9 comments on “Where is the Criticism of Kenya’s Invasion of Somalia?

  1. First of all Kenya did not breach any international law.Since 2007,al shabab have made many incursions into the country,killing kenyan somalis,bombing the Liboi GSU camp.The last straw was the bombing of Manderra Hospital.kenyans began baying for al shabaab blood .And who says they didn’t kidnap the foreigners?these are religious fanatics FGS.They don’t use reason,monetary or otherwise.Third,Kenya did send 3000 troops to Somalia,you forget that the intention is to occupy Jubaland which is relatively small and kenya has the support of the vast majority of the people there(don’t listen to a somali in norway screaming the opposite on the net).If more armed forces are needed,kenya has 42000 other troops plus the GSU and Administration Police.No problem there.

    • Thanks for your response, Gerald, and for taking the time to read. Regarding my reference to Kenya being in breach of international law, the issue is not the invasion per se, but the bombing of the IDP camp which, even if accidental, has serious implications under international law. The official Kenyan military statement (uncorroberated by witnesses on the ground, including aid agency staff), which states that a munitions truck was hit, set on fire, and subsequently drove into the IDP camp and blew up, is incredibly flimsy, and fuels further speculation that a bomb did in fact stray and hit the camp. The invasion itself is probably a matter for international law scholars to rule on- it’s complicated- but early statements from the TFG indicating the invasion was not welcome and a breach of sovereignty certainly raise questions. The subsequent reversal of the TFG position after several days is not hard to believe. The TFG has received so much support from Kenya and continues to be highly reliant on it, so it is hard to see how they could be anything other than publically supportive of the action, even if they did not agree with it.

      With respect to the kidnapping of hostages, while there’s no concrete evidence of exactly who did kidnap them, there’s certainly no evidence that mainstream al Shabab forces did. I disagree with your statement that AS are fanatics and therefore irrational. AS have shown a high level of shrewd rationality through much of their campaign, and they most certainly do engage in monetary and political, as well as military/tactical rationality. Innocent until proven guilty still has some merit when dealing with issues like this, and more to the point, common sense also indicates that with so many fragmented and independent or semi-autonomous armed groups operating in Somalia, it makes a lot more sense that it was a splinter group or independent actor than AS themselves. Regardless, even the Kenyan military have acknowledged that the kidnapping was no more than a convenient excuse at the time- the incursion had been planned for months.

      Yes, Kenya may have 42,000 other troops plus the GSU/AP, however I doubt all 42,000 + are available to drop their current responsibilities and deploy to Jubaland. During the civil war in Sri Lanka, the military deployed about 150,000 troops in Colombo alone- and while it was a highly densly populated area (contextually different to southern Somalia) it was also a very small area. The fact is, in a population with an indigenous insurgency, even a very small number of fighters can destabilize a huge area with assymetric tactics. Even with 42,000 troops, it will be costly and difficult.

      Believe it or not, the main purpose of this article was not to attack Kenya per se. Kenya is a place I love, the people as well as the country, and it saddens me to see it at war, as well as makes me concerned for the Kenyan people, who are now likely to be affected by al Shabab operations. I wrote the piece partly as a critique of what looks like a very unwise foreign policy decision by the Kenyan government, and partly as a critique of international obvservers who, for the most part, have offered little or no critical analysis of the move, which I think is an oversight.



  2. I don’t understand why one you expect criticism.

    (a) Right or wrong, the legal government of Kenya is the TFG. The TFG has approved and is cooperating with the Kenyan incursion. That makes it legal. Who’s to argue? Foreign powers?

    (b) Nation states act in their national interests. Again, right or wrong: we should know that by now. They certainly do not act AGAINST their national interest. That would be kind of nuts. Since the West considers the ICU a dangerous enemy, why would they object?

    My view (to paraphrase Winnie the Churchill on democracy): “The nation state is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Certainly better than battling warlords. Do you have a better idea?

    (c) Regarding the use of propaganda… The entire field of social psychology was invented during WW2 by the US in order to influence mass opinion. No, not the opinion of the enemy population at the time, but rather to mobilise and motivate their own population to make the necessary sacrifices.

    All of Winnie’s excellent speeches were aimed at that same goal. Again: right or wrong, it’s as old as the hills, and not surprising here. I don’t think it’s okay for governments to actually lie to their citizens. But it seems unreasonable to expect governments to argue the facts in pursuit of their policy objectives, than to argue against themselves.

    (d) I’m not sure that it’s fair to the Kenyans to label them as a US “proxy”. The US didn’t install the Kenyan government: they were democratically elected. And they are invading Somalia not to serve US interests, but because of an longstanding strategic concern about the violent mess on their Northern border.

