It is almost two weeks into Kenya’s invasion of Somalia. If you don’t watch the news or read the papers you could almost forget that Kenya is at war. There is so much new information streaming in daily. It is getting harder to decipher hype from fact. Feelings of uncertainty are rising in the city because we fighting an amorphous enemy. Two grenade attacks in Nairobi, allegedly a copy cat terrorist pledging allegiance to Al Shabaab has brought the war on Somalia onto our doorsteps. It is no longer over there. The next man in the streets could be the enemy within. Given the amount of aggrieved jobless youth in our midst, it does not paint a pretty picture. The government has some great advice though, be vigilant and patriotic. We desperately need a man in Somalia to tell us what’s going on?
The news is not too racy as yet because the war has been ‘good’ so far. TV stations are groping for fresh angles. KTN had a clip on a captured Al Shabaab soldier, some smiling teenage in a loose T-shirt. I might be mistaken but think I saw a Kenyan soldier’s arm resting lazily on the boys shoulder. We clearly treat our prisoners-of-war amicably. Our military looks like the Salvation Army on a meet and greet tour. You almost half expect them to start handing out Brand Kenya flyers. NTV chose a depressing causality of war story and had me wondering how many body bags were making it across the border. Jeff Koinange on the bench at K24 had better pulse on situation on a recent interview with Dr. David Matsanga of the Africa World Media. Even as the outspoken Matsanga took a pro war stance in between the furious banter, a proxy war was alluded to that had all the markings of a NATO conspiracy. But our man in Somalia Michael Njenga of Citizen TV took the prize. His transition from business suits to combat fatigues was progressing well. By day 10 on the frontline he had bullets strapped across his shoulders, clutching a gun and grimacing like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the flick Commando. He was cautious as he delivered military intelligence to the captive audience at home something along the lines of, “The army will be moving to the town but we cannot tell you when because of security reasons but all we can say is it that is very soon”. Indeed.
War time reportage is clearly new territory. It is lucrative as it guarantees a wide captive audience and crucial eyeballs for advertisers. Audiences are hooked to the daily dose of depressing news and wars sell like hot cake. Worryingly though, prime time news casters are starting to look like spectators, seemingly uninformed as the rest, heavy on innuendos and speculation all delivered in a manner that is already starting to disrupt peoples’ lives. Between the opinion polls, controlled images and footage, objectivity has lost ground to patriotic duty. Our men in Somalia have the heavy responsibility of helping us understand the premise of this war. We do not need them to be part of a press junket facilitated the military’s PR machine.
The war on terror was a ‘surprise’ turn of events especially this close to Christmas and a General election. Kenya’s foreign policy though viewed as cowardly had always taken pragmatic decisions in regional conflicts. The drum beats of war against Al Shabaab and the sketchy detail around the cause for retaliation are not holding up too well to scrutiny.
Somalia is not a single country in the conventional use of the word and the political issues behind the perennial conflicts are complex. Ever since Said Barre was deposed in 1991, every foreign invasion has been expelled with heavy consequences and left the situation worse than they found it. Daniella Kroslak of the International Crisis Group in an All Africa article dated 26 June 2009, suggested that militant Islamists were trying to draw Kenya into a trap and argued strongly against getting drawn into the Somalia conflict. We are now in the early stages of an occupation with no clearly stated exit strategy. We are fighting an unorthodox enemy and guerilla units throughout history have been underestimated to everyone’s detriment.
This war has gained legitimacy over a very narrow range of discussion. There has not been sufficient public information and serious discussion on the repercussions of this engagement. The constitutional mandate has not been sought. The Commander in Chief and the Prime Minister have been very economical with the official position. The usually cackling Parliamentarians seem more preoccupied with their ICC witch-hunting. When the minister for Internal Security (the late) George Saitoti invoked UN article 51 proclaiming a country’s right to self defense, the constricted reason provided was the economy in this case protecting precious dollars attached to tourism and aid business revenue from rogue militia.
Nonetheless, the social economic consequences at hand and Geo-political interests hinted publicly by military sources such as ‘logistical support’ from NATO lords US and France cannot be ignored. It should not be long before we hear the words ‘freedom and democracy’ followed by aerial bombardments and drone attacks. The retaliation is likely to be disproportionate and portends open season for war crimes against a civilian Somali population condemned to a never ending humanitarian crisis.
Religious propaganda will likely form the ideological basis on both sides. Soon we will be all killing each other in the name of God. Especially worrying is the xenophobic wave that will tar the Kenyan Somali population weary from successive government ‘screening’ operations. The discriminatory treatment could be justified in the name of public good. Al Shabaab has becomes our bogey man, lurking in every corner making innocent civilians collateral damage in a war they do not understand.
The Somalia affair is an unlikely to be a 7 day raid. It has the potential to be long drawn out war that could involve the entire East African region lending Al Shabaab, a new lease of life as the underdog and rallying jihadists against the invaders. Alternatively, the assault might smother Al Shahaab, only to bring rise to a new resistance inspired by their predecessors. The world is not a safer place after the death of Sadaam, Osama or Gadaffi. As late American comedian George Carlin said, “Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity”.
Therefore, can my man in Somalia drop the showbiz and tell us what’s going on?
Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.
Originally published: October 27, 2011