Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) celebrate after capturing the Somalia town of Jana Cabdalla, 40km from Kismayu last week. Even after the port of Kismayu was taken, Al Shabaab remain operational. We were told Al Shabaab had lost most of their territory. Their leaders were being picked off by drones. Their followers were running scared and their numbers were decimated
Here is a growth statistic for you. In 2012, it was 51; in 2013 it was 88; and in 2014 it was 173 according to the Kenya Police. Last year’s numbers aren’t in yet, but they will certainly surpass the previous year’s. Last year was the worst in memory. In 2014, terrorists needed 47 attacks to kill 173 Kenyans, in 2015, they needed just one attack, Garissa University, to kill 147.
Are we safer since we entered Somalia? Linda Nchi isn’t working. We now have an attack on the hardest of all targets, a military camp, whose scale and brutality we are only beginning to understand.
Even after the port of Kismayu was taken, Al Shabaab remain operational. We were told Al Shabaab had lost most of their territory. Their leaders were being picked off by drones. Their followers were running scared and their numbers were decimated. Gado drew an editorial cartoon showing a military boot squashing an insect. Museveni was here on Madaraka Day saying Al Shabab was a shattered force that could only target civilians but could not stand up to the military. This recent attack disabused us of this notion.
The buffer zone the government told us it would create isn’t working. The terror attacks are deadlier than ever. Al Shabaab is noe a bigger threat to the nation than it has ever been despite the destruction of its conventional militia force. Sending the army into Somalia has not made the country safer; it has been used to justify terror activities against us and given Al Shabaab a narrative for fighting foreign crusaders.
The government has run out ideas. The approach to Somali militancy is now medieval – build a wall. Constantinople built a wall to protect itself but that did not stop the Turks from conquering the city and giving it its current name: Istanbul.
The irony is that the military has been spending tens of billions of shillings modernising since 2001, yet at the same time we are building ancient fortifications.
I would like to point out that the military is unsuited to stop suicidal gunmen. Armies can’t beat jihadis with Kenyan passports coming for our universities. What we need is a proper intelligence service within Muslim communities.
The latest attack is perhaps the most bloody we have ever encountered as a nation. Proof that we have stretched our forces to the limit in a foreign land in a war we cannot win.
POLICY OF VIETNAMISATION
We cannot keep wasting money we do not have on military hardware. The effort required to occupy Somalia would require army conscription and take decades. We have a professional army that is unsuited to occupation. The money is not there; we are busy slashing university budgets and increasing military budgets.
Somalia is not splintering on ethnic lines. It has no Shia-Sunni fratricide to worry about. It will suffer, but not on a genocidal scale. KDF should pack its bags as soon as possible and come home.
We cannot outlast Somali terror groups. They are home, they keep calling us “invaders”. They can wait generations. Ho Chi Minh first started by fighting the French after World War II for Vietnamese independence. The French fought for more than a decade and left. The Americans stepped in to stop South Vietnam from falling under Minh’s control. They fought for a decade and left. It took three decades of fighting but Saigon is now called Ho Chi Minh City.
The policy of “Vietnamisation”, where occupiers try to train and equip locals to fight against an enemy failed in Vietnam. Propping up a puppet government — the Somali president was elected by the legislators, not the electorate — has never worked.
We do not have the patience or resources to wait and see if this “Somalisation” policy will work. We should now look at containing the militancy problem in Somalia.
If Al Shabaab is to be ultimately defeated and democratic institutions formed, the thrust must come from indigenous Somalis, not Kenyan and Ugandan politicians filled with vengeance and a love of military uniforms. The Somali quagmire must be left to Somalis.
Al Shabaab will continue targeting our country, seducing our young, and spreading out its bad ideology. It is hard to compromise or negotiate with a person who thinks God is on their side. In fact, I think it is impossible to change the believers’ minds, and the military cannot save you.
We must also address the problem of contagion. Why is it that so many young Muslim men are willing to embrace jihadist ideology? Why is it that in Boston, Tunis, Brussels, Paris, Nairobi, Muslim men can turn their backs on their home countries and begin a very violent march towards a utopian vision of the world? How do we stand up for the idea of democracy? This is a global challenge that will not be won by bombs and platoons. It is about ideas.
Our first priority is getting all the POWs back home. Next, we must try to leave as soon as possible. In leaving, we must be sensitive to the military situation. If we bungle a withdrawal, we could be setting ourselves up for disaster in the future.
In his book, On Killing, which examines the psyche of soldiers in combat, David Grossman explains that the reason American Vietnam veterans had such a high suicide rate was that the public turned on them. They were spat at when they got home and called “baby killers”. They were accused of losing the war or fighting for the wrong side. We are right morally to fight Al Shabab in Somalia, but we are using the wrong tactics.
We should be careful to convey our gratitude as a nation to our soldiers and get them the best psychological care to prepare them for re-entry into society. The cost of bungling the treatment of the veterans of Somalia, our first war, is perhaps too great to contemplate.
Also, parades, days of official mourning, mourning the dead publicly and pageantry are known to improve returning soldiers’ psychological wellbeing. The psychological cost of conditioning human beings to be effective soldiers is high; in Vietnam, the number of soldiers hospitalised for psychiatric reasons increased from six to 50 per cent when the public perception turned against the war. It is important that our leaders fully and very publicly appreciate the sacrifice by our soldiers.
We should do the opposite of what Al Shabab wants by denying them martyrdom.
NOT IN AFRICA
Dakar Rally should change its name
The sight of Giniel de Villiers racing to the finish line in this year’s Dakar rally was odd. He was surrounded by greenery. The land he was racing through did not look like a desert. It made me realise that the Dakar is never coming back to Africa.
The rally was meant to be a challenge. It was an event in which young, rich Europeans could put themselves in the way of calculated risk for the thrill. You went into a desert with a car, bike, and later a lorry and a map. You navigated by looking at the sky. You were meant to find your way across the largest desert on earth from North Africa to Dakar. Later on, sponsors with big money came along. GPS was added, meaning no one could get lost, which increased safety and made it easier. Through the years, the gruelling drive cost 60 people their lives.
Sixty deaths were of no concern to the race organisers. It even killed the man who created it, but still kept going. What killed the Dakar was, of course, terrorism. Once Al Qaeda promised to slaughter drivers in the Sahara, the race was off. Drivers can plough into crowds and slaughter spectators or have their cars explode on them but terrorism is too great a risk.
You would think that dodging throat slitters in turbans would have added the appeal of a risky race, but no.
Since 2007, terrorism on the continent has become worse. We have Boko Haram, Ansar Dine, ISIS, Al Qaeda, Ansar al-Sharia on the path of the rally. The race has gone to South America and it is never coming back.
The Dakar rally is now in a different continent. The logo of a Bedouin is out of place. This is now a South American rally. It should be called the Paris-Santiago.