    (e) It’s been extensively argued that famine is not caused by food shortage. In Somalia, it’s caused by conflict. Will an escalation of the conflict in the short term reduce conflict in the long term? I don’t know. But before criticising the Kenyans, who are on the front line, and taking this risk, I’d like to know what they think. Clearly, they believe that what they are doing will make Somalia a safer place.

    • Thanks David. Look, overall I agree with your assertion and your assessment from a ‘realpolitik’ perspective. Ultimately I guess that’s what my article was getting at- that from a pragmatic perspective, however flawed Kenya’s plans to occupy/liberate southern Somalia might be, the action works in favour of Kenyan foreign policy, US foreign policy, European nations’ foreign policy, the general international alliance in the GWOT… Of course, I do get that. What I think is a bit of a shame is that there are not many sources (particularly in the media) paying much attention to these dynamics, offering any critical analysis, or asking the question, ‘hey, should we be doing this?’ I think what we’re seeing is that a unilateral/pre-emptive military action in the name of suppressing terrorism has become commonplace and acceptable, so long as we like the guys who are doing it and are in favour of the outcomes. When the Sri Lankan military launched their offensive against the LTTE in early 2009, they were soundly slammed by the international press and foreign powers- and with good reason. And yet, the LTTE were a bloodthirsty paramilitary group who used terror tactics against a civilian population and were internationally labelled as a terrorist organization.

      Of course, the two contexts are not the same. But if you scan the international papers, there’s barely a whisper of a suggestion or query in the so-called ‘free press’ saying, ‘is this really a good thing to be doing? Has anybody thought about the international law consequences? Will this make Somalia a better place, or a worse one?’

      In response to some of your points:

      a) The TFG initially made statements against the invasion suggesting it violated their sovereignty. Subsequently they have changed their tune. Given the support given the TFG by Kenya (without whom they would struggle to remain propped up) can we really suggest there is a balanced political dialogue happening here? While the invasion may support the TFG position, we can’t be confident that there isn’t some level of coercion happening.

      “That makes it legal”. Moscow is the legal government of Chechnya, but the international community was right to challenge the Russian use of force in suppressing armed insurgency. There is room to have a discussion with respect to the use of force here.

      b) I’m not suggesting that the Kenyan government would speak out about this. But the so-called ‘free press’, analysts, and so forth might have a little more to say about it? Especially given the political dynamics, the security implications for Kenya, the likelihood that this will result in a costly, futile and possibly bloody exercise for Kenyan troops. In many ways I’m very much on Kenya’s side here- I DON’T like al Shabab, I DO think they’re to blame for the famine, I DO think Somalia would be better with them gone; at the same time, I DON’T want Kenyan soldiers or civilians to die needlessly, and I DON’T want to see Kenya elevate itself as a target in the eyes of al Shabab and other extremist organizations. Given the un-transparent and tactically questionable way this incursion has been run, I think it merits more conversation than we’ve seen by independent observers. But other than al Jazeera, I’ve seen little highly-public discussion.

      And I agree, for the most part: the nation-state/multi-party democracy is the best of a bad lot…

      c) Again- of course. But I also think that when propoganda is employed, it’s also worth calling it out- that’s what makes the difference between a ‘free press’ as we’re supposed to have in the west, and the state-controlled media once found in the USSR, or today in certain more controlling states. Instead of a free-press, we seem to have ourselves various a lazy press, an apathetic press, a myopic press, a lapdog press…

      I see the invasion as one more chess-move in the post-Cold-War cold war against terrorism. Our governments may approve of the manouevre, but our press and international observers have a responsibility to call it out for what it is. “Hey look. Kenya just sent troops into southern Somalia. They claimed they did it to catch kidnappers, but actually they wanted to do it all along to create a buffer against al Shabab. It’s a dodgy move, but it works in favour of our nations’ policies against terrorists so they won’t speak up against it. Just thought you should know.”

      d) Kenya’s not a proxy state, but the west is perfectly happy for Kenyan troops to be placed on the front line, in preference to western troops. That’s what I mean when I use the word ‘proxy’. It’s very in line with the sorts of approaches to conflict used during the Cold War. Again, it’s not surprising, it’s not new, but I think it’s worth flagging so that people understand the dynamic at play. Kenyans particularly, as they’re the ones most likely to pay the economic and security costs.

      e) I don’t know how things will play out in the long term, but the long-term repercussions of the Ethiopian invasion since 2006 have been- zilch. Shabab has gained some ground, lost other ground. They have a fragile, defacto and incompetent administration over portions of the country. High insecurity. Periodic administrative/power vacuums. Oh, and famine. In the short-term military incursion will probably make things worse- it’s hard to see this being over in less than a period measured in months, which is plenty of time to make the situation miserable for those caught up in it, especially at such a fragile time when people need to be planting with the arrival of the rains. If the Ethiopian invasion gives us a historical example, it’s that Kenya/TFG forces will struggle to maintain territorial control or subdue the clan politics (even if Shabab suffers a ‘military’ defeat such as that touted in Mogadishu recently) and that, a few years from now, it’ll be back to business-as-usual.

