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The Kenyan Military Intervention in Somalia
The Kenyan Military Intervention in Somalia
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
An Election Delay Can Help Avert Kenya’s Crisis
An Election Delay Can Help Avert Kenya’s Crisis
Report 184 / Africa

The Kenyan Military Intervention in Somalia

As Kenya advances into southern Somalia, it must act cautiously and avoid prolonged “occupation”, lest it turn local opinion against the operation and galvanise opposition Al-Shabaab can co-opt, much as happened to Ethiopia in 2006-2009.

Executive Summary

The decision in October 2011 to deploy thousands of troops in Somalia’s Juba Valley to wage war on Al-Shabaab is the biggest security gamble Kenya has taken since independence, a radical departure for a country that has never sent its soldiers abroad to fight. Operation Linda Nchi (Protect the Country) was given the go-ahead with what has shown itself to be inadequate political, diplomatic and military preparation; the potential for getting bogged down is high; the risks of an Al-Shabaab retaliatory terror campaign are real; and the prospects for a viable, extremist-free and stable polity emerging in the Juba Valley are slim. The government is unlikely to heed any calls for a troop pullout: it has invested too much, and pride is at stake. Financial and logistical pressures will ease once its force becomes part of the African Union (AU) mission in Somalia (AMISOM). But it should avoid prolonged “occupation” of southern Somalia, lest it turn local Somali opinion against the intervention and galvanise an armed resistance that could be co-opted by Al-Shabaab, much as happened to Ethiopia during its 2006-2009 intervention.

The intervention was hastily approved, after a string of cross-border kidnappings, by a small group without sufficient consideration of the consequences, at home as well as in Somalia. Military leaders were apparently convinced it would be a quick campaign, but the Kenyan Defence Forces (KDF) promptly ran into difficulties on the unfamiliar terrain. Somali allies failed to deliver and began squabbling, while Al-Shabaab, rather than confront Kenyan tanks and armoured personnel carriers head-on, predictably reverted to guerrilla warfare – something the KDF was poorly trained and equipped to fight. Irrespective of whether its troops are “rehatted” into AMISOM, there is a real prospect Kenya will find itself with undependable allies, enmeshed in a protracted counter-insurgency campaign against a resilient and experienced enemy.

The involvement in Somalia was partly motivated by a desire to inoculate North Eastern Province from the chaos across its border, ease a huge refugee burden and curtail the radical influence of Al-Shabaab, but the unintended consequences may prove destabilising. The venture could reopen old wounds, foment new inter-clan discord, radicalise Kenyan Somalis and undermine recent social, economic and political advances. The North Eastern Province is now the soft underbelly in the war against Al-Shabaab. New evidence suggests the radical Islamist movement is intent on destabilising the province, and part of its strategy is to outflank the KDF and wage a low-intensity guerrilla campaign there and in other areas behind Kenyan lines. A string of deadly grenade attacks in Garissa and elsewhere, initially dismissed as the work of local malcontents, now is seen to have a pattern. Most of the venues targeted have been bars frequented by government and security officials and poorly-defended government outposts.

Furthermore, the intervention taps into deep-seated Kenyan fears of Somali encroachment and corresponding Somali qualms that Kenya seeks to assert control over territory that was once part of colonial Kenya. Al-Shabaab is trying to exploit Kenyan-Somali grievances against Nairobi and making pan-Somali appeals, although without much apparent success to date. For Kenya’s venture to have a positive outcome, its leadership will need to define its goals and exit strategy more clearly, as well as work effectively with international partners to facilitate reconciliation and the development of effective local government mechanisms in the areas of Somalia where its forces are active, as part of a larger commitment to ending Somalia’s conflicts and restoring stability to the region.

While this briefing is an independent treatment of the Kenyan intervention in Somalia, some elements, in particular issues related to Al-Shabaab, Kenyan Somalis, and North Eastern Province, have also been discussed in earlier Crisis Group reporting, most recently the briefing Kenyan Somali Islamist Radicalisation (25 January 2012). Crisis Group will publish shortly a briefing on the wider issues involved in restoring peace to Somalia.

