December 18th 2017

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El Adde and After: Truth, Posttruth, and Mission Creep

Already Ethiopia has withdrawn its soldiers from Somalia and Uganda is contemplating doing the same. Kenyans deserve real answers and an honest debate on the KDF in Somalia beyond the media and government narrative.

By Odhiambo OyokoTuesday, 22 Nov 2016 10:01 EAT

In the early hours of January 15, the Somali-based Islamist group Harakat Al Shabaab Mujahedeen attacked an African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forward operational base in the southern Somali town of El-Adde near the Kenyan border. In fairly good time they managed to breach the flimsily defenses of the base and overran it in a few hours.  The United Nations Monitoring Group in a recent report has called this incident ‘the worst military defeat in Kenya’s military history’.

According to the UN, 150 Kenya Defense Force soldiers were killed and 11 others were captured by Al Shabaab. The Kenyan government disputes this figure but tellingly has refused to give a tally of the KDF casualties.  To date there has been no effort at any public accountability for the events of El-Adde either towards the families of the soldiers or indeed to the Kenyan nation.

 When Kenya invaded Somalia in 2012, the action was touted as a mission to make Kenya safe by degrading the capacity of Al Shabaab to carry out attacks on Kenyan soil. However, up till the threat posed by Al Shabaab had been relatively minor. Some within Kenya raised serious questions about the necessity of such action and whether indeed it would make Kenya safe but these voices were dismissed at best as unpatriotic and at worst as terrorist sympathizers.

The Kenyan media were willful cheerleaders in this war, with journalists being ‘embedded’ with the KDF. In the few months after the invasion, the news cycle in Kenya was dominated by the official government/KDF narrative with daily briefings touting every minor ‘victory’. Every tiny village or hamlet captured by the KDF was hailed as a major town and the Al Shabbab body count grossly exaggerated.  The KDFs toys, in reality hand-me-down military hardware, became state-of-the art.  If the KDF and the media was to be believed this was going to be a swift, clinical war - Chai ni Kismaayu. The coastal town, an Al Shabbab stronghold, would soon be captured.

Soon the KDF was ‘re-hatted’ and became part of AMISOM. Worryingly, talk of corrupt activities of the KDF in Jubaland and in particular in the port of Kismaayu became rife. A UN report detailed racketeering by top KDF officers and officials of the Jubaland administration.  This involved the illegal sale of charcoal to the Middle East (where it is used in Shisha) and illegal importation of items such as sugar and vehicles into Kenya through the port. All this was, of course, denied by the government and the KDF.

Amidst all this, our homeland suffered some of the most serious mass casualty attacks in our history including the Garrisa University attack, the Westgate Mall attack and other attacks mainly in North Eastern Kenya. In all these incidents there has been no effort towards any form of accountability or at establishing the truth. Instead, the government-backed by an unquestioning media, has crafted false narratives to explain away these attacks. In other circumstances, there has been total silence.

But Kenyans are beginning to see through this. A recent report by a Non-Governmental Organization Twaweza East Africa revealed that a large majority of Kenyans -70% - Kenyans want the KDF out of Somalia. Part of this because there has never been any convincing explanation of the Kenyan mission in Somalia beyond vague statements like ‘degrading the capability of Al Shabaab to carry out attacks’. The government has a particularly thin skin when it comes to the KDF as witnessed recently when the CORD and Amani Coalition leaders criticized Uhuru Kenyatta’s ill thought and rash decision to withdraw the KDF from the UN peace-keeping mission in South Sudan.

Ultimately, accountability for the events of El-Adde matters. The families of the soldiers and the nation still do not know what really happened. At the heart of El-Adde lie even more pertinent questions. What really is the KDF doing in Somalia?  What has the KDF achieved since its invasion? What is the KDF's and indeed AMISOM's exit strategy? Already Ethiopia has withdrawn its soldiers from Somalia and Uganda is contemplating doing the same. Kenyans deserve real answers and an honest debate on the KDF in Somalia beyond the media and government narrative.

The writer is a Governance Consultant and Convener of the Forum for Civic Participation in Governance (FCPG)

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