The International Community Must Support Kenya’s War on Al Shabaab

In recent months, the Al Shabaab terrorist group has increased its scope and intensity of terror activities outside Somalia to other countries in East Africa. Kenya, in particular, has borne the blunt of the group’s actions, which recently involved the kidnapping of tourists within Kenyan territory. These unprovoked attacks in Kenya have greatly damaged the country’s reputation as a stable, safe and peaceful nation that is the anchor of East African economies. The terrorist activities imparted another blow to the country’s efforts to sustain high rates of economic growth following the prolonged droughts and the effects of the global economic crisis. The attacks have resulted in decreased tourism to Kenya, especially to the coast. Investors could now also consider Kenya a risky destination for foreign direct investments due to the perceived volatile security situation. After carefully strategizing to improve on its investment climate over the last seven years, this instability provides a huge set-back to Kenyan economic development. By all indications, Al Shabaab is growing in strength and if unchecked, the group will spread its tentacles to all of Africa and the Middle East. As was echoed in a previous posting I’ve noted the potential for this group to impart terror in Africa and beyond is grossly under-estimated.

The continued fragmentation and absence of operational state organs to enforce rule-of-law has exposed the people of Somalia to abuse by war lords and terror groups. Kenya, however, has remained steadfast in its support of the people of Somalia. The country is home to many Somali refugees and has been an important link for the delivery of aid to Somalia. In the past, Kenya has housed the Somali government and even today, Kenya is the only place that many Somali nationals consider a safe haven. For decades, Kenya has carried a disproportionate burden imposed by the flow of Somali refugees and, thus would be a major beneficiary of a peaceful Somalia. Al Shabaab, however, does not represent the people of Somalia.

The Government of Kenya has recently taken steps to protect its national security by sending troops to Somalia to counter Al Shabaab’s attacks. As of October 17, 2011, Kenya troops were far inside the Somalia territory in pursuit of the terrorist group. Their actions are based on the well-founded evaluation that failure to control Al Shabaab’s activity will undermine the county’s sovereignty, security, and its existence as an independent state. As many Kenyans have recently observed, failure to take a firm and decisive stand against the militant group is bound to destroy Kenya and turn it into a terrorist base, as members of Al Shabaab are likely to expand their recruitment of youth in the country. In a discussion with Kenya’s Minister for Internal Security in the Office of the President, Prof. George Saitoti, he observed that the Government of Kenya has, therefore, been left with few options but to directly engage the Al Shabaab, but has clearly stated that its purpose in the mission is solely to destroy the terror group, and absolutely not territorial ambition.

Like other Kenyans, I agree with Prof. Saitoti pronouncements in regards to the necessity to intervene in Somalia. Kenya did not actively seek war, but has been repeatedly provoked—and has now taken action within its rights as an independent nation. While Kenya is leading the assault on Al Shabaab, the international community should not see the conflict as Kenya’s problem or war. It is a problem for all civilized nations that seek to uphold rule-of-law and safeguard human rights. While much is at risk, failure to deal with the group now will only postpone a problem that will get bigger, more complicated and widespread. As we have noted, the group is growing in strength as it actively recruits desperate unemployed youth, who are also becoming increasingly radicalized. The fragmentation in Somalia offers a fertile ground for such groups to thrive and there is no other viable strategy but to destroy the group’s capacity to impart terror. This is not Kenya’s responsibility, but a need for the entire civilized world.

Finally, as the war against Al Shabaab continues to move towards its end goal—the demobilization of the terror group—it is important for the international community to realize that without a functional Somalia state, the country will continue to be a breeding ground for terror groups with the capacity to export violence abroad. I agree with Minister Saitoti who has noted that “The security challenges that Kenya is facing along the Indian Ocean and the border with Somalia will continue unless law and order is established in Somalia.” It is, therefore, imperative that the international community mobilizes resources to assist in Somalia’s stabilization. As I appeal to the international community to support Kenya in destroying Al Shabaab, I also call for support of the Somali people in establishing a viable state, not just for Kenya and Somalia, but for global security.