Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version
Puntland Observer

A year ago, Kenya’s army suffered its worst attack in history inside Somalia chiefly due to lack of clear objectives and operational strategies. The government has kept the exact details secret, even as it spends $1 billion annually without crushing al-Shabaab. Meanwhile lecturers, doctors, nurses and other workers are up in arms demanding better terms. The military invasion of Somalia, now in its sixth year, has failed and should be halted. An alternative reconstruction plan for Somalia is needed.


It was in October 2011 when the Kenyan armed forces invaded Somalia in the well-publicized anti-terrorist campaign called Operation Linda Nchi (defend the country). One year afterwards, the Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF) seized the port of Kismayo in Southern Somalia under the Operation Sledge Hammer. This strategic port had been the center of the lucrative illicit trade in charcoal, sugar, petroleum products and other commodities worth more than $400 million per year. This ‘victory’ over Al Shabaab at Kismayo gave rise to the celebratory mode of the Kenyan military circles with publicity that Al Shabaab was in retreat. This refrain of 2012 was taken up at the highest levels of the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM), repeated at the United Nations in New York and in the corridors of the National Security Council of the USA. General Carter Ham (in his last days as the head of the US Africa Command) used the taking of Kismayo as a reference point to justify the role of AFRICOM in Africa. But these narratives of victory were demolished with spectacular attacks by al Shabaab after 2012 culminating in January 15, 2016 when a small group of Somali insurgents overran the camp of the 9th and 15th battalions of the Kenya Rifles at El Adde and killed over 150 Kenyan soldiers. The exact number of the dead is not known because the Kenyan government has refused to release the information on this military defeat.

In its refusal to give the true picture of the military defeat at El Adde, the Kenyan government has compounded this military rout with a moral defeat, reinforcing the immorality of those sectors of the Kenyan society who have turned the war on terror into a business enterprise. The amoral act by the Kenyan government of refusing to acknowledge the scale of the deaths in Somalia compliments the intellectual impoverishment and its political rout in Somalia. The sum total of these experiences of the Kenyan role in the War on Terror in Somalia at a time when the resources on counter terrorism could be spent on social services should be a lesson on the need to end the war on terror in Africa. This is urgent in order to separate Somali nationalists from religious zealots and anti-social elements. The close to $1 billion that is spent annually by the Kenyan government on ‘military operations’ and ‘military modernisation’ can be better spent on social needs such as health, education, housing and food for the peoples of Kenya and Somalia. This article will argues that the African Union must end the war on terror in Somalia, withdraw all of the ASMISOM forces and send in thousands of teachers, agronomists, engineers along with doctors, nurses and environmental specialists to participate in the reconstruction of Somalia. These reconstruction specialists should be supported by police experts who will isolate the criminal elements in Somalia and Saudi Arabia who are financing misguided youths to maintain the climate of terror and fear in Somalia and East Africa.

Why the Kenyan armed forces invaded Somalia in October 2011

From its inception in 1963, the Kenyan army has been confused about its mandate, whether it is to support foreign interests and repress the African peoples or whether the armed forces is just a ceremonial force recycling used ordnance from the United States and Britain. At its inception in 1963, the Kenyan military and security forces were manipulated by the British to be involved in th so-called Shifta war, instead of examining the Pan-African prospects of unifying the peoples of Eastern Africa.

Chester Crocker, the former Assistant Secretary of State for Africa in the Reagan Administration did his doctoral work on The Transfer of Power in Africa: A Comparative Study of the British and French system of Order and outlined the role delegated for the Kenyan military in keeping order for empire in Eastern Africa. Yet, even in this political purpose, the Kenyan Defense forces have been deficient so that for fifty-three years after independence the Kenyan government has maintained a defense agreement with the British military to come to the aid of the Kenyan government when threatened. The Kenyan military looked on as other branches of the security and intelligence forces became rich with the former boss of the Special Branch, James Kanyotu, going down in history as one of the participants in one of the biggest scandals in Kenya, the Goldenberg scandal. The scandals about corruption followed in tragic comedy succession with a brand new scandal every year involving hundreds of millions of dollars. Since the advent of the Uhuru Kenyatta administration in 2013 these scandals have continued, with the National Youth Service episode where the government handed out over one hundred million dollars to fictitious companies associated with powerful individuals in the administration.

