Kenya’s military operation in Somalia is a warning sign for the Somali people of the most probable political future that they will undergo: the partition of the territories of post-independence Somalia into a group of weak authorities that are beholden to neighboring states (Ethiopia and Kenya) that act for their own interests and as proxies for great external powers (United States, Western European states, and, increasingly, China).
For the first time since the collapse of Honourable Siad Barre’s in 1991, there is a strong possibilitythat “Somalia,” which has existed in political limbo for twenty years, with decisions on its political organization on hold and deferred, will take on a more settled political definition. That settlement would be imposed by external powers using the tactic of divide and rule to create dependent client states, loosely based on dominant clans inhabiting Somalia’s regions. It is obvious that were that scenario to eventuate it would spell the end of any possibility that the Somali people could regain their self-determination and be able to defend their own interests on the international stage.
The partition of post-independence Somalia would not mean the end of the Somali people.Regardless of political organization, Somalis would continue to acknowledge one another as Somalis,as distinct from other peoples and ethnic groups. Somalis would simply lack an organ for articulating and asserting their interests. That, of course, would systematically disadvantage them in the competitive world of international politics. Partition would be a form of neo-colonialism. It would mean that the Somali people would be permanently weakened and they would not make the decisions determining their fate. Loss of self-determination is not death; it is dependency.
The Kenyan military operation is, to repeat, a warning sign of what is likely to come; as it has worked out thus far, the operation is not clearly an exercise in partition, it simply tends in that direction – but that is due to Kenyan incompetence rather than to Somali resolve. The basic dynamic remains in place.
The Geo-Political Dimension of Kenya’s Operation
The most frustrating feature of Kenya’s military operation from the viewpoint of analyzing it is the Kenyan government’s lack of clarity in defining the operation’s geo-political aims. At different times, from different officials, and sometimes in the same statement, the aim of the operation is said to beto secure Kenya’s borders, to create buffer zones in Somalia around its border, and to effect regime change in the regions of southern Somalia by eliminating the administrations of the Islamist Harakatal-Shabaab Mujahideen (H.S.M.). Only the third alternative would involve (and necessarily so) Kenya in creating a political organization for the south, which it does not appear to be ready or able to do.Yet, Kenya keeps promising to press on to Kismayo, H.S.M.’s nerve center.
What seems to be the case is that Kenya has the maximum aim of carving out a client state let for it self in southern Somalia and the minimum aim of border security, and that its operative aims fall between the two extremes, varying day by day depending on how the operation is faring. The maximum aim is Kenya’s wish (partition); the minimum aim is the last eventuality before failure.Nairobi does not seem to have figured out what it can reasonably expect to get with the resources it is willing to expend, which – if true – indicates that the operation is ill-conceived.
The lack of clarity and focus in Kenya’s geo-political aims shows that its operation was premature, that it failed to formulate a coherent political plan for southern Somalia, and, more importantly, did not do the work necessary to bring together the Somali political factions in the south that oppose H.S.M. Nairobi has put itself in the position in which the United States found itself after it invaded Iraq, with all the political work left to do on the ground. Yet Nairobi is not Washington: Kenya doesnot have the resources of a super-power.
It is not to be expected that Kenya will come anywhere near realizing its maximum aim, yet it is worthwhile considering Nairobi’s dream as indicative of the underlying tendency shaping Somalia’s political future.
On October 30, the Kenyan newspaper The East African published a suggestive article based on“diplomatic and intelligence sources” about the grand strategy of Somali’s neighboring states. The first step of the strategy would be to create three “areas of influence” in the central and southern regions that would provide “buffer zones” for Ethiopia and Kenya. One area of influence would comprise most of central Somalia and would fall under Ethiopian control, another would cover most of the south and would be in Kenya’s charge, and the third would comprehend Mogadishu and adjacent areas, and would be controlled by the African Union peacekeeping mission, AMISOM. Each of the areas of influence would be governed by Somali clients as a “semi-autonomous state”that could become part of a “federal Somalia” at some later date. That is what partition would look like.