Nairobi/Brussels, 15 February 2012

A Kenyan policeman guards a shipment of presidential election ballots arrived from Dubai ahead of Kenya's October 26th presidential election at the Jomo Kenyatta international airport in Nairobi, Kenya, on 21 October 2017. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
Briefing 132 / Africa

An Election Delay Can Help Avert Kenya’s Crisis

The rerun of Kenya’s presidential elections scheduled on 26 October risks escalating a political crisis, as the main opposition leader has withdrawn and the risk of violence is high. The election commission should seek from the Supreme Court a 30-45 day delay to the vote. Kenya’s political leaders should support such an extension and commit to participate.

  • What’s happening?  On 26 October, Kenya is scheduled to hold repeat presidential elections following the Supreme Court’s annulment of the previous vote held on 8 August. Proceeding in current conditions risks escalating the political crisis.
  • Why is the vote contentious?  President Uhuru Kenyatta says he is ready for the vote, while opposition leader Raila Odinga refuses to participate, citing the lack of electoral reform since 8 August. The election commission chairman has said that he cannot deliver a credible election on 26 October.
  • Why does it matter?  The risk of clashes between rival supporters or between security forces and protesters seeking to block the vote is high. New violence would be devastating for Kenya, the economic hub of East Africa.
  • What should be done? The election commission chairman should petition the Supreme Court for an election postponement of 30 to 45 days, which would permit a delay without violating the constitution. All parties should contest the new vote, accept the outcome or pursue complaints through the courts.

I. Overview

The rerun of Kenya’s presidential elections, scheduled for 26 October, threatens to provoke a serious political crisis. Opposition leader Raila Odinga has declared he will not participate; an Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) commissioner recently resigned and fled the country; and the IEBC chairman has signalled that he cannot guarantee a credible vote within the expected timeline. The risk of deadly clashes between the two main parties’ supporters, or between security forces and groups seeking to block the vote, is high. Proceeding under current conditions would deepen Kenya’s ethnic cleavages and prolong a stalemate that has already claimed dozens of lives and come at a high economic cost. Kenyan institutions and political leaders should consider a short delay; Odinga in turn should pledge to take part; business elites as well as Kenya’s neighbours and donors should help promote such an outcome.

II. A Contested Electoral Process

Kenya’s Supreme Court 1 September annulled the presidential election held on 8 August. It did not find evidence of widespread fraud or question the outcome – according to official results Kenyatta won 54 per cent to Odinga’s 45 per cent – but found irregularities and illegalities during the IEBC’s results transmission and announcement of tallies. It ordered the electoral body to conduct a new vote within 60 days “in strict conformity with the constitution and applicable election laws”.

As Crisis Group noted shortly after the court decision, the manner in which political leaders have responded to the judgment has hindered preparations for a new poll. Members of Parliament from President Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party have used their majority in the National Assembly to push through contentious electoral reforms. These include provisions that declare that an election cannot be annulled on the basis of a failure to relay or record tallies electronically – key grounds for the Supreme Court’s invalidation of the 8 August ballot. As the European Union (EU) and other observers have indicated, passing such legislation so close to election day runs against global best practice. Parliament endorsed the amendments on 11 October but Kenyatta is yet to sign them into law.

For his part, Raila Odinga responded to a court decision that appeared to vindicate many of his complaints about the election’s administration by drawing up a list of conditions for his participation in a new vote. On 10 October, the IEBC wrote to Odinga saying that it would implement some of his requested changes, including improvements to its IT management and security protocols. The Commission also gave party agents and observers further access to key aspects of the electoral process, including to its IT systems, within the limits permitted by its security protocols. Other demands, it said, such as replacing the service providers for the IT vote management system and using another company to print ballots and returns forms, were not feasible in the time remaining before the vote. That same day, Odinga withdrew from the election. His statement some days later that “no election” would take place on 26 October was interpreted by diplomats, media commentators and the government itself as an implicit threat of violence.

Tensions, already high, have further intensified. Several parliamentarians from Odinga’s coalition, the National Super Alliance (NASA), have been arrested for assaulting election officials and disrupting IEBC training seminars in NASA strongholds. On 20 October, Odinga called on his supporters to end attacks on electoral staff and Jubilee supporters. He also reiterated his intention to boycott the vote and promised to address the nation on the “way forward” on 25 October.

