Sovereignty is injurious to humankind. We can either have sovereignty or harmony, not both, we can either have sovereignty or universal acceptance, not both, we can either have sovereignty or humanity, not both. If we think in terms of sovereign nations, we can never have a serene planet. Kenyan sovereignty was threatened by Al-Shabab and that was the end of harmony, universal acceptance, and humanity.
Kenya invaded Somalia to fulfill a domestic and regional demand signal for firm and decisive action against a long-festering threat. Instability in Somalia had contributed to piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, terrorist activity in East Africa and the Great Lakes Region, and worst of all the kidnappings of tourists and aid workers and a massive influx of refugees to Ethiopia and Kenya to escape drought-induced famine. Our country had no option but to genuinely defend our territorial sovereignty. The government was also keen to reduce the inflow of Somali refugees.
The lack of stability in Somalia has made it a breeding ground for terrorist groups to operate their networks both regionally and internationally. Al-Shabaab is blamed for the deterioration of security, the spillover of conflict to neighboring countries, including Kenya, and the grave humanitarian situation which persists in large parts of Somalia. Kenya, however, had emerged as a target for terrorist attacks well before the emergence of al-Shabaab.
The 7 August 1998 bombing of the American Embassy in Kenya, which killed 213 people and left 4,000 others wounded, played a major role in raising the government’s and citizens’ awareness on the issue of terrorism as a clear threat to the country. Since then, Kenya has been making renewed strides to curtail terrorism. It is against this backdrop that Kenya was convinced that the spread of al-Shabaab militias into Kenya necessitated a strong response, due to fears of repeat major terrorist attacks like the al-Qaeda-claimed bombing of 1998
Kenya hosts 500,000 Somali refugees, the largest number of Somali refugees on the continent, in Dadaab refugee camp in North Eastern Province. Although the large influx of refugees poses a great social and economic crisis for Kenya, the bigger issue has been the reported infiltration of al-Shabaab militias, disguised as refugees, into the camps.
We need to understand that the elimination of al-Shabaab from Somalia is not going to mean the end of the threat of terrorism within our borders. However, at this point, it is important for Somalia to focus on national rebuilding and restructuring and for Kenya and other neighbors in the region to support the new administrative government in achieving this.
Al-Shabaab members have allegedly been entering Kenya as refugees, using the camps as bases to plan and launch attacks on Kenyan territory. There are further claims that they also use the camps as recruiting grounds for new members. As the conflict in Somalia continues, it has become increasingly difficult for Kenya’s government to control the flow of refugees and to adequately screen them to separate members of al-Shabaab from bona fide refugees. Further, by helping to stabilize Somalia, Kenya would be able to support the resettlement of refugees from the camps to Somalia, thus relieving the government of the social, political and economic costs of hosting the refugees.
Since the launch of Operation Linda Nchi on 14th October 2011 some of our KDF soldiers have paid the ultimate price in the line of duty and the government has stood with the fallen soldier’s families, honoring those injured during the operation against Al Shabaab as well as peace enforcement in Somalia. The operations in Somalia over the 6 years have proved that not only KDF pack a lethal punch against Kenya’s enemies but it defends and protects the Republic against enemies on land, air and at sea. Our soldiers have sent a loud message to enemies of Kenya that we are always ready to defend our values, our way of life, our collective will, and our sovereignty. The men in uniform have demonstrated professionalism in overrunning Al Shabaab thereby dealing a heavy blow to terrorism as the epitome of evil in the Horn of Africa and the East African region as a whole in stabilizing Somalia and safeguarding her security and sovereignty, which had been for decades under threat from the militia.
We pay tribute to those who paid the ultimate price, suffered injuries and those who continue to serve in different capacities against our enemy. Above all, we remain united with those currently in Somalia, the Sudan and elsewhere in search of peace and security. We recognize and appreciate the crucial roles the families of our soldiers have played in stabilizing our warriors. The Government of Kenya, the Parliament, the people from all walks of life, religious leaders and the media have continued to support our gallant sons and daughters against all odds including the initial skepticism in their capacity to defend our country.
Whilst it has been made clear that the protection of the border region is at the heart of the Government of Kenya’s decision to invade Somalia, more consideration needs to be placed on security efforts within Kenya. The government needs to refine current policies and explore alternative ways and means to combat transnational terrorism, especially given that al-Shabaab has resorted to launching counter-attacks on Kenyan soil. Kenya cannot ignore the retaliatory terrorist attacks that are now more prevalent within the country while fighting the enemy outside. The government needs to implement long-term measures to guard against threats to the country, rather than only focusing on the battlefront.
The passing of the anti-terror bill on 27 September 2012 is a big step. Furthermore, building the capacity of security personnel in strategic approaches to transnational terrorism at Kenya’s National Counter Terrorism Centre will provide a larger pool of professionals in the area of counter-terrorism. Besides, more concerted efforts must be made to avoid collateral damage and deaths of civilians as a result of pursuing al-Shabaab and other terrorist groups.
The fight against terrorism cannot be won by the military approach alone but requires the adoption of a comprehensive and integrated approach involving political and social actors, relevant national stakeholders, as well as regional and international players. We need to understand that the elimination of al-Shabaab from Somalia is not going to mean the end of the threat of terrorism within our borders. However, at this point, it is important for Somalia to focus on national rebuilding and restructuring and for Kenya and other neighbors in the region to support the new administrative government in achieving this. The stability and development of Somalia will help create an environment where both Kenya and Somalia can co-exist peacefully as neighbors, resulting in more peaceful relations in the region.