Will Kenya's battle with Islamists in Somalia succeed?
By Peter Wilkinson, CNN
November 2, 2011 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
* Somali pirates have started kidnapping foreigners in Kenya as well
as hijacking boats
* Last month Kenyan forces entered Somalia, saying kidnappings
* Analysts warn Kenyan forces' mission in Somalia is risky
* Conflict is likely to hinder humanitarian efforts againsnt famine in
the Horn of Africa
(CNN) -- Kenyan troops are battling the Islamic extremist group Al-Shabaab
in neighboring Somalia, westerners are being targeted at Kenyan tourist
resorts and fears are high of terror attacks in Nairobi. What are the
reasons behind the unrest and what is likely to happen next?
What is the source of the unrest?
A state of near-anarchy has existed in Somalia for more than two decades:
the government has little authority, violent conflict has left thousands
dead, and the country has recently been hit by a devastating famine.
Pirates have taken advantage of the power vacuum to prey on vessels large
and small off the country's coast, but over the past few months, Al-Shabaab
militants appear to have added a new tactic: kidnapping foreign tourists and
aid workers in Kenya (though some in Al-Shabaab deny involvement in the
abductions.) Al-Shabaab already generates tens of millions of dollars a
year, much of it by controlling ports along the Somali coast, according to a
recent United Nations report.
dex.html> U.N. report: Al-Shabaab is raising millions illegally in Somalia
How has Kenya responded to the kidnappings?
Responding to fears that foreign investors and tourists could be scared
away, Kenyan forces last month entered Somalia, saying the kidnappings
threatened security and constituted an attack on Kenyan sovereignty. Kenyan
forces say they are ultimately seeking to take the Somali port city of
Kismayo, described by the U.N. as a key stronghold and source of cash for
index.html> Fears grow over Somali pirates' 'new tactics' after kidnaps,
What has been the response?
The incursion has raised fears of reprisals with Al-Shabaab saying it
considers it an affront to Somalia's sovereignty. Last month (October) the
U.S. Embassy in Kenya said it had credible information of an imminent terror
attack on foreigners. The following day, twin explosions in Nairobi killed
at least one person.
Many worry the action will make Kenya less safe, not more so. Security
analyst Rashid Abdi, from International Crisis Group, told CNN: "There is a
risk that while the argument for going in is to stop terrorism, the contrary
could now be the case. Al-Shabaab will now have the pretext to strike
How likely is Kenya's operation to succeed?
Any foreign intervention in Somalia is a big risk, say experts who point to
recent history as proof, in particular America's ill-fated "Black Hawk Down"
mission in 1993 when U.S. forces tried to capture a local warlord -
resulting in many deaths on both sides, Ethiopia's U.S.-backed invasion that
contributed to the rise of Al-Shabaab, and the African Union's long and
bloody campaign to control the Somali capital Mogadishu.
"If there is anything we have learnt in the last couple of decades it is
that foreign intervention, especially military intervention, doesn't work in
Somalia," said Abdi.
Our main objective is just to go in, dismantle the Al-Shabaab and get out.
Alfred Mutua, Kenyan government spokesman
Kenya's largely conventional army is being hampered by heavy rains and
Al-Shabaab's ability to melt into the background. However officials say
their operation should be over within months. "We don't want to go off and
get stuck in Somalia," Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua said. "When
the United States, Ethiopia and others went there, they were trying to
support an existing government. Our main objective is just to go in,
dismantle the Al-Shabaab and get out."
What is the background to the unrest?
Somalia has known only conflict since the 1991 fall of dictator Mohamed Siad
Barre, who had seized power in 1969, nine years after independence from
Britain and Italy. Meanwhile, as the EU tightened fishing controls in
Europe, fleets from Europe and Asia -- many operating illegally -- moved
into East African waters to fish. According to many reports, in the absence
of any Somali navy patrols, those fleets plundered fish stocks, decimating
the livelihoods of many Somali fishermen.
Fertile territory for Al Shabaab in chaos of Somalia
Many of these destitute former fisherman "took matters into their own
hands," according to the African Development Bank, and turned to hijacking
ships to make up for lost income. The new "industry" was quickly co-opted by
the Somali warlords and is now an organized, hierarchical gang-like
According to academic William Jelani Cobb, "Somalia is like Afghanistan in
that we had a great deal of interest in the place during the Cold War and
more or less forgot about it afterward."
In an article written for CNN in 2009 in response to the kidnapping of an
American ship captain, Cobb wrote: "Part of combating terrorism means
addressing the conditions in which it flourishes. Extortion and kidnapping
on the high seas is certainly wrong, but by ignoring ... the threats to the
regional food supply, we effectively created a niche for these pirates."
ml> Commentary: A lesson of Somali pirate attacks
If you've got a big war going on, it's difficult to distribute relief.
Bombings only increase the risk.
Roger Middleton, consultant researcher on Chatham House's Africa Program.
How will the unrest affect the region?
With famine causing misery for millions in the Horn of Africa, the conflict
between Al-Shabaab and Kenyan forces is likely to hinder humanitarian
efforts. Even before the incursion, aid workers found it difficult to
provide relief, according to Roger Middleton, consultant researcher on
Chatham House's Africa Program.
"If you've got a big war going on, it's difficult to distribute relief.
Bombings only increase the risk," Middleton said, adding that discussions
about access between aid workers and Al-Shabaab were unlikely to be eased by
How is the international community reacting?
The Kenyan government says the decision to attack was its alone. Key western
allies such as the U.S. and the UK have been quick to state publicly they
are not assisting in this action, though the French say they will help. In
the region, Rwanda and South Africa have issued statements backing Kenya.
"The international community is being quietly supportive," Middleton said,
"but only because they have no idea what else to do.
"I'm sure the U.S. and others have provided intelligence assistance, but
there have been no overwhelming offers of support. Most governments believe
sending troops into Somalia is not a good idea, but there is no plan B,
apart from the status quo.
"Their reasoning is that Kenya forces could be stuck in Somalia for ages, or
there could be an insurgent campaign in Kenya itself. It could go horribly
wrong -- who knows?"
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Received on Wed Nov 02 2011 - 18:11:40 EDT