Political disagreements are not the sole impediment to the repeat election. Just as before the 8 August vote, court cases filed by politicians and others and the rulings on those cases may have had a bearing on preparations for the new vote. An 11 October High Court judgment, for example, ruled that all eight candidates in the 8 August vote – not just Kenyatta and Odinga as initially planned – could contest the fresh election. The IEBC has indicated that it has insufficient time before 26 October to reconfigure the electronic results transmission kits to include all candidates.

The IEBC itself is in disarray. Disagreement among commissioners over how to handle the court’s decision and the refusal by some to entertain a postponement were among the reasons cited by IEBC commissioner Roselyn Akombe for her resignation and departure to the U.S. on 18 October. A day later, with public pressure mounting, IEBC chief executive officer Ezra Chiloba, whose departure Odinga has demanded, departed, reportedly on leave. Kenyan media outlets report he will play no role in the repeat election.

III. Delaying the Election Rerun

Kenya has made remarkable progress since the violence after the disputed 2007 elections, notably in the adoption of a new constitution in 2010. But the zero sum calculations of political elites persist. Such calculations are driving Kenya towards a crisis that could imperil both the country’s and the region’s stability. A way forward that can address concerns of both sides and settle the political stalemate sensibly should reflect the following principles:

  • The IEBC chairman should publicly confirm the position he took during an 18 October media conference that holding a credible election on 26 October under current conditions is impossible. He should petition the Supreme Court for a limited extension of 30 to 45 days, which would allow the election to be rescheduled without violating the constitution. Precedent for this exists: the High Court in January 2012 delayed elections by six months, which helped ensure a credible and peaceful vote.
  • The Supreme Court should favourably consider such an extension given the IEBC chairman’s own acknowledgment that the commission cannot guarantee a credible vote within the allotted timeline. Because only parliament or the Supreme Court can allow a postponement, and given that parliament would need a minimum of two weeks to debate and pass a bill extending the 60-day window for a new vote, such a call at this point only could come from the court.
  • Should it grant a delay, the court ought to state clearly that President Kenyatta would remain in office pending the fresh vote. The constitution is silent on who holds power in the event no election is held within 60 days of the annulment of the previous vote. But insofar as the court, in its 1 September decision, concluded that the president had committed no offence leading up to the 8 August election, he should remain in office until the new balloting occurs. Such a clarification would assuage the concerns of some in his camp who fear the constitutional ambiguity on this point could encourage legal challenges to his position. If the court rejects such a petition, Odinga should accept the decision of a court he praised not so long ago and urge his supporters to abide by the judges’ orders.
  • Odinga should participate in a delayed vote without additional conditions. He should renew the welcome public pledge against violence that he made on 20 October. He also should rein in and hold accountable supporters who have attacked election officials, made inflammatory threats to disrupt the election or otherwise broken Kenyan law. He should stress that disputes should be resolved by Kenya’s institutions and not through violence. If Odinga nonetheless decides to boycott a postponed election, he should encourage supporters to stay home rather than disrupt balloting, attack voters or otherwise stoke trouble.
  • Both President Kenyatta and Odinga should publicly commit to supporting the IEBC if a new poll date is set and accept the results or take complaints to the courts.
  • The Kenyan police chief should issue clear instructions to officers to restrain and arrest – not shoot – demonstrators breaking the law.

In light of the extreme breakdown of trust between both camps and to avert a protracted political crisis, the African Union should help nudge the parties to accept a short delay under the conditions described above to allow the commission to ready itself, and crucially, seek assurances from President Kenyatta and Raila Odinga that they will accept the vote’s outcome.

Many Kenyans are exhausted by the extended election drama, one that already has damaged the economy and further polarised the country. But faced with two bad options – proceeding with a vote despite the boycott of a candidate who won some 45 per cent of votes the last time round; or accepting a limited delay – the latter option is the better one. The IEBC should seek a limited postponement to allow sufficient time to prepare for an election that both main parties contest. Kenya’s political leaders should support such an extension and commit to participate in a new vote.

Nairobi/Brussels, 23 October 2017