By Ahmed Abdidool
The Federal Republic of Somalia is a country situated on the horn of Africa. The country ranks 43rd in size with 637,657 km2in total area. In the north Somalia borders Djibouti and Ethiopia with Kenya to the West and South. Somalia’s coastline faces the Indian Ocean from Kenya to the northern region of Somaliland which touches the Red Sea.
Brief Background of the Kenya-Somalia Conflict
For the entirety of the 20th century the Northern Frontier District of Kenya was under the Jubaland administration which is modern day Southern Somalia. This joining to Somalia took place a few days before the independence of British Somaliland in 1960 when most Somali-inhabited areas were unified into a single administrative unit. Upon the dissolution of the British colonies, the Northern Frontier District was taken over by Kenyan nationalists despite fierce local resistance. Members of the predominantly Somali community wanted to be part of the newly established Republic of Somalia.
With Kenya’s independence in 1963 British officials realized that Kenya was unwilling to cede the Somali inhabited areas it had assumed control over. With the leadership of the Northern Province People’s Progressive Party (NPPPP), Somalis pushed for their union with their kin in the Republic of Somalia. In return, the Kenyan government began repressive measures to counter the opposition which became known as the Shifta War. Despite a ceasefire, Somalis within Kenya have always identified with Somalia. Since this conflict began the Somalis have married within their tribe forming a robust ethnic network.
A Series of Historical Injustices Against the Somali Community in Kenya
The NPPP failed to make Kenya’s North Eastern region part of Somalia. The Kenyan government carried out a series of war crimes and crimes against humanity against Somalis in the region since independence.
One of the highest profile atrocities committed against the Somali community took place in 1980 in Garissa. Kenyan security agents, under the guise of flushing out the separatists, set fire within a residential area killing innocent people and carrying out rapes of women. Following the massacre, they held locals captive in a school compound without food and water for three days during which more rapes and murders were carried out. Overall, these horrendous actions resulted in the death of more than 3,000 civilians.
Wagalla Massacre in Wajir
Another atrocity against the Somali population happened four years later in the Wajir District during an event known as the Wagalla Massacre on February 10th, 1984. The attack was carried out at the Wagalla Airstrip by Kenya’s security officers who claimed to be responding to inter-clan conflicts. Testimony by survivors said men of all ages were apprehended, denied access to food and water for five days, and finally killed. Kenya was sending a message that they were willing to execute anyone sympathetic to the NPPPP.
Operation Linda Nchi
In 2011 a new phase of conflict began. Kenya invaded Somalia without consulting the government in an operation dubbed Linda Nchi (translated as ‘protect the country’) with the motive of defeating Al Shabaab insurgents who posed a threat to Kenya. However, one would expect the Kenyan government to be courteous enough to engage the Somali government with consultation to offer synergy in fighting terrorism – a cause which various Somali government regimes have shown a devotion to.
After fighting the insurgency for a year, the Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF) announced that the operation was completed. Instead of going home the forces were merged with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). In retaliation for this invasion Al Shabaab carried out a series of terrorist attacks in Kenya’s major cities such as Nairobi, Mombasa, and Garissa. Incensed by the attacks, the Kenyan government unleashed violence and brutality against the Somalis in Kenya who were perceived to be collaborators of Al Shabaab.
Members of the Somali community, especially women and children, were hounded off from the areas of resident in Eastleigh, Nairobi and put in concentration camps. Ever since the operation began, the Somali community has been victimized and stereotyped as terrorists. A security officer in Kenya treats an ordinary Somali with invasive suspicion. The Kenyan government has imposed unfair taxes on businesses run by Somalis to frustrate them. These efforts to harm the Somali community are being done despite the fact that Somalis are among the biggest investors in Kenya helping to rank them among the biggest taxpayers. Somalis have dominated major economic sectors such as fashion and clothing, hospitality, and more recently, real estate.
The KDF have been accused time and again of turning a blind eye while colluding with militants in smuggling charcoal which ends up in Dubai. Taxes levied by the militia group has been crucial in funding its operations in destabilizing the Somali government with each bag attracting an average tax of about $5. As of 2017, an estimated three million bags brought in $150 million annually with each bag selling for roughly $50 in the United Arab Emirates. The KDF dismissed the allegations despite them being raised several times by independent investigators of the UN. The investigators noted that criminal networks in Dubai, the UAE, and the KDF controlled port of Kismayu in Somali are the primary beneficiaries of the illegal trade. Such circumstances have been evident around the world in various civil wars where those who come in the name of ‘helping’ end up prolonging civil wars to suit their own interests.
The Maritime Conflict
In February of 2019, Kenya and Somalia became entangled in a diplomatic row over a maritime border. It began after Kenya accused Somalia of auctioning oil exploration rights in an area which is being legally contested in the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The area in dispute is a triangle estimated at 100,000 km2. Kenya argues that the border should follow a parallel latitude while Somalia is adamant the boundary should run diagonally. Kenya is arguing for no concession in the disputed sea. Despite the matter being before the ICJ, Kenya has continued to act with impunity. Kenya also insists on resolving the issue outside of the court in an attempt to strong-arm Somalia.
In order to avoid Kenya’s intent Somalia has sought legal redress at the ICJ concerning the maritime border dispute. Kenya responded to this by sending troops to the disputed waters before court proceedings begin next month. In this situation, Kenya is behaving as Nigeria did during their row over the Bakassi Peninsula with Cameroon. The two nations almost went to war over the peninsula in 1981 and saw armed clashes over the region in the 90s. The behavior by Kenya can be compared to that of a typical defendant who seeks actions meant to intimidate the plaintiff from seeking justice. In this case the action is trying to make possession nine-tenths of the law.
The Duale Motion and Why Kenya Should Tread Carefully
In August 2019, Kenya’s National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale sponsored a motion in parliament seeking to compel Kenya to use all means necessary to protect its maritime borders. In the motion he proposed using military action in the disputed area. Aden Duale is a member of the Somali community and his move was baffling to many. Belonging to this community with a history of suffering and atrocious historical injustices, Duale should be aware of the repercussions such a move would have on his fellow Somalis.
Kenya should allow the legal process of the ICJ to determine the outcome of this dispute rather than relying on chest-thumping and spoiling for war in violation of international law. Kenya has even resorted to building a wall along the Somali-Kenya border without informing the Somali government. Such a move is disrespectful and undermines all principles of fairness, unity, and diplomacy.
Any move to use military intervention in the disputed area will only increase the resentment the Somalis have against the Kenyan government. It is important to remember that the Somalia community have historically been subjugated by the same government obligated to protect them. The majority of Kenyan Somalis have lost any sense of patriotism for feeling unwanted in their own country. It would not be a surprise that, in the event of a war between Kenyan and Somalia, Somali Kenyans would be inclined to support the Republic of Somalia.
The Kenyan government should learn from the mistakes of the Nigeria-Cameroon border dispute and how the tension almost brought them to war. The anger of Somalis against the Kenyan government continues to pile up and as such, the government should give room to dialogue and the legal process instead of engaging in reckless moves that jeopardize regional security and stability.
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