Prior to this mega-corruption scandal, one of the biggest after the Goldenerg was the Anglo Leasing scam. The latter scandal exposed the central role of the security services in illicit financial deals and how the Kenyan government had paid out tens of billions of shillings in dubious procurement deals – for security related goods and services. [1]

Spinoffs of the culture of primitive accumulation

Top bureaucrats and security officials learnt in the 24 years of the President Daniel Arap Moi administration that the route to enrichment was through cooperation with foreign elements, especially those against the self-determination project in Africa. Somali and Kenyan businessmen had cooperated with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 2006 when the US intelligence services financed the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism (ARPTC) to ensure that Somalia was destabilized. [2] Warfare as a lucrative business had developed steadily in Somalia after the Ethiopian incursion in 2006 when nationalist forces had formed the Union of Islamic Courts  (UIC). [3]

These nationalist forces who had opposed the Ethiopian invasion of their society could be divided in four distinct factions: (a) patriotic nationalists (b) religious zealots (c)   military entrepreneurs and (d) anti-social elements. In his analysis of the Union of Islamic Courts, Professor Abdi Samatar highlighted the sentiments of the Somali people towards the Ethiopian invasion and why this body received massive popular support. Samatar correctly brought to the forefront the limitations of the UIC in its inability to tap into community-based systems of democratic accountability.  The importance of the analysis of this work by Samatar was his ability to penetrate the religious form of the UIC to grasp its nationalist content.

Of these four factions of Somali nationalism, the military entrepreneurs (sometimes called warlords) had a close business relationship with the barons in Kenya while manipulating religious energies to garner financial contributions from the Wahabists in Saudi Arabia. By collapsing all forms of Somali patriotism as terrorism, the US-led intellectual and military folly of fighting a war on terror ensured that the Islamists among the nationalists were able to seize the political leadership of Somalia at home and abroad.

In the preceding fifteen years, various formations armed and linked to factions of military entrepreneurs in Somalia had mobilized the commercial traditions of Somalia to turn war into a lucrative enterprise. When the Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF) entered Somalia on 14 October 2011 to launch a military offensive against al-Shabaab, called Operation Linda Nchi, the ostensive reason given for the incursion was that it was necessary to ensure border security in the wake of al-Shabaab’s frequent kidnappings and killing of tourists in the coastal and north-eastern provinces. The book that came out afterwards Operation Linda Nchi: Kenya’s military Experience in Somalia explicitly stated that the Al Shabaab had become a threat to trade and tourism, both of which are vital sectors of Kenya’s economy. As the authoritative account of the planning and execution of this incursion, the official military document from Kenya obscures the other factors that precipitated the incursion. From the study of the role of Kenya in Somalia since 1963 this author has found three compelling reasons for the incursion:

  1. For the Kenyan military entrepreneurs to increase their possibilities for accumulation by controlling Southern Somalia and the port of Kismayo
  2. For the Kenyan ruling elements to have a strategic foothold in Southern Somalia while there are explorations for offshore oil fields in that region and
  3. To divert the attention of the Kenyan people from the charges that was awaiting the top leaders of Kenya at the International Criminal Court.

These motives for the incursion dictated that the operational objectives of the Kenyan military in Somali would be confused. Because the political purpose of increasing capital accumulation was in conflict with the operational objective of ‘fighting terrorism in Somalia,’ there could be no cohesion in the planning of the Kenyan and AMISOM forces in Somalia. Hence, Kenyan forces could be caught in garrison mode as they were trapped on January 15, 2016 because they were acting as an army of occupation. This confusion between the political purpose and the operational objectives would flow through the ranks so that the operational objectives that were communicated by the military top brass were the opposite of what the rank and file soldiers were seeing before their own eyes.

