Somalia strategy has failed to assure Kenya security, so it’s time to rethink it
President Kenyatta has a crisis on his hands, one which he has inflicted on himself through his poor handling of the country’s security and which could lead to his fall if he does not get smart, rather than angry.
There are two ways of looking at the security failures around the attack by Al-Shabaab last week in which 28 people, mainly teachers, were executed.
The first one is the accountability view, where we look for the person who failed and nail him to the wall.
This is the typical Kenyan approach, this being a country of vindictive politics and emotion-soaked reaction to failure.
My own take is that whereas it is good to hold people accountable, merely sacking the person in question does not solve the underlying problem.
Samuel Kivuitu, and the entire Electoral Commission of Kenya, was sacked, but serious problems remain.
General Hussein Ali was removed as police boss, replaced with Mathew Iteere and finally David Kimaiyo. Today, the police force is in its worst shape in the history of the country.
SLAUGHTERING AT WILL
The second approach, which is to look beyond the people to the institutions and the broader security strategy, actually reveals a much bigger problem regarding Kenya’s secretive but bungling dealings with Somalia.
The strategy has either failed totally or is in the process of failing. Kenya sent its troops into Somalia with the intention of clearing three Somali provinces — Gedo, Lower Juba, and Upper Juba — of Al-Shabaab to create a buffer against the kind of attack we saw last Saturday.
Secondly, the military incursion was expected to cut Al-Shabaab’s economic feet by denying it revenues from the port of Kismayu and, thirdly, generally taking the war to Al-Shabaab in its own backyard to defeat it and give Somalia a chance to form a democratic government and end decades of state collapse.
Whereas, for nationalistic reasons, Kenyans support the military mission in Somalia, it is difficult to know what exactly the troops are doing there. There is very little information from the areas under the control of the Kenyan component of the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom).
Yes, Al-Shabaab is out of Kismayu, but who replaced it? Al-Shabaab, which we thought was on its last legs, is still able to set up camp five kilometres from the border, cross, attack and slaughter at will. What happened to the buffer zone?
Propping up the regime in Mogadishu is a good humanitarian objective, but as an effective ally in Kenya’s efforts to protect itself from Al-Shabaab, my opinion is that the regime is useless.
To the Kenyan public, it appears that the Somali government behaves like an innocent bystander when its citizens are carrying out acts of terrorism against friendly neighbours.
It does not feel responsible and it does not act responsible; it hides behind a tiresome helplessness. So, we have not got many of the benefits of that security strategy, but we are paying the full costs.
Kenya has become Al-Shabaab’s core business: a full 23 per cent of all Al-Shabaab attacks between its founding in 2007 and 2012 were against Kenya.
Looking at the big picture, between 1975 (when the first terrorist attack in Kenya was reported, that is the so-called Maskini Liberation Front’s attack on Starlight disco) and 2012, there were 251 terror attacks on Kenyan soil, with “terror attacks” being defined rather broadly.
Al-Qaeda has attacked Kenya three times, killed 240 people, and injured 4,000.
The attacks on Paradise Hotel and the embassy bombings account for the bulk of that damage.
Al-Shabaab first attacked Kenya in 2008, when it raided a police station in Wajir and freed Al-Qaeda suspects. Between then and 2012, it attacked 93 times, killing 121 Kenyans and injuring nearly 500. This toll does not include last year’s nearly daily grenade attacks and the big one in September on Westgate.
This is a serious war. It is not just a security problem that can be solved by buying police more vehicles. The truth is that the National Intelligence Service, the military, and the police need a massive kick in the backside.
Certainly, the police must be built from the ground up; it is catastrophically broken. The military and the intelligence services must not go into politics; they must be professional and effective.
The Somalia strategy must be reviewed and modified. The President needs a war council; his current team is a big joke.
Mr Kenyatta’s honeymoon is over, time to start earning the big bucks.
By MUTUMA MATHIU