Are Kenyans seeking a buffer zone in Somalia?
29 October 2011 Last updated at 17:25 GMT
As Kenya's troops continue their incursion into southern Somalia in pursuit
of Islamist militants, the BBC's Will Ross considers the motives behind the
"I hope in three or four months, al-Shabab will have been removed from our
region. Then one day I'll invite you to come to Kismayo to see what's going
on," said Abdullahi Shafi, personal assistant to the governor of Somalia's
Lower Juba region.
He is hopeful that with Kenyan military help, he can soon return home to a
new semi-autonomous region in southern Somalia.
"We have been in hell for the last 20 years. We need a new Somalia," he
said, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with "Azania" - the name of the new
region which comprises Gedo, Lower Juba and Middle Juba.
It already has a flag - blue, white and red - a parliament, a house of
elders and a president in waiting.
The Kenyan government says it sent troops to Somalia to fight al-Shabab,
whom it blames for the recent kidnappings of tourists and aid workers.
"Kenya has the capacity, the ability and the will to defend its territory
and its people," said Moses Wetangula, Kenya's foreign minister.
But analysts point out that for several years Kenya, with international
support, has been pushing for Azania, traditionally known as Jubaland, to be
Kenya has trained and equipped Somali troops, as it would like a buffer zone
to shield its territory from lawless Somalia.
So some analysts see the kidnappings as just a convenient excuse for
carrying out the plan militarily.
The army has been giving unverifiable reports of success across the border.
The Kenyan media, which have scarcely questioned the motive for going to
war, have told the country about captured towns that no one has ever heard
One front page article referred to the "imminent fall of Kismayo".
For now, the cautious voices are being drowned out.
"It's not going to be easy for Kenya to stabilise and pacify that part of
Somalia, much less drive out al-Shabab," said Rashid Abdi, of the
International Crisis Group.
"I think the Kenyans are into a very long and messy intervention in
Rich in oil?
The man who hopes to soon end his absentee presidency says the creation of
Azania, in April, came about following the consultation of more than 30
He says he is not a separatist, but speaks of a bright future for his people
in a Somalia where power is devolved from Mogadishu.
"Our priority will be to consolidate the peace, set up the administration
and re-establish education and health systems before we move on to
development and infrastructure," Somali MP Professor Mohammed Abdi Gandhi
told me in Nairobi.
Asked where he got his last name from, he smiled and replied, "Because I'm
A geologist with dual French and Somali nationality, he has critics who
accuse him of imposing what some call the "Gandhi plan" without being
"They met at a hotel in Naivasha where Professor Gandhi was proclaimed the
president. Everybody clapped. The constitution was produced. They all
clapped again, even though they hadn't even read it," one critic told me.
In response, Mr Gandhi says the process has been as inclusive as possible
with dozens of consultative meetings.
There are reports that Azania - or at least the sea off its coast - is rich
Mr Gandhi, a former Somali defence minister, has worked as a consultant for
the French oil giant Total. This and this has led some to conclude that
countries including France and Norway have thrown money at the Azania
"These are all rumours. Not true," he says.
"To my knowledge, there are no groups or companies that have come to us.
When it's peaceful, then we will open the door and all the international oil
companies can come to explore. Nothing is under the table."
Centralised power has not worked well in Somalia.
The war has kept the government confined to the capital Mogadishu and, more
often than not, to hotels in Nairobi.
As Puntland and Somaliland and several other states break away, a devolved
form of government is seen as better way forward, as long as it is well
planned and not done through the gun alone.
"Ideally, Somalis should have been given the opportunity to plan for a
federal state in a gradual, consensual way," says Mr Abdi.
"Right now, we have clans competing among themselves to carve out clan
enclaves or cantons in various parts of Somalia. I don't think clan states
are the way forward for Somalia."
Somali government officials have given mixed reactions to the Kenyan
President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed said the government was grateful for
logistical support but said the Kenyans should stay out of Somalia - a
comment which drew this response from the president of Azania.
"Sheikh Sharif doesn't want change. To prolong his power, he wants the
status quo. He wants al-Shabab to stay. He is a big obstacle to peace. He
has done a lot to block our programme," Professor Gandhi told me - without
ruling out the possibility of this stance leading to armed conflict between
the president's and his soldiers.
"If he keeps the status quo, he can convince the international community
that he is fighting al-Shabab. He needs more help and more time. For him,
all he has in mind is to stay in power."
The controversial issue of foreign troops in Somalia could complicate the
Some analysts suggest it could even help bolster al-Shabab, which has played
the nationalist card before.
The Kenyans are fighting alongside a militia run by Sheikh Ahmed Madobe - a
man who does not see eye-to-eye with Mr Gandhi.
As well as this potential source of tension, there is also concern that clan
rivalries could break out if the common enemy of al-Shabab is dealt with.
Then there is the Ethiopia factor.
Analysts say Addis Ababa is strongly opposed to Azania being set up.
The fear is Ethiopian Somalis of the Ogaden clan may seek support or refuge
across the border in Azania which is inhabited mainly by people of the
As for Kenya, it clearly had to act to secure its border - the question is
whether that should have been done without crossing the frontier or at least
without going deep into Somalia's web of war.
"I think once the body bags come back home and the huge bill comes in at a
time when the shilling is depreciating so fast, Kenyans will sober up. They
will realise that this kind of foreign adventurism may have been ill
advised," said Mr Abdi.
* A lot to lose <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-15475498
* Kenyan incursion raises Somalia stakes
> Q&A: Who are
Map of Somalia's disputed areas
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Received on Sat Oct 29 2011 - 07:03:50 EDT