The Capture of Kismayo and the Sectors of Somalia divided among AMISOM

Kismayo is the provincial headquarters of the Lower Juba region of Somalia and has one of the most important seaports in Somalia. As an entry point for goods going into Kenya there had been a brisk trade even with the so-called war on terror. The Security Council of the United Nations had noted how Al Shabaab had used the policy of taxation in this port to finance its operations throughout Somalia. In the letter dated 18 July 2011 from the Chairman of the Security Council Committee pursuant to Resolutions 751 (1992) and1907 (2009) concerning Somalia and Eritrea addressed to the President of the Security Council, The Security Council of the UN had noted that,

“ Al-Shabaab generates millions of dollars of revenues each month through a coordinated trading cycle built upon the export of charcoal, which in turn finances the import of sugar, much of which is subsequently smuggled across as contraband into neighbouring countries, particularly Kenya. Shipping companies deliver sugar to Kismaayo and collect charcoal for the return journeys. Bank accounts in the Gulf States where the profits of this trade are deposited can be used to launder voluntary contributions to Al-Shabaab through fraudulent invoicing, overvaluing of import proceeds and undervaluing of exports.

“This trade cycle is dominated by networks of prominent Somali businessmen operating mainly between Somalia and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, notably Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Al-Shabaab not only attracts their business by imposing lower rates of taxation in Kismaayo than at ports controlled by the Transitional Federal Government but also actively promotes large-scale imports of sugar and exports of charcoal by offering preferential access and tax breaks to Al-Shabaab affiliated businesses.”

One year after this clear report on the charcoal trade from Kismayo, the Kenya Defence forces captured port in a celebrated campaign called Operation Sledge Hammer. From that date, the top officers controlled the lucrative trade which received wide publicity in local and international media. One Report from the think tank ISS went so far as to suggest in an article - THINK AGAIN: Who profits from Kenya's war in Somalia? - that the KDF was involved in a criminal enterprise.

The United Nations Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) comprised of troops from Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda and for a short period troops from Sierra Leone. Somalia had been divided into three sectors for the purposes of a division of labor between these military forces. Ugandan troops are deployed in Sector 1, which comprises the regions of Banadir and Lower Shabelle, while Kenyan forces are responsible for Sector 2, comprising Lower and Middle Jubba. Sector 3, comprising Bay, Bakool and Gedo is under Ethiopian command. Djiboutian forces are in charge of Sector 4 which covers Hiiraan and Galgaduud, while Burundian forces are in charge of Sector 5 which covers the Middle Shabelle region.

The KDF book Operation Linda Nnchi was the narrative which explained in over 305 pages how the Kenyan army conquered terrorism in Somalia. Of the administrative regions of Somalia, the entire southern part of Somalia had been integrated into the economy of north eastern Kenya for decades. In fact, there is an ongoing dispute between the leaders of Kenya and Somalia over the exact demarcation of the border and the Kenyans of Somali descent have close family and commercial ties with the area that is called Jubaland.  Jubaland's three constituent administrative regions are: Gedo, Lower Juba, and Middle Juba.

When the Kenyan Defense forces took the dominant position in Kismayo, lower Juba, the region of Gedo closest to the Ethiopian border had been occupied by the Ethiopian armed forces. Subsequent to the uprisings in Ethiopia since 2015, the Ethiopians had moved their forces back across the border into Ethiopia and the 9th and 15 battalions from the KDF were deployed to the Gedo Region at the base at El Adde. This base was under both the KDF and the Somalia National Army (SNA) contingent. In fact, the SNA base was 600 meters away from the Kenyan camp. What was striking about the attack on the El Adde base was the fact that the Somali forces were not attacked but the Kenyans were.