      Alternatives? Shabab are a tricky customer, I admit. Would the world be a better place if they just disappeared? Almost certainly. Would it be possible to deal with them in any way other than militarily? Maybe not. Maybe they’ll only be satisfied with complete control of an Islamic state of Somalia. But they can be negotiated with. Lots of people- NGOs and the UN included- do so to get access. It’s not universally possible. It’s highly complex, fragile and intensive. But some gains have been made in some areas. The recent change in stance of the US/NATO to start negotiating openly with the Taliban (rather than ruling them out as a terrorist organization) has borne some fruit in Afghanistan- not necessarily solved the problem, but reduced the extremity of at least one of the major players. Could the same be done in Somalia? I don’t know. But I AM convinced that all possible non-military options have not yet been fully explored in the Somali context, and for that reason alone I am already against a military incursion.

      These are the sorts of conversations and analysis I’d like to see in the public space and which I feel are largely lacking, and it’s primarily for this reason I wrote the post.

      Cheers mate,


      • Now I get ya.

        I have to confess to treating newspapers these days as a kind of mind candy, to be perused when I want to give my brain a rest. However, in olden days when I used them a source of real information, one of my favourite sites was this one:


        Type Somalia into the search box, and tell me what you think.

        Unfortunately, they lost one of their earlier features in which they would take a topical issue (like the Kenyan invasion) and the let you see how it was spun in the Ethiopian press, in Eritrea, in Delhi, in Washington, in Paris, and so on. A fascinating multi-perspectival view of world events.

        I still think it’s pretty good though.

  3. “Of course, I do get that. What I think is a bit of a shame is that there are not many sources (particularly in the media) paying much attention to these dynamics, offering any critical analysis, or asking the question, ‘hey, should we be doing this?’ I think what we’re seeing is that a unilateral/pre-emptive military action in the name of suppressing terrorism has become commonplace and acceptable, ”

    It is not about terrorism. Terrorism has some political motive.

    Somalia is in complete anarchy. It is not a functioning state and is proving to be a danger to all those around it. Its immediate neighbours are subject to attack by various roving band brigands. The waters around it are infested with pirates, all based in Somalia. Since ships have become more wary, they have extended their attacks far into the Indian ocean.

    Upto now countries, ships and companies were either paying ransoms or parting with their cargo without a fight, for fear of upping the ante with the pirates.

    It has not worked so far. The invasion seems to be an option worth trying.

    • Hmm. I take issue with a number of your points here. Putting aside high-level commentary about the political nature of terrorism, to assume that al Shabab is devoid of political motivation just because it operates in a largely anarchic context (recognizing that it does have its own, albeit highly flawed, para-state structure) completely fails to understand the nature of both al Shabab, and what ‘politics’ means. The unrest across large portions of Somalia is absolutely political in nature (largely influenced by clan dynamics), and it’s the failure of outsiders to find a way to work within this political context that has contributed to the doom of most efforts to find a solution- be they military, political or diplomatic.

      “Somalia is in complete anarchy”. No. Portions of south-central Somalia are in various stages of anarchy. However elsewhere in Somalia, Mogadishu has a fragile government & state infrastructure, Puntland has a fragile state system, and Somaliland has an increasingly stable and recognized state system. Armed groups, on a spectrum from extremist/militant through criminal/opportunistic, do indeed threaten the land and sea areas around them, although the scale of that danger is perhaps overemphasized (the politics of terrorism). The piracy you reference is absolutely a scourge of the Indian Ocean. But the piracy is based largely out of Puntland- a fledgeling semi-autonomous state to the north- which has nothing to do with al Shabab and the area which Kenya is invading- it is a completely separate area which Kenya will not touch. In fact, al Shabab’s takeover of Kismayo ended up pushing most criminal piracy gangs out of south-central Somalia altogether, and up in Puntland. So even if Kenya’s incursion into south-central Somalia is successful, it’s unlikely to have a direct impact on piracy. The solution to piracy is more about stabilizing and strengthening state, security & economic apparatus in Puntland and the northern Somali coastlines.

      “It has not worked so far”. Agreed. But neither has invasion. For twenty years the UN, the US Army, the Africa Union, and the Ethiopian military have all failed to make lasting gains in Somalia on the back of military force- and in the process have wreacked great bloodshed on the Somali populace, alienated portions of Somali society, and strengthened the cause of extremist groups. This will, I fear, be little different.

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