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The Kenyan Military Intervention in Somalia
The Kenyan Military Intervention in Somalia
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Crisis Group On the Long Road to Kenya's August Elections
Crisis Group On the Long Road to Kenya's August Elections
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

Commentary / Africa

Crisis Group On the Long Road to Kenya's August Elections

For the past twelve months, Crisis Group has closely monitored and assessed developments in the run-up to Kenya's 8 August 2017 election. In this letter to our readers, Africa Program Director Comfort Ero highlights Crisis Group's flagship Kenya publications that have helped inform stakeholders of looming threats and ongoing electoral issues.

Dear friends of Crisis Group, 

On 8 August 2017, Kenyans will vote in eagerly anticipated local and presidential elections. The country’s strategic role as East Africa’s transport and commercial hub, the fact that it is one of the continent’s major democracies, and a history of election-related violence explain why these polls are so important and why they will be closely watched. As in past electoral cycles, the 2017 election is hard to call, the campaign has been vigorously fought and there is concern that voting could be marred by violence.

Since the start of the year, Crisis Group has been following the political campaigns and monitoring preparations for next Tuesday’s poll. Our publications provide an overview of key issues surrounding the vote. We have prepared a full reading list, and outline some of our key publications below.

Today, Murithi Mutiga answers crucial questions about Kenya’s readiness for the ballot, what is at stake for each of the major players and the likelihood of a repeat of the weeks of bloodletting that followed the 2007 election.

In May, Crisis Group issued a report on the volatile Rift Valley region, which witnessed some of the worst violence in 2007. We made the point that the task of reconciliation is not yet complete and that authorities and donors should continue investing in grassroots-based reconciliation efforts rather than relying on a transactional electoral pact between leaders of the main ethnic groups (the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin) to maintain peace in the region.

Our March commentary highlighted that the electoral commission’s preparations were well behind schedule and that time was running out for it to be in a position to deliver a credible election.

Crisis Group field research highlights key counties where the threat of ethnic conflict is highest.

Kenya’s 2010 constitution introduced a new system of devolved government to spread power and resources to localities and dilute the president’s powers in order to change the election’s winner-take-all nature that – by raising stakes to existential levels – helped fan past conflicts. But there is a flip side. For devolution reduced the stakes of the presidential election, it simultaneously raised those for the now-powerful position of governors who head the 47 newly created counties. These have been fraught and marked by violence. Crisis Group field research highlights key counties where the threat of ethnic conflict is highest. In July, Abdullahi Abdille examined the northern Kenya counties of Marsabit and Isiolo which have witnessed serious violence in the past decade. Murithi Mutiga travelled to the counties of Laikipia and Narok where political incitement, land hunger and historical grievances drive cycles of violence.

Throughout its reporting, Crisis Group consistently has called on:

  • Kenya’s key external partners to lean on the main presidential candidates, Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, to sign a public peace pledge committing them to renounce violence, adhere to the electoral code of conduct, accept the will of the people as expressed in a fair and credible poll and exclusively challenge results through the court system;
  • Observer missions to send teams to Kenyatta’s and Odinga’s strongholds, to act as a safeguard against ballot-box stuffing and vote tampering;
  • Donors to support the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, a peacebuilding institution, to improve its capacity to gather evidence for prosecution of actors engaging in hate speech in order to deter politicians from acting irresponsibly in future elections;
  • Donors to encourage improvements of the electoral commission’s communication in order to better inform voters at every stage of the electoral process and avoid tensions that accompanied the tallying process in the past;
  • Kenyan authorities to show restraint in policing potential street protests in the wake of the vote in order to prevent a repeat of the 2007/2008 violence where many died at the hands of the police.

At a time when democratic governance is receding in parts of Africa, Kenya’s elections are of enormous importance. A smooth process will consolidate democratic gains in the country and serve as a symbol for the rest of the continent; a contested outcome and violence will represent a significant setback for both.
Dr. Comfort Ero
Director, Africa Program
International Crisis Group

This letter was originally sent to subscribers to Crisis Group's Africa list. If you would like to receive Crisis Group updates and newsletters, subscribe here.