The dawn attack on the El Adde base

Despite the information that had been put out by the KDF in the books and propaganda sources, the incidence of attacks on Kenya inside and outside of Somalia increased after 2012. While the more spectacular incidents such as the Westgate, Mpeketoni and Garissa attacks have received massive publicity, the salient lessons were not learnt; that is the counter-terror strategy of Kenya was severely flawed. Foreign experts who manipulate the role of images and information warfare understood that for every attack that took place in Kenya, these could be reproduced throughout the world to demonstrate that East Africa was a hotbed of terror. Trapped by the differing purposes for the military involvement in Somalia, the Kenya forces in bases such as El Adde were not motivated to build relations with the people of Somalia and seethed while the more lucrative posting of Kismayo ensured great wealth for the top commanders. The African Union, in turn, did not aggressively investigate the reports that the Ugandan peace keepers were selling weapons to Al Shabaab.  Uganda, Burundi and Kenya were involved in a military operation where the financial considerations were more important than peace and security for the peoples of Somalia and Kenya.

A report by Journalists for Justice documented the reality that, far “from fighting the Shabaab, the KDF are, in garrison mode, sitting in bases while senior commanders are engaged in corrupt business practices.”[4] On top of being in garrison mode, the sexual exploitation of Somali women ensured that these women became important intelligence assets for the Somali insurgents.

The details of the dawn attack on the El Adde camp demonstrated that the Somali al Shabaab had been operating on intelligence from sources inside the camp.  This intelligence came from comfort women working on the base as the narrative on the attack pointed to how the first attackers in the  vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) breached the outer gates of the camp.

For the historical record, it is pertinent to quote at length one of the blow by-blow accounts of that took place on January 15, 2016. Under the headline, “How KDF fought 10-hour battle to save ill-fated camp,” the newspaper, The Standard of Nairobi reported,

“The 10-hour mission by the Al Shabaab terrorists – that started at the crack of dawn and was only degraded after 2pm - was fronted by three rows of suicide bombers, Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices and hardened Al Shabaab foot soldiers, which made it extremely difficult for the Kenyan peacekeepers to ward off the ambush. The attack was carried out in three waves (a military term used to describe formation of troops) using heavy gunfire that breached one side of Kenyan camp, leaving dozens of soldiers dead and several others injured. The militia looted ammunition including assets such as military vehicles after the bloody attack mission at El Adde KDF camp. …….

“FIRST WAVE OF ATTACK - The first attack was touched off inside the Somali National Army camp, which is side by side with the Kenyan camp at 4am on Friday. It was followed by Armoured Personnel Carrier with an estimated 10-15 suicide bombers on board. The suicide bombers disembarked running towards the KDF trenches and blew themselves up, the report said. The vehicles used are believed to have been looted from previous attacks on Uganda and Burundi forces in Somalia. Kenya’s military intelligence described the brutal force used on Kenyan troops as similar to those witnessed in Paris, Libya and Westgate massacres. As the troops reacted and re-organised to repulse the enemy after the attack, a second VBIED mounted with a heavy machine-gun made its way into the KDF side driving fast. It drove through amid resistance and heavy gun fire from KDF troops. It later detonated inside the KDF camp with devastating consequences.”
The report continued on the second wave.

“The second VBIED was followed by two Land Cruisers fitted with a machine guns and commonly known in military language as ‘technicals’, each with suicide bombers said to have had rifles. They fired as it got closer to the troops position and then detonated themselves. There were KDF soldiers who were still holding their defence positions and fought back to hold ground.”

