Nairobi/Brussels, 15 February 2012: As Kenya advances into southern Somalia, it must act cautiously and avoid prolonged “occupation”, lest it turn local opinion against the operation and galvanise opposition Al-Shabaab can co-opt, much as happened to Ethiopia in 2006-2009.
The Kenyan Military Intervention in Somalia, the latest International Crisis Group report, examines the October 2011 decision to deploy Kenyan Defence Forces (KDF) to fight the militant Islamist group Al-Shabaab in the Juba Valley. It highlights the risks of a prolonged operation that could spur local armed resistance and terrorist retaliation inside Kenya. To prevent this, Kenya must articulate a clear plan and strategy to support its military actions and ensure long-term peace along the Somalia border.
“Operation Linda Nchi (Protect the Country) was given the go-ahead with what has shown itself to be inadequate political, diplomatic and military preparation”, says Abdullahi Boru Halakhe, Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Analyst. “The potential for getting bogged down is high, the risks of an Al-Shabaab retaliatory terror campaign are real, and the prospects for a viable, extremist-free and stable polity emerging in the Juba Valley are slim”.
The Juba Valley is the epicentre of extremist groups. Al-Shabaab’s take-over and poor handling of the drought has led to massive emigration from Somalia, putting additional strain on neighbouring countries. Kenya now hosts more than 500,000 Somali refugees.
The decision to intervene was partly to ease this refugee burden, but also to insulate Kenya from the Somalia crisis by establishing a local administration, Jubaland, in southern Somalia as a buffer between it and Al-Shabaab-controlled territory. The project is not inconsistent with the feelings of many inhabitants of Juba, but it could lead to unintended consequences.
To counter Al-Shabaab, Nairobi must ensure that the intervention is more carefully planned than it has been to date, with measurable goals and an exit strategy, and that any major offensives, either individually or as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), are accompanied by a political strategy. Inclusive local administration is crucial if peace is to come to the region. Kenya must address Somalis’ fears of domination by the majority clan, the Ogaden, by collaborating with regional and wider international partners, including the UN, U.S. and UK, to promote local mediation and governance, and in particular ensure fair control over Kismayo port’s revenues. The political strategy must be grounded in collaboration with local clans and social groups to avoid destabilising the region.
The KDF should also avoid urban combat. Targeting Kismayo port, Al-Shabaab’s main money source, makes sense, but to limit its own as well as civilian casualties, it should allow time for an economic blockade (with humanitarian aid exceptions) and attrition from multiple-front combat to weaken its increasingly unpopular enemy and produce shifts in local support.
“Creating stability in southern Somalia (and beyond) requires not only defeating Al-Shabaab”, says EJ Hogendoorn, Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Project Director. “Kenya and its partners must also develop a political plan with attractive incentives for local clans to work together and share the region’s wealth and foreign aid. Otherwise, there is little chance for long-term peace in the Juba Valley”.