Kenya Forum continues its analysis of the situation in which Kenya’s Defence Forces find themselves in two months into the incursion in Somalia, based on a briefing received from within the KDF (see below for Part I).
The briefing continues…
The KDF intervention was in many ways essential to protect the Kenyan tourist industry and to halt incursions by Al-Shabaab and associated gangs smuggling weapons, counterfeit goods, drugs and people along the border. Invoking UN Article 51 made this intervention legitimate in the eyes of the international community.
THE ‘BIG ISSUE’ – THE LOCAL SOMALI POPULATION
However, the Kenyans have not found the intervention easy. Other than the Kenyan forces becoming bogged down in a long, messy peacekeeping operation, the other big issue relates to the local population in southern Somalia and their reaction to the presence of Kenyan forces.
Maintaining good relations with the local population is of course, important. The Kenyan authorities have made some attempts at influencing local Somalis and have provided humanitarian relief. However, the KDF has little experience in ‘hearts and minds’ type activities and have done little more than distribute anti-Al-Shabaab propaganda (which is largely unnecessary given the population’s hatred of Al-Shabaab – they have lived under them for ten years, after all).
In the latter case, the scale of the humanitarian problem, fuelled by drought and famine, longer term neglect (primarily the fault of Al-Shabaab) and the large scale displacement of people in the face of the impending battle for Kismayu, is beyond the KDF’s capabilities to handle.
Kenya has made repeated calls for the international community (particularly charities and NGOs) to follow the KDF as they advance to provide immediate relief to the population as areas are cleared. However, the humanitarian community dislike association with the military (any military) so they have been sluggish in taking up the call and even those who have are operating in deliberate isolation.
The Somali population is virtually entirely supportive of the Kenyan intervention but even that positive is slightly tinged by the concerns of Somali intellectuals and elders who worry about the Kenyan response if the campaign begins to go badly wrong.
AL-SHABAAB PROVOCATION – WILL KENYANS SHOW SELF-CONTROL?
The media blackout can only carry on for so long and Al-Shabaab is believed to be actively preparing its own counter-campaign including the highly provocative parading of bodies and execution of prisoners. Al-Shabaab may also attempt to bring the campaign to Kenya and in particular Nairobi and Mombasa, which both have large Somali Diaspora populations.
Either option would be an attempt to draw the Kenyans (whether it is the Kenyan military, the Kenyan government, or the Kenyan populace in general) into brutal reprisals against the Somali population.
While the Ugandans and Burundians have shown remarkable stoicism in the face of such tactics, ‘it is unclear whether the Kenyans would be able to show similar self-control’.