The third wave of attack was mounted by an estimated 70-100 terrorists who gained entry into the camp in a lorry. “As some of them fired, others began picking their injured and the killed colleagues loading them in the truck,” the report says. After an hour of heavy fighting, another group of 100 militants arrived on foot and appeared to be on a looting mission from the eastern side of the camp. According to the report, two KDF platoons bravely held fort for about 10 hours as the reinforcement from the elite soldiers arrived in a bid to secure the besieged Kenyan camp. Meanwhile, military headquarters yesterday appeared to confirm that the KDF camp was on a high alert of the impending attack following intelligence reports, but the force that met the Kenyan soldiers was described as ‘unstoppable’. The report, however, did not clarify the number of Kenyan casualties and assets lost, leaving the question begging as to how many Kenyan soldiers were felled and what assets were lost.” [5]

Two questions emerge from this narrative. The first is with respect to how the insurgents breached the first gate to catch the KDF off guard. The second is how many KDF forces died.

Comfort women and intelligence in the occupied zone

The report of the Journalists for Justice not only identified the lucrative charcoal and sugar economy of the KDF but the ways in which the rights of Somali women were violated by the soldiers of AMISOM who were seen as an occupying force. Interviews by this author in July 2016 pieced together the fact that the intelligence for Al Shabaab had been provided by a worker inside the camp who had gone on leave to look after a sick relative.

Diplomats and security experts who are keen to maintain the fictive war on terror have asked the wrong questions about the El Adde attack. For example, one diplomat was reported to have queried, "How can two hundred Al-Shabaab walk across a field in broad daylight without the Kenyans noticing? Where were the KDF's machine guns?" he asked. "This is contrary to everything they have been taught, and should be doing in a hostile environment."[6]
This question ignores the reality that the population in the Gedo region saw the KDF as an army of occupation engaged in a business venture.  Hence, even though the Somali National Army was 600 meters from the Kenyan camp, the Somali camp was not attacked. The insurgents were sending a message that they were against the foreign occupying force.

The Kenyan soldiers who survived also understand that they were seen as occupiers in so far as that the area 90 kilometers from the Ethiopian border had never been ‘pacified’ since the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in 2006.

 The Standard newspaper had noted that,

"many soldiers are now turning up at El Wak, wounded, some with shrapnel injuries and others with bullet wounds. They have walked through bushes fighting their way towards the Kenyan border since Friday." Asked to explain why these survivors chose to walk towards El Wak and not locate Kenyan bases in Gedo which are nearer to El Adde, the officer said "areas near El Adde and between the Kenyan camps in have never been completely pacified and considered enemy territory.”

How many KDF soldiers died?

This military defeat at El Adde was the biggest loss of life for the Kenyan army, yet the government has refused to provide correct information on how many KDF soldiers were killed. After the attack the President of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, offered condolences to the Kenyans and put the KDF death toll at close to 200 soldiers killed. [7] Because the Kenyan government has not provided details of the number of soldiers killed, the Al Shabaab took the propaganda war on social media by providing pictures of the captured soldiers and scenes from the battle. The international media have all reported that the numbers killed were over 150. The various reports carried the following numbers: CNN 141, Al Jazeera 200, BBC 180, Newsweek 180, and VOA 200. Despite this overwhelming evidence of the scale of the deaths, one year after the Kenyan government refuses to acknowledge the numbers that died. In fact, the government sought to clamp down on the reporting:

“To prevent details of what happened at El Adde from emerging, Kenya's government used a rarely enforced law prohibiting the distribution of images or information likely to cause public fear and alarm or undermine security operations.”

What lessons were learnt by Kenya after the El Adde attack: Intellectual impoverishment?

The fact that the Kenyan government believes that it can control the flow of information about what happened in Somalia and the confused state of the operations stem directly from the intellectual and political position of the present Kenyan military and political leaders. Throughout the world, the US military and academic establishment had pronounced on Somalia as a failed state. This intellectual exercise had been the cover for the US military operations in Eastern Africa since 1992. If the intellectual starting point is incorrect, then the outcomes would be incorrect. Von Clausewitz famously stated that, “no one starts a war without being clear in their mind what the real objectives are, and what they intend to achieve. The first is the political purpose and the second is the operational objective.”

