remains a magnet for international terrorists. But we are made to believe that the forces have done well inside Somalia.

Even if everything was going well, the Kenya Defence Forces cannot stay in Somalia indefinitely and continue to be viewed as an occupying force.

It is the Opposition’s position that a credible plan to bring our troops home and stabilise Somalia must include certain key elements and it is not cowardice if the government were to explain to the public how we are doing on those critical areas.

First, CORD believes that responsibility for Somalia’s security ought to have been transferred to the Somalis as soon as possible. Priority should have been training the Somali security forces and army to take charge. We are asking the Government to tell the public when this will be or what progress is being made.

Secondly, CORD believes that Somalia’s economic development needed to be accelerated and supported by the international community, with Kenya championing the cause. We are asking the Government to report back to Kenyans.

The thinking at the time of the incursion was that as KDF moved into Somalia, key and long term goal would be to disorganise Al Shabaab, get them off our borders and help Somali government organise itself.

Kenya was to help rally the international community to agree on time-bound programmes to consolidate peace in Somalia, support a legitimate and inclusive political process, and jump-start recovery, reintroduce the rule of law, and post-conflict reconstruction and development. Then we would move out.

CORD is asking Jubilee to tell Kenyans what is going on with these plans. 

CORD is concerned about the new methods the terrorists are resorting to, and which appear to be catching the Government off guard.

At the first meeting on the stabilisation of Somalia in Turkey on June 1, 2012, Kenya, through then Prime Minister Raila Odinga,  expressed concern that the merger of Al Shabaab and Al Qaeda, which had just happened as the world headed to Instanbul, raised the possibility of the East African terrorists networking with those in North and West Africa, including Boko Haram, to present a new and more dangerous theatre for terrorist activities in Somalia and beyond.

At that time, the Tuaregs were disembarking from Libya and moving towards West Africa, their destination unknown. They later showed up in Mali where they caused a great deal of instability, until French forces moved in.

There was concern that the movement of the Tuaregs and the merger of Al Shabaab and Al Qaeda indicated that it was possible for terrorists from Eastern Africa to create linkages with counterparts in the north and west and create a terrorism belt across the Continent while learning from each other and cause massive instability in Africa. Al Shabaab’s evolution into bombing churches, institutions and buses has therefore raised concern in the Opposition.

This boldness was initially the preserve of Boko Haram in Nigeria. So the Opposition is asking, have the two groups linked up? What does the Government know?

When terrorists attacked a church in Mombasa in early May, a senior government officer was caught on TV lamenting that the terrorists have changed and have moved into bombing buses and churches. It appears this had not been anticipated in security circles. Yes we may be chasing Al Shabaab from strongholds within Somalia. But where do defeated Al Shabaab go? Do they surrender their guns and turn to farming or fishing?

CORD wants to know developments on all the fronts because these developments hold key to how long our forces will stay in Somalia.

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