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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Kenya's invasion of Somali raises controversy

By Mohamed Shiil
Special to All Headline News

Al-Shabaab’s ambition for a proxy war in other countries, plus its recent kidnappings of foreigners in Kenya, has ignited Kenya’s rage, spurring a military incursion by Kenya into southern Somalia on Oct. 16.

The incursion has raised many questions.

Mohamed Farah, a Somali scholar in Mogadishu, believes that Kenya has the right to invade Somalia and pursue al-Shabaab.

“Why not fight against al-Shabaab? Al-Shabaab wishes [to] destabilize Kenya and Kenya has the right protecting its people,” said Farah.

On the other hand, a senior al-Shabaab official, Hassan Dahir, maintains that Kenya’s allegations that al-Shabaab abducted people from inside Kenya is a pretext for a well-organized plan by Kenya to annex parts of Somalia and seize the main port of Kismayo.

However, Mohamed Ibrahim Haabsade, a legislator in the Somali Parliament, thinks otherwise. ”Kenya is trying to protect its people from terrorist attack,“ he said. "It is clear what al-Shabaab [is] doing inside Somalia and it poses threat to Kenya, and every nation has the right to protect its sovereignty."

The most heated discussions in Somalia in recent days are about whether the Kenyan invasion is good or bad, right or wrong. Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) itself seems to be split on the legitimacy of the operations.

Somalia’s president, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, has openly criticized Kenya’s troops entering Somalia. In contrast, the country's prime minister supported it. The two later agreed to denounce the incursion in a joint press conference.

Confusion has arisen over TFG’s stance on the incursion. Some people assume that Kenya, which was already cooperating with Somali militias opposed to al-Shabaab, could effectively support the government to get rid of the insurgents from regions in southern Somalia and thus restore wider stability inside Somalia and neighboring countries, including Kenya.

Abdi Hassan, an author and political analyst, believes the TFG leadership is now in its critical moment and might not be able to decide what is good and what is bad for the fragile government.

“Al-Shabaab is a problem and should be ousted. Is the government opposing ousting them?” he queried. "It was unexpectedly hearing government tackling this, then what next for them to say about fighting against al-Shabaab?” he asked.

The legitimacy of the invasion is another question. Many people asked why the Kenyan delegation, led by the foreign and defense ministers, arrived in Mogadishu after the incursion if it wasn't to legitimize the action.

The Kenyan government ministers clearly said that their discussions in Mogadishu were focused on the two governments cooperating in the fight against al-Shabaab. The two governments released a joint statement after the talks.

The TFG's prime minister blamed the media for misinterpretation of the statement, claiming it was just a memorandum of understanding. However, he declined to say an agreement was reached as the Kenyans insisted.

“It would be clear that two sides did not reach an agreement if Kenyan authorities did not come and inform TFG on their plans. They did come,” said Ismail Hussein, a politician in Mogadishu. “I cannot understand where this misconception comes from and what kind of political influence had the TFG."

Politicians, social organizations, analysts, researchers, scholars and ordinary people around the country are divided over the TFG stance on Kenyan troops fighting inside southern Somalia. However, what they have in common is a desire to fight against al-Shabaab and oust the extremists from the country.

“A proverb goes by your enemy’s enemy is your friend and if Kenyans are fighting al-Shabaab that is a good thing to support,” said Halima Abdulahi Gees, a women's activist in Mogadishu.

“We were supporting the United States drone attacks against al-Shabaab. Similarly we should support what the Kenyans are doing and their fight against al-Shabaab,” she said.

Many Somalis assume that the Kenyan incursions will accelerate the start of the end of al-Shabaab. Others hold the belief that the incursion is a covert action by the United States under the cover of Kenyan troops pursuing al-Shabaab militias.

“Whatever [the] Kenyan plan, al-Shabaab has paved the way for the pretext of the invasion and Kenya has some reasoning for its incursion inside Somalia. They are carrying out attacks and kidnapping operation inside Kenya,” said Ahmed Hassan, a local journalist.

The most commonly asked question is: How far will Kenyan troops encroach into regions of southern Somalia ?

The question has no simple answer. It is not clear how long al-Shabaab can continue fighting against Kenyan troops in the Lower Jubba and Middle Jubba regions. Many believe, or at least hope, that with air support the Kenyans could soon eliminate al-Shabaab fighters


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