Somalia leads neighbours in giving Kenya hard time

While negative things happen, there are positives at the national and international levels that encourage people. South Korea’s Moon Jae-In is among those that are smiling because of overcoming challenges. Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta could also be smiling, but he faces many obstacles to his Big Four dream.

Kenya seems to be at the receiving end of isolationism and of being thrown back to the 1970s when it was surrounded by pseudo socialist states or tyrannical showmen. Its insistence on being pro-West, pro-Israel, and capitalistic at a time when ideologues calling themselves ‘progressives’ dominated the region made it an isolated state. Irredentist Somalia led the onslaught on territorial grab, Ethiopia shifted its governance to brutal Marxism, Sudan continued to generate refugees, Uganda’s Idi Amin kept his neighbours on the edges and Tanzania closed borders with Kenya to protect failing Ujamaa experiments from Kenya’s predatory capitalism.

There now appears to be a repeat of the 1970s in 2019, with a slight difference. With unprecedented open split in the Cabinet and the Jubilee Party, critics see an opportunity to delegitimise the President. Implying that there is power vacuum, they call on Uhuru to violate the Constitution by getting out of office before his time. The persistence, through select media and political personalities with axes to grind, plays into the hands of hostile extra-continental forces. It challenges Uhuru’s leadership skills to pull the country through.

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The grabbers

He has to contend with new neighbourhood hostility. Ethiopia is in another reform spree, replacing Kenya as the regional peace maker and economic hub. The Sudans continue to generate refugees. Uganda has turned trading tables on Kenya and Tanzania has developed new disdain for Kenyans. It is Somalia, however, that once again leads the attack by claiming Kenya’s territorial waters.

Having failed the land grab, Somalia challenges Uhuru’s ability to protect Kenya’s interest. It turned seaward, egged on by Euro energy grabbers who sent it to the International Court of Justice, ICJ, whose presiding judge is Somali. The ICJ would give the grabbers the sea wealth they want through an advisory opinion favouring Somalia. Since only misplaced officials in any country would agree to commit long-term national suicide to please international schemers, Kenya will have no choice but to ignore the likely adverse advisory opinion.

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The sea grabbers are mostly competing extra-continental forces who would probably like Somalia to remain fragmented. Chaotic Somalia increases their freedom to operate on the East African coast without being held to account. The Americans find Somalia fertile ground for drone and other experiments. India, which tends to assume that the Indian Ocean is an Indian Ocean, is in competition with China’s growing maritime presence, part of the One Belt One Road global initiative. India buys a lot of British weapons.

Impromptu summit

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Although England’s global influence has dwindled and, in the light of Brexit, is desperate to reposition itself, the gvernment would wish to reduce involvement in the Somalia fiasco which its predecessors had plunged into. To boost a wavering economy by creating jobs, England is eager to sell weapons to big buyers, among them being Neo-Ottomans and Arab oil countries with interests in Somalia. The Neo Ottomans devote time and resources training Somali soldiers. The Arab League claims that the Somali are Arabs and warns Kenya not to challenge Somali sea irredentism.

South Korea’s Moon Jae-In is busy trying to reduce tensions in the Korean zone. Moon plays geopolitical match maker to Donald Trump of the United States and Kim Jung-Un of North Korea. The three countries have been conjoined since 1950 with the United States and North Korea pulling in different directions. Moon seemingly acts quickly on good advice irrespective of the source that enhances Seoul’s interests of reducing tensions in the neighbourhood.

At least, two incidents stand out. Moon probably advised Kim to write a private letter to Trump, which Moon personally delivered and the result was an excited Trump committing to the second summit that took place in Vietnam. Second was the suggestion for an impromptu summit at the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) which both Trump and Kim agreed to.

The result was that Kim happily received Trump in North Korea and Trump showed willingness to reciprocate the gesture by receiving Kim in Washington. The mutual attractions mean lessening of tensions. They know and can checkmate each other, smile, and look for another round of geopolitical chess. They look happy. Moon, declaring the DMZ summit to be the virtual end of hostility in the peninsular, has reason to smile widely.

Prof Munene teaches History and International Relations at USIU 

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SomaliaDiplomatic rowKenyaDiplomacy