The second step of the strategy escapes into fantasy. All “liberated areas” would be turned over to AMISOM, a move that would require that the United Nations Security Council (U.N.S.C.) increase the mission’s forces to 20,000 from the current 8-10,000 (and that the Western “donor”-powers pay for the expanded force). Finally, AMISOM would “hand over a pacified Somalia” to the U.N. That is all very unlikely to happen (to say the least) – it would be partition under ideal conditions for Ethiopia and Kenya. The “donor”-powers have not bought into it, nor has the U.N. Kenya is faced with more immediate and messy problems.
Kenya’s role in the grand strategy is to organize a “Jubbaland” state controlling the deep south – the Gedo, Middle Jubba, and Lower Jubba regions. According to the East African, the Kenyan government had not decided who would front for it. Among the contenders are Kenya’s protégé, Mohamed Gandi, who leads the Azania state backed by Nairobi and Paris; Sh. Ahmed Madobe, the head of the RasKamboni organization that broke with H.S.M. and opposes it; and local officials and forces affiliated with Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.), which has formal international backing. Kenya is working with all three groups, but has done nothing to reconcile them. According to the East African, Kenya’s intelligence establishment is behind Azania, where as Kenya’s military is behind the Ras Kamboni organization, which can “raise an army.”
On November 7, Great Britain’s Guardian newspaper published a strategy article similar to the East African’s piece. According to the Guardian’s sources, the Azania forces, which were most dependent on Kenya and were its favorites, had “not lived up to expectations” and were opposed by Ethiopia, because of Azania’s clan base – the Ogaden, which populate Ethiopia’s Somali region and harbor aninsurgent movement against Addis Ababa. The demotion of Azania, according to the Guardian, leaves Kenya with the Marehan clan and the Ras Kamboni organization. The Guardian added that in order to avoid having to get caught in the web of clan and factional politics, Nairobi was hoping that AMISOM would deploy to Kismayo and that Kenya would join the peacekeeping mission.
The East African and Guardian articles indicate that Kenya will not be capable of executing a partition strategy due to Nairobi’s political incompetence – its failure to deal with southern Somalia’s factionalization (if that is possible for an external actor to accomplish). That failure became evident when the T.F.G. resisted the “Jubbaland” project and apparently succeeded in rolling it back.
The T.F.G. Resists Kenya
From the outset of Kenya’s operation in mid-October it was clear that Nairobi had not prepared a political strategy to accompany the military mission. On October 18, the Nairobi Star reported that Kenya had trained administrators to take over “liberated towns.” That did not prove to be the case. On October 19, Kenyan army spokesman Lt. Nyagah told the press that Kenya was leaving the towns it captured in the hands of “T.F.G. forces and local administrations.” According to Nyagah, Nairobi had no intention of occupying southern Somalia, but only wished to “flush out” H.S.M.
It also appeared that Nairobi had failed to inform the T.F.G. of its operation before hand and, consequently, had not gained the T.F.G.’s cooperation. Whatever the reason was for Nairobi’s lapse, the T.F.G., which formally represents all the territories of post-independence Somalia (although it effectively controls almost none of them), stood to lose the most from partition in the south, which would create a statelet challenging the T.F.G.’s representation.
By October 17, T.F.G. officials were opposing Kenya’s operation as a violation of Somali sovereignty. Somalia’s U.N. ambassador, Omar Jamal, for example, called the operation “a serious territorial intrusion.” On the other hand, Nairobi found backing on the ground from T.F.G.-allied forces in the south; military commander, Abdi Yusuf, said that “Kenya is fully supporting us militarily.”
Expressions of opposition to Kenya’s operation by T.F.G. officials spurred Nairobi to send adelegation to Mogadishu led by foreign minister, Moses Wetang’ula, and defense minister, YusufHaji, to gain approval for and cooperation with the operation from the T.F.G. After Kenya’sdelegation met with the T.F.G.’s president, Sh. Sharif Sh. Ahmad, the two sides issued a jointcommuniqué on October 18, in which the T.F.G. appeared to acquiesce in the operation.
