Kenyans take credit for peace in SomaliaComment on this story
Kenyan Minister of Tourism Danson Mwazo is not a master of understatement. “Ever since the Kenya Defence Forces went into Somalia last year and our navy took control of the Indian Ocean, there has not been a single piracy case in the Indian Ocean,” Mwazo said in Nairobi last week.
“Two, due to Kenya Defence Forces, for the first time in 20 years, Mogadishu is back to normalcy; the tourist hotels have opened and, as we speak, three national airlines fly directly to Mogadishu. This is courtesy of the Kenya Defence Forces restoring normalcy in Mogadishu.
“As we speak today there are commercial flights from Nairobi to Mogadishu.
“The third one is that for the first time Somalia is conducting elections in the peaceful atmosphere which has been created.”
Some might quibble at the extent of Mwazo’s claims for the achievement of Kenya’s military intervention – with more than 4 000 troops – in southern Somalia last October.
The US Navy has just reported that there have in fact been 46 pirate attacks off the Horn of Africa this year alone.
But the trend is certainly down; from 239 pirate attacks off the Horn in 2010 to 222 last year, with an even steeper decline in successful attack, from 68 in 2010, to 34 last year and just nine so far this year.
The US Navy, though, attributes this decline entirely to more efficient and aggressive patrolling by the international anti-piracy fleet and to merchant vessels arming themselves.
However, the Kenyan military has also played a significant role, not only because of its navy patrolling but also because its ground forces are harrying the al-Shabaab Islamist militias in southern Somalia that are linked with the piracy.
And the Kenya Defence Forces are more generally restoring governance to the area.
Kenyan forces, now joined with Burundian and Ugandan troops in the AU Mission in Somalia (Amisom), are now at the gates of the port city of Kismayu, the main base for piracy and for al-Shabaab.
If they capture it – as Mwazo claimed they would within days – that should deal a crippling blow to both al-Shabaab and the pirates.
Mwazo’s claim that the return to normalcy in the capital Mogadishu comes courtesy of the Kenyan military also looks rather exaggerated – since its forces have not really operated that far north.
But the claim is more credible at second glance. As he explains, Kenya has helped secure Mogadishu by forcing al-Shabaab forces to divert forces to the south.
And this in turn lends credence to his third claim, that Kenya has helped create enough security for elections to occur in Somalia.
Things are certainly looking up in Somalia after two decades of no real government, and Kenya deserves a lot of the credit.
Mwazo feels strongly about the subject because, as he puts it, al-Shabaab’s abduction and murder of two tourists from the northern Kenyan beach resort of Lamu last year was what precipitated Kenya’s intervention.
It was hurting Kenya’s tourist industry, which is its second-biggest, after agriculture.
So Kenya acted in its own national interest, Mwazo says, but adds also that al-Shabaab “terrorism had become a world menace and someone had to take responsibility”.
When all reservations have been duly taken into account – remembering especially that this mission is far from over – that essential point remains, that someone had to take responsibility.
Somalia had been ungoverned space for 20 years, a misery to its own people and an exporter to the world of nothing but extremism and piracy.
The large multinational fleet patrolling its waters was and is doing a good job, but essentially just treating the symptoms.
Someone had to take responsibility by treating the cause – destroying the pirates’ and al-Shabaab’s bases on land in Somalia.
That’s what Kenya did, losing 22 soldiers so far with a strong likelihood of losing more.
But if it and its Amisom fellow soldiers can capture Kismayu, they will have done Somalia, the region and the world a huge favour.