Uhuru Kenyatta: KDF will stay in Somalia until job is done

Kenya Defence Forces patrol the streets of Fafadun township, an important trading town as it lies on the main road to Kismayu during the vicious battle to reach Kismayu Port. Questions are being asked now if Kenya government shouldn't provide a road map for its presence in the war-tattered nation in the horn of Africa. Analysts are saying KDF troops cannot remain indefeinately in Somalia s it is hurtingKenya's interests. PHOTO:GEORGE MULALA

NAIROBI, KENYA: Two years after Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) crossed the border in pursuit of members of Al Shabaab terror cell, Kenyans have begun asking whether it is prudent to continue keeping our military in Somalia, particularly considering the rising wave of terrorism in the country.

The debate was given momentum by Opposition leader Raila Odinga's call for withdrawal of KDF because of the recent terror attacks against Kenya linked to Al Shabaab.

But officially, President Uhuru Kenyatta who took over the reins of power while KDF was already in the trenches in Somalia, has insisted that KDF's mission in Somalia will go on and that the deadly attacks at home would not make the Government to flinch and recall the soldiers.

Notably, the mission in Somalia, codenamed Operation Linda Nchi, has been costly to Kenya. Economically, billions of shillings have been spent in the war effort while, socially, many families of soldiers are still in tears after losing their loved ones.

To add to the pain, the war has not only been fought in the dusty, remote towns of Somalia but also here at home where the terrorists have hit back hard. There have been many attacks locally linked to Al-Shabaab which have killed scores and injured hundreds including last week in Mpeketoni and the one on Westgate Mall last year.

It is against this backdrop that debate has started on whether Kenyans should continue being casualties of a war that is being fought across the border. The Government insists that Kenya will be safer with Al Shabaab defeated and Somalia stabilised through a strong civilian government of its own.

Kenya launched Operation Linda Nchi on October 14, 2011 after gunmen seized tourists at the Coast which the Government saw as a threat to the country's sovereignty as it targeted the nation's economic lifeline: Tourism.

State House spokesman Manoah Esipisu says that no discussions have taken place yet regarding possible withdrawal of Kenyan troops from Somalia. Esipisu explains that the troops will not be pulled out unless the objective for the incursion is fulfilled. "We have a clear objective. That objective will be met. And when that objective is met, we will have that discussion of thinking about withdrawal. I think the President has made himself very clear," he said.

Esipisu added: "We are there as part of AMISON (African Union Mission in Somalia). This is not about Kenya alone. The Somali Prime Minister was here on Saturday and he did say that he wants Kenya troops to remain in Somalia,'' he explained then asked: "If Somalis want us to remain there and we feel that the reasons for which we went there have not been fulfilled, why would we be thinking about withdrawing?" he asked.

In February 2012, KDF was integrated into the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom), which foots the bill for the war. Esipisu dismissed as flawed arguments by proponents of a withdrawal that it would end terror attacks.

Deputy President William Ruto, who spoke after talks with the Somali PM, also dismissed calls for Kenyan troops to withdraw from Somalia. "Those of us who are telling us that we should get out of Somalia are telling us to perform an act of cowardice, to run away from killers and terrorists and people who feed on the blood of others," Ruto said.

But those pushing for Kenya's withdrawal from Somalia argue that the intervention has become costly for Kenya citing deaths from terrorist attacks.

CORD leader Raila Odinga says that Kenya's involvement in Somalia should be time bound. "We want the Government to define and limit Kenya's military objectives in Somalia and to make sure that the war on terror is not fought on Kenya's territory and to ensure that our engagement in Somalia is time-bound and does not mutate into a military occupation," Raila said.

"It is high time the Government evaluates whether there is any reason to still have our soldiers in Somalia. Does their continued stay in Somali bring peace to our country?" Raila asked.

Kisumu Senator Anyang' Nyong'o argues that Kenya should hand over to Somali police. "We seem to be staying in Somalia without realising the full costs and are now paying for it," said Nyong'o, who is the ODM secretary general. "Families have lost bread winners and loved ones. It is our position that as country, Kenya has done its bit in Somalia and we have suffered enough for it."

But Senate Majority Leader Kithure Kindiki argues that Kenya went to Somalia to protect its territorial boundaries and restore regional peace and until that is accomplished the troops should remain there. "The Government will not allow terrorists to dictate or blackmail us into changing our local or foreign policy. We will not relent until Kenya is free from terror," Prof Kindiki said.

Kindiki pointed out that as the fastest growing economy in the region, Kenya must protect its interests, secure its borders and ensure regional stability. "We have a comprehensive plan on how we are going about it. Our soldiers have done Kenya proud and we can say despite the acts of desperation by Al Shabaab, we have made tremendous steps forward," he adds.

Kenya National Commission on Human Rights official Hassan Abdille argues that security is deteriorating and backs withdrawal of troops from Somalia. "The most alarming feature of the said war against terror is the worsening situation of insecurity and massive violation of human rights. Hundreds and thousands of people have been indiscriminately arrested and held in sub-human conditions either in crowded police cells or sports stadia," he says.

Chairman of the Parliamentary Defence and Foreign Relations Committee Mr Ndung'u Githenji insists KDF, under Amisom, has a role to defend the country from economic and security threats posed by the Al Shabaab militiamen. "KDF should never come back until their mission of silencing the criminals is accomplished. Kenya's intervention in Somalia is for the good of the two countries and the region in general. Al-Shabaab is a threat to more people than just Somalis," Githenji said.

"Some people think when we withdraw our troops from Somalia, Al Shabaab will sit back and say "Thank you, Kenya!" No! They will not. This is an ideological war," added Mr Barre Shill, vice chairman of the committee. "We are telling the Government of Kenya that they should never even dream of withdrawing the troops from Somalia."

"A Shabaab wants to instill fear in people so that you cannot go into the bus, into a mall or in the church. We cannot agree to that," Shill said.

Kenya National Congress leader Peter Kenneth says although he strongly supported Kenya's incursion into Somalia, time may be ripe to withdraw. "It is becoming increasingly clear that our presence in Somalia has not improved our security. We need to re-assess the reasons for our presence there and possibly rethink our presence altogether. We must now, more than ever before, think of bringing back or men and women in uniform to protect our borders," Kenneth argued.

"The longer the force (KDF) stays in Somalia, the more it is seen as an occupying force," warns Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad, a Nairobi-based security specialist. "That will surely continue to trigger more attacks in Kenya. I think they need to come back and Kenya needs to start thinking of other measures to protect her citizens. It could think of fencing the Kenya-Somali border (like Israel)," he adds.

Mr Godwin Murunga, deputy director of the African Leadership Centre, says that the threat facing Kenya is complex and advises against withdrawing from Somalia.