> East Africa: Kenya Ignores Ethiopia's
18 October 2011
The history of recent foreign military interventions in Somalia is
universally bad. From UN and US action in the 1990s to Ethiopia's incursion
in 2006, foreign troops entering Somalia have often left behind a situation
that is worse than the one they sought to improve - for their own
governments and for the Somali people.
A serious threat to Kenya's national interests
This past weekend, Kenyan forces, backed with tanks and airpower, crossed
into southern Somalia in pursuit of the Islamist group al Shabaab.
Insecurity in southern Somalia has allowed Somali militant groups to cross
into Kenya and carry out multiple kidnappings: of tourists from beaches
around Lamu, and aid workers from the world's largest refugee camp at
Dadaab. Kenyans are understandably impatient for their government to take
decisive action to secure their borders and security. But it is not obvious
that this intervention will have the desired effect.
The extent of Kenya's ambitions is not yet clear. The intention may be to
rescue those who have been kidnapped on Kenyan soil, to secure a buffer zone
along the border, or even to conclusively defeat al Shabaab.
There is concern that the military intervention will worsen the humanitarian
situation in Somalia. Al Shabaab has made it difficult for external NGOs to
work in southern Somalia, but a full-scale war will make the region even
harder to operate in.
Kenya may make impressive initial gains but the real challenge, if this
incursion is meant to make al Shabaab's defeat a lasting one, will be to
defeat any resulting insurgency.
Past experience warns of the unintended negative consequences resulting from
such interventions. The enduring consequence of Ethiopia's intervention in
2006 was al Shabaab's transformation from part of the Islamic Courts Union -
a broad coalition - into a radical stand-alone force capable of mustering
public support and controlling large areas of Somalia.
Until now, Kenya has aimed to establish a buffer zone by proxy through its
support of an assortment of militias in southern Somalia. This, in addition
to al Shabaab's mishandling of the famine response, has weakened the
Islamist group's control in southern Somalia. However, thus far Somali
militant groups have not achieved the geographic reach or the level of
control that would secure the borders.
It is not yet certain that Kenya's incursion in Somalia will end badly. If
Kenyan troops are engaged in only a short-term mission backed by
intelligence to rescue captured hostages and provide temporary support to
the TFG, and if they are able to guarantee humanitarian access before
withdrawing, then the worst-case scenario may not play out. However, history
has shown that in Somalia the chance of a foreign military intervention
concluding successfully is, at best, limited.
> Roger Middleton is
consultant researcher in the Africa Programme of Chatham House.
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Received on Tue Oct 18 2011 - 17:29:21 EDT