In the context of the war in Somalia, the Kenyan military and political barons confused their financial/political objectives with their operational objectives and with what was actually possible given the limitations of the form of organization of Kenyan society. Kenya is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual society. To wage a war that is premised on religious grounds, ‘that Kenya is seeking to oppose Al Shabaab setting up a caliphate in Somalia’, simply plays into the hands of religious zealots who represent themselves as patriots in Somalia. From the KDF book, Operation Linda Nchi, one gets a clear grasp of the intellectual limitations of the counter terrorism discourse that emanates from the US military circles. Kenyan capitalists have internalized these forms of understanding of the political challenges in Somalia in order to promote their own economic interests. At the same time, the intelligentsia in Kenya and the so-called humanitarian community are ensnared in the anti-terrorist discourse so that there can be no sifting of the Somali population to separate the extremists who are in war for profit from the Somalis who want an end to external military aggression in their society.

This impoverishment of the so-called literature of the war on terror is not only home grown, but has a consistent school in the European Union and the USA that is only too willing and ready to use the terrorist moniker to identify Somali nationalism. Fairly extensive literature exists, written by both African scholars and counter-terror experts covering Somalia. In the specific case of the United States, the experiences of the USA after the battles in Mogadishu in 1993 up the deployment of the Special Forces in The Horn of Africa.

In the period of the war on terror, there are numerous studies on Somalia. Even more so from the US Africa Command Social Science research initiatives that started workshops and conferences on the Horn of Africa after 2008. However, the limitation of this intellectual investment has been to grasp the complexities of class, religious and regional relation in simple terms of Islamic extremists or in terms of clan loyalties. In this way, the Al Shabaab capitalist who is an ally of the sugar barons and oil traders in Dubai is presented as having the same interest in the future of Somalia as the ordinary peasant and itinerant trader. Yet, within this extensive literature is reproduced ad infinitum by graduate students and peace researchers across Africa and beyond. Specialized think tanks that are linked to the infrastructures of empire such as the International Crisis Group (ICG), the International Peace Academy, The Institute for Security Studies, ACCORD seek to compete with US think tanks to reproduce the uncritical reports that there is a war on terror in Africa.

Time to end the war on terror in East Africa

This author agrees with Ngugi Wa Thiongo when he wrote that the future of peace in Somalia lay in the full integration of Somalia and Kenya in a confederated East Africa. “In nearly all African states,  there  are  people  of  the  same language,  culture,  and  history  on  either  side  of  a  border — what  are called  border  communities.  For instance, if Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Somalia itself were to see the Somali people as a shared community, then uniting Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia would not be a union of cultural strangers. We could thus use the notion of a shared community as links in a chain for African unity from the Cape to Cairo, from Kenya to Liberia.”[8]

Part of the dialectic of initiating a new framework for a prosperous and peaceful Africa would be to build on the skills of the Kenyan educated to forge the economic unification of the currencies so the economic activities that are now carried out in the dark markets can be brought out in the open so that the economies of the Eastern African region become integrated with a common currency.  

This author will go further and say that peace will come from realizing the goals of isolating those who are opposed to Pan African unity. This means that in the short run, there ought to be clarity as to those forces in Kenya and Uganda who are involved in war as a business. Progressive NGO’s need to have a clear roster of the sales of weapons by the Ugandan military to the extremists in Somalia.

In the summation of the investigative report on Kenya’s criminal activities in Somalia, the authors noted that,

“when the value of the smuggled sugar is around $1 million per day, the incentives to keep North Eastern insecure and ungoverned become clear. Further incentives then build upon the foundational ones as those well positioned to profit from the trade at a time of war (for example, the KDF), have little interest in leaving Kismayo and building peace. They also have strong incentives to push public policy in a more militarized direction to increase their control and their opportunities for profit from other spheres such as procurement and international financing for counter-terrorism. Politicians who have become accustomed to a system of patronage and corruption in order to gain power have no incentive to play straight and they consistently corrode the central state in their efforts to promote a system that benefits them.”

