Another Misadventure in Somalia

Andrew Noakes

Image © United Nations

After a spate of kidnappings carried out by Somali militants on Kenyan soil, Kenya has decided to try and fix the problem of Somalia the only way it knows how – by mounting an invasion. Of course, it is not the first country to attempt such a bold move. Kenya follows in the footsteps of Ethiopia, whose troops were forced to conduct an ignominious retreat from the country after they alienated almost the entire population of Mogadishu, and the United States, which has been too terrified to carry out any major military operations in sub-Saharan Africa ever since.

The Kenyan intervention is likely to end in failure. As the Ethiopians and Americans both eventually learned, there is no viable stand-alone military solution to the breakdown of governance, peace, and order in Somalia. The underlying political, economic, and social problems, such as the lack of food security, disunity and distrust among rival clans, corruption, and fear of central government (after the brutal and factional rule of the Somali dictator, Siad Barre), have to be solved if there is to be any serious improvement in the security situation.

This is not to say that outside military intervention should not be part of the solution. But regional powers are hardly the appropriate actors to play this role. Ethiopians are, in particular, viewed with intense suspicion by Somalis, owing to the long history of conflict between the two countries. The Kenyans, branded as Christian invaders by Al-Shabaab, are also likely to unite Somalis behind the militants. Instead, the UN should work to partner with and expand the African Union peacekeeping force that is already there. Any new troops should be predominantly Muslim and from countries that do not have a history of conflict with Somalia. But any military approach must go hand in hand with a serious effort to tackle the underlying causes of state failure.

In the mean time, Kenya’s invasion is unlikely to either save the Kenyan tourism industry or make Kenyans any safer. The British Foreign Office has recently warned holidaymakers that a terrorist attack in the capital, Nairobi, is ‘imminent.’ Al-Shabaab can be expected to carry out as many terrorist attacks as it takes to force the Kenyan government to back down. For years, the international community has failed to solve the problem of Somalia. Now it is escalating into a regional conflict. The price of failure gets higher by the day


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