Kenya army’s excursion into Somalia in pursuit of the Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (or simply Al Shabaab) militia has entered into its second week. According to Kenya army, the extremists have suffered significant losses and are said to be in retreat. This, of course, is good news. But we can ensure that gains made in the coming days are more sustainable by implementing the following measures:
- Prioritize winning the battle of the mind: Winning the hearts and support of the Somali people in the entire Horn of Africa is much more important than wiping out the militia’s strongholds. This is the only way the Somali people will not see Kenya as a foreign force violating their sovereignty and occupying their land with the help of the west. Currently, this is the rhetoric the Shabaab are using to whip up patriotic emotions and further radicalize the moderates like they have successfully done in the past. Kenya and her allies must now engage diplomats to launch a concise and sustained media campaign in the Greater Somalia region. We must define this war’s narrative, craft it into acceptable rhetoric and use Somali’s local media to win the hearts and minds of all peace-loving Somali people. There is need to explain to the Somali people why Kenya and her allies are not just pursuing her interests, but are acting in the interest of peace for the Somali nation. It would be nice if Kenya’s minister for Foreign Affairs Moses Wetangula accompanied by other Somali leaders gives interviews to Radio Shabelle in Mogadishu, for example. We must also engage the help of respected religious leaders in Kenya and Somalia to assure Somalis that it is not their religion under attack here.
- After chasing the Shabaab out of town, what next? The international community and regional governments should launch massive state-building programs in liberated areas to scale up the capacity of Somalia’s TFG. Aid for state-building & development from partners like the US and EU must start flowing immediately. A vacuum will only lead to the rise of opportunistic elements like the clan war lords and even the Shabaab to fill the gap, taking us back to square one. Reconstruction must begin immediately with institutions for provision of security (coupled with lifting of arms embargo on Somalia) and economic development. Aid agencies must start shifting from purely humanitarian assistance to aid for development, in large amounts! A strong government in Somalia will be able to deal with extremism, piracy and address the current fractionalization of the country into the existing tiny unviable ‘mini states’. As we do this, we must ensure that all programs and projects bear the Somali government’s stamp so that the citizens begin to have confidence in their government’s capacity to govern.
- Redefining and/or extending AMISOM mandate: In light of the recent security developments, there is need to draw a new plan for AMISOM. The proposed increase in size from current 9000 to at least 15000 should be implemented now. Areas of operation need to be extended to include strategic the towns of Baidoa, Kismayu and Afmadow. It is the high time Djibouti and Senegal sent their troops as promised. Kenya and Uganda should lead this effort at Addis to draw up a new, broader mandate for AMISOM.
In conclusion, swift, effective action is critical. Because war is a bad thing; even a seemingly just war like this one has its downside. Therefore, it must take as short a duration as possible. There are costs in terms of lives and money (better spent in developing our economy etc). Through better coordination amongst all the allies and timely logistical support, this operation should ideally be complete in under five months.