Our man in Mogadishu

QUICK UPDATE:

Two separate minor explosions rocked Nairobi in the last 24 hours, one at a club on Mfangano Street and another at OTC. One person has been confirmed dead and several people were injured. By targeting ordinary Kenyans in the eastern reaches of the city (instead of other soft targets in upper class parts of town) al-Shabab’s strategy seems to be one of forcing the Kenyan public to pressure the government to stop the military operation in Somalia.

My hunch is that they are mistaken. The Kenyan military did not go into Somalia because of public pressure but because of a desire to restore confidence in the tourism sector and possibly after a little prodding from the US and France. And killing innocent Kenyans will only harden public resolve to have the al-Shabab kicked out of Eastleigh.

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Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed says Kenya’s campaign against Al-Shabaab rebels should not go beyond training Somali soldiers and provision of logistical support in specified and agreed areas.

Speaking while on a visit to the the frontline of the war between his government’s forces and the Al-Shabaab, President Sharif stated that many Somalis were anxious to know more about the military operations reportedly being carried out inside Somalia by Kenyan troops.

Several factors can explain why a beleaguered president, unable to leave a restricted section in his capital, would oppose help that could help stabilize his country.

  1. It could be a domestic politics issue. Leaders of occupied states – e.g. Afghanistan and Iraq – often have to juggle the dual roles of public opposition and private support of foreign troops in their territory. Understood this way, we should brush aside Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s opposition to the Kenyan troop presence in Somalia as a mere PR exercise.
  2. The invasion could be harming the president’s interests. After two decades of life without a central government nearly all of the Somali elite have dirty hands. Mr. Ahmed, himself was once the commander in chief of the Islamic Courts Union, a parent of al-Shabab. He is also from South Somalia, where Kenyan troops are currently stationed. By routing al-Shabab and all potential for organized armed organization, the Kenyan invasion might actually be taking the rug from under Ahmed’s feet. His election to the Somali presidency was not because he was the most peaceful of the warlords.
  3. The invasion might undermine other interests within Somalia that the president relies on. The piracy trade on the Indian Ocean is a lucrative business that is allegedly fueling the property boom in Kenya, especially in Nairobi. I would be surprised no one in Mogadishu had a hand in this and other shady operations such as gun-running in the wider Eastern African region. Kenyan stated goal of capturing Kismayu will most certainly disrupt these businesses, with huge financial consequences for the real Big Men involved. Mr. Ahmed might just be protecting the interests of those he depends on.

Whatever the case one hopes that Somalis in the south of the country will not, in their president’s utterances, find justification to actively undermine the Kenyan mission to deny al-Shabab of an operating base.

Meanwhile two grenade explosions have hit Nairobi in the last 24 hours, with one person confirmed dead.

Also, after a week of rallying around the flag in support of Operation Linda Nchi, the Kenyan media is beginning to ask questions about planning and long-term efficacy of the Somalia mission. It is unclear just how much uncertainty, about their own physical security, Kenyans will tolerate as the government continues to execute the war against Al-Shabab.