The agreement, however, did not hold; on October 24, Sh. Sharif came out against Kenya’s “military incursion,” telling Nairobi that its training of and logistical support for anti-H.S.M. Somali forces was welcome, “but not your army.”
Sh. Sharif’s statement created a diplomatic problem and embarrassment for Kenya, which quickly asked for “clarification” of the T.F.G.’s position towards the operation. On October 26, the T.F.G.’s defense minister, Hussein Arab Isse, issued a “clarification statement” in which the T.F.G. denied that there had been any agreement allowing Kenyan forces into Somalia,” but said that the two sides had now agreed on “cooperation in undertaking coordinated security and military operations spearheaded by T.F.G. soldiers trained by the Kenyan government.” The T.F.G. also said it would appoint a “joint security committee to work with Kenya.”
The “clarification statement” did not give Nairobi the endorsement that it wanted from the T.F.G., yet, on October 26, Nairobi went to the U.N.S.C. to justify its operation, claiming that it had acted
“in direct consultation and liaison with the T.F.G. in Mogadishu,” which appears to have been anything but the case. Also on October 26, the U.S. State Department said that Washington did not “encourage the Kenyan government to act nor did Kenya seek our views.”
With domestic Somali and international actors distancing themselves from the operation, Nairobi made another effort to get the T.F.G. on board in a meeting between T.F.G. prime minister Abdiweli Gas and Kenya’s prime minister Raila Odinga that resulted in a new communiqué, the core of which was an expression of the T.F.G.’s support for the operation in return for Kenya’s assent to the T.F.G.’s leadership of operations with Kenyan support.
(It must be said that nobody expects Kenya to surrender control of its operation to the T.F.G.; the communiqué’s provisions serve the political purpose of subordinating Kenya to the T.F.G. in a purely formal sense. That is sufficient, however, to block a Kenyan attempt at partition.)
After the communiqué was issued, Odinga stated that Nairobi did not support “the creation of an
autonomous region in Jubbaland; we support the creation of local administrations.” Partition appeared to have been taken off the table, for the time being. It remains to be seen what might replace H.S.M. – if, indeed, it is displaced – except “local administrations.” Nairobi has been proved to have had no operative political strategy.
As it looks ever less probable that the U.N.-managed “transition” of Somalia to a permanent constitutional state will succeed, the alternative remains partition, balkanization, cantonization.
Kenya’s operation in Somalia might have been the beginning of the partition process had it not been for Nairobi’s political incompetence. In a perceptive analysis on October 31, the Indian Ocean Newsletter put it succinctly: Nairobi had succeeded in rubbing the “nationalism of some T.F.G. leaders the wrong way,” and “had not convinced the West that its aims are realistic.”
In terms of realizing its geo-political interests, Nairobi acted prematurely. It did not have a political order in place to take over from H.S.M. and, as an alternative to that, it did not gain the cooperation of the T.F.G. Nairobi also did not get the “donor”-powers on board, failing to realize that they have not yet abandoned the “transition” process in favor of partition.
Balkanization will become operative when and if the “donor”-powers definitively give up on a state embracing the territories of post-independence Somalia, or most of them – perhaps excluding Somaliland.
Kenya’s operation is a geo-political warning sign of partition, not the thing itself. Nairobi acted against the “transition” process and its “roadmap.” It isolated itself diplomatically and did not win whole-hearted support anywhere. It had no operative political plan. It did everything wrong politically. Nairobi cannot hope to provide a political formula for southern Somalia. Presumably,there will be another day.
Report Drafted By: Dr. Michael A. Weinstein, Professor of Political Science, Purdue University in Chicago weinstem@purdue.
The views expressed in this article are the authors' own and do not necessarily reflect terror free somalia editorial policy.
Kenya troops aim to carve 'buffer zone' out of Somalia
Kenya troops aim to carve 'buffer zone' out of Somalia