Top Stories / National
Thursday, 02 Feb 2017 15:54 EAT
Two significant events occurred this week in the eastern African region that stewed emotions and anger of Kenyans in equal measure. One was the murderous attack on members of the Kenya Defense Force (KDF) by suicide bombers of the terrorist group Al Shabaab at a remote outpost called Kulbiyow, 18 kilometers from the Kenyan border, that stirred memories of past terror attacks. The other was the voting of the Chairman of the African Union (AU) Commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, an event which brimmed with geo-political undertones, connivance, and intrigues.
The early morning explosions left unspecified number of Kenyan soldiers dead, and brought to the fore once again, the menace of terrorism in a country which has seen numerous terror attacks in past years with deadly consequences. The attack also reinforced the message to the world that Al Shabaab, a branch of Al Queda, is alive and active despite reports that it was diminishing and on the run.
The buzz it created in the media rekindled a critical debate regarding Kenya's presence in a country that has not seen peace since the overthrow of Dictator Siad Barre in 1991. Why should Kenya sacrifice its soldiers in Somalia? Many asked. And, why don't Kenyans walk away and leave Somalia to deal with its own internal insecurities?
Kenyan authorities do not want to discuss these questions for various reasons. One, it has to do with its own safety. Nairobi's thinking is that Al Shabaab must be stopped at the source, and that can only be done by weakening its attack capability and preventing militias from crossing into Kenya and causing damage. However, this reasoning is feeble given the fact that even with troops in Somalia and along the border, terrorists have managed to penetrate the porous border into Kenya. They have done this by corrupting Kenyan security officials and colluding with evil characters hiding behind the refugee camps inside Kenya.
There is also pressure from the international community to get Africa to work its own wars. Not a single foreign nation wants to be involved militarily in Somalia, particularly since American soldiers were killed and humiliated on the streets of Mogadishu 17 years ago. Countries that have established diplomatic relations with Somalia have opened embassies not in the war-torn country but in either Nairobi or Djibouti.
For now, there is no timetable for a pull-out and Kenyan troops - which are part of the African force called AMISON - must expect to remain in Somalia for the unforeseeable future regardless of public opinion back home. On the other hand, if there was one dramatic AU meeting that took place this week. It aroused tremendous interest in Kenya because the country's indefatigable Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed was on the ballot for the prestigious position of chairman.
But just as the meeting divided Africa further into linguistic and regional blocks, so did it polarize Kenyans along political and religious lines. There were hoots and ovations from opposition supporters happy about Amina's loss and equally, there were echoes of grief and despondency from the government side. She was defeated by the Chadian Foreign Minister Moussa Faki Mahamat largely because Kenya's neighbors, namely Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi, either abandoned her through abstaining or voted for Mahamat in the last crucial round of voting.
What this means is that the simmering schisms which have been brewing below the surface for years among the East African countries are now above deck. Each one of them had reasons of declining to vote for the Kenyan candidate. Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, and Tanzania are members of the East African Community, and the events in Addis Ababa this week are likely to drive yet another wedge beyond suspicion and antagonism.
But more than anything else, Amina's clobbering was a personal blow, and an embarrassment, to President Uhuru Kenyatta who sent lobbyists to 53 countries and spent Shs350 million of taxpayer's money in an attempt to secure her victory.It has also brought to a sudden halt Uhuru's strident desire for recognition as a principal player at the AU. Now that the Addis Ababa drama has ended Kenyan leaders can go back to the crucial problems facing the country, starting with the biting starvation hitting one third of the population, and the doctors' strike now in its third month.
The writer is a veteran journalist, author and former Member of Parliament for Bahari. All his books are available in bookshops in Nairobi and on Amazon.com