One year after the military defeat, courageous journalists in Kenya have asked if the Kenyan government will ever honor the memory of those who were killed. These journalists are calling for the correct information on the events of January 15, 2016. The campaign to expose this defeat cannot be confined to Kenya, but must be part of a larger discussion of how to end the war on Terror in Africa.

Faced with the military setbacks for the AMISOM forces in Somalia, the US administration announced that it would increase its Special Operations forces that were deployed to Somalia. According to report in the New York Times in October, “The Obama administration has intensified a clandestine war in Somalia over the past year, using Special Operations troops, airstrikes, private contractors and African allies in an escalating campaign against Islamist militants in the anarchic Horn of Africa nation.”[9]

Between 200 and 300 US Special Forces under the control of AFRICOM are currently operating in Somalia seeking to stiffen the nerve of the AMISOM soldiers. Though the US Africa Command seeks to keep the Special Operations as covert as possible, the very deployment of these forces ensures that the propaganda apparatus of the militants can be ramped up to point to the fact that they are actually fighting imperial forces who are coming to dehumanize Somalis. This had been the rhetoric of General Aideed in 1993 and these ideas resonate with a section of the population. Long term planners of the military management of the international system understand that the deployment of US military personnel will intensify the war and for these planners the intensified warfare will justify military expenditures for the war on terror internationally.

 The misguided idea that conflates assertive religious identification with Islam as terrorism must be brought out in the open.  Islamic fundamentalism is just as misguided as Christian fundamentalism and the promise of the Trump administration to round up Muslims in the USA should be a moment for progressives to show solidarity with oppressed citizens who are followers of the Islamic faith.

Secondly, serious scholars must end the use of the formulation ‘failed state’ to refer to Somalia. States cannot fail. States are reflections of class and social relations in society. A government can collapse and the answer to such a collapse must be to mobilize popular and democratic forces to hold governments accountable.  The war on terror and the concept of failed state are at the core of the intellectual bankruptcy of western liberalism.

There cannot be a war on terror, because terror is a tactic. The tactics of the insurgents in Somalia are to coerce the population into thinking that they are fighting forces of occupation. The activities of the Ethiopian army in Somalia give credence to this propaganda from the extremists. Kenyan rulers have been in   alliance with rulers in Uganda, Burundi and Ethiopia who have no moral authority to be deployed to fight terrorism in Somalia. This immorality of these forces is exploited by the planners of the extremists who use religious dogma to mobilize misguided youths in Somalia.

Thus far the opposition politicians in Kenya who have been competing for political power have not put forward a vision of how to bring peace and reconstruction to Somalia and Kenya. Politicians who have become accustomed to a system of patronage and corruption on both sides of the political divide do not have the moral authority to propose real alternatives that challenges those who are in the business of war locally and linked to the US counter terror apparatus .

Reconstruction in Somalia and Kenya

The Kenyan government spends more than one billion dollars per year in its operations of fighting terror in Somalia and Kenya. In this same context, teachers, university lecturers, doctors, nurses and the rank and file are calling for a better standard of living. Investments in the reconstruction of Kenya and Somalia will in the long run pay for more dividends for Africa than the never ending war on terror.

Five years ago, there were elements in the USA that called for an end to the war on terror. These elements stated that if the criminals who plant bombs in communities are treated as criminals, then the challenge would be to mount police operations to ferret these criminals out of their communities. Such an approach to the militant extremists in Somalia would expose them in a way that ensures that they could not easily hide behind religious zealotry. Significantly, this kind of police operation would be able to garner international cooperation to expose and arrest the billionaires in Saudi Arabia who are the bankers of the extremists.

The UN has on numerous occasions published information on the charcoal trade of Al Shabaab and other researchers have pointed to the infrastructure of foundations and business enterprises that finance extremist in Africa. The United Nations itself needs to turn a new page from the ways in which the world body has served the military interests of the neo-conservatives in Washington. As Abdi Samatar noted years ago, the Monitoring Group for Somalia and Eritrea (MG) and the United Nations Special Representative (SR) are at the center of the reproduction of the disaster in the country. “These two agencies have separate mandates, but collectively they have been engaged in activities that undermine Somali efforts to rebuild the country.”[10


Our focus on the military defeat of the Kenyan Army in Somalia has been guided by the way in which militarism has impeded peace and reconstruction in Eastern Africa. The peoples of Somalia have has suffered disproportionately from the efforts of the US establishment to use Somalia as political football to assert the geo- political interest of the USA in the Indian Ocean.

From the time of Operation Restore Hope in 1992 to the present, over a period of 25 years, the United States followed a policy of destabilizing Somalia. This was vividly demonstrated when the US Ambassador to Kenya, Smith Hempstone,  was working with the progressive human rights activists in Kenya in 1992 but was overruled by those who had a long term vision of the need to ensure that Kenya played a key role in the military operations of the US in the Indian Ocean.  In subsequent years, this policy was ramped up after September 2001.  

The US government has worked with the regime in Ethiopia and thus sought to present the changes of the region as the Christian state of Ethiopia fighting Islamic terror in Eastern Africa. This logic inspired the CIA to finance warlords in Somalia to fight the Islamic Courts Union in 2006. This financing of the APRCT had the effect of conflating Somalia nationalism with terrorism.

Ugandan militarists who have never turned away from a conflict to earn money moved into Somalia when the Ethiopians were overstretched and joined the anti-terror campaign. This intensification of warfare also brought Uganda close to the scene of the illicit trade of sugar and charcoal at Kismayo. Kenyan barons intervened to ensure that the trade remained in the hands of Kenyans. Together, the Kenyans, Barundi and Ugandans demeaned the concept of peace in Eastern Africa. Kenyan politicians who have no respect for African lives have sought to cover up the defeat on the Kenyan forces at El Adde.

Yet, this episode provides a real opportunity for the progressive forces in the African Union to call for a full reexamination of the war in Somalia so that another way forward can be conceptualized. Such a way forward calls for the demilitarization of Somalia and the introduction of thousands of reconstruction workers from Somalia and Eastern Africa who would rebuild the society. Already elements within UNESCO and within the peace movement have recognized that this unending war must end.

War has profound effects on any society, and the impact of El adde is still unfolding in Eastern Africa. The ravages of warfare in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Syria point to the failure of the so called war on terror. The African Union is in a position to ensure that the kind of devastation that has been wrought in Syria is not visited on the peoples of East Africa.

* Prof. Horace G. Campbell is the Kwame Nkrumah Chair at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana at Legon.

End notes

[1] The Reports of John Githongo offered one window into the extent of the appropriation under the Presidency of Daniel Arap Moi,

[2] Mark Mazetti,” Efforts by C.I.A. Fail in Somalia, Officials Charge,”  New York Times , June 8, 2006

[3] For an analysis of the nationalist content of the Islamist Courts Union see Abdi Samatar, Ethiopian Invasion of Somalia, US Warlordism & AU Shame, Review of African Political Economy, Vol. 34, No. 111, 2007
[4] For Justice, ‘Black and White : Kenya’s Criminal Racket in Somalia, “ Nairobi, November 2015
[5] “How KDF fought 10 hour battle to save ill-fated camp, “
[6] Kenya Covers up Military Massacre, CNN, May 11, 2016,
[7] “Somali leader: '200 Kenyan troops' dead in January raid, “AL Jazeera, February 26, 2016
[8] Ngugi Wa Thiongo, “African Identities: Pan Africanism in the era of Globalization and capitalist fundamentalism,” Macalester International,  Volume 14, Spring 2004, page 36
[9] In Somalia, U.S. Escalates a Shadow War, New York Times, October 16, 2016,
[10] Abdi Ismail Samatar, “An Odious Affair: The UN in Somalia” published in Al Jazeera