Kenya’s Intervention in Somalia

On Monday, the Islamist group Al-Shabab withdrew from Kismayo, its last major stronghold in Somalia. The Al-Qaeda-affiliated group has been under pressure from an armed African Union force, working in partnership with the fragile Somali government. Though this military victory is a critical milestone for the Mogadishu-based government, it is remarkable how this victory occurred.

In October 2011, Kenya – without international blessing – invaded southern Somalia. Though the full motivations of the intervention are still a bit murky, the core explanation seems to be Kenya’s desire to bring stability to a neighboring failed state. Somalia’s problems go back to the 1980s, and the clan chauvinistic and repressive rule of the Mohammed Siad Barre government. With the close of the Cold War and massive reductions in Western aid, the Barre government fell in 1991, and most of Somalia has struggled mightily since. Because of Somalia’s collapse, Kenya has long hosted hundreds of thousands of refugees, suffered from depressed economic performance, and the weathered the scourge of maritime piracy.

In 2007, the United Nations gave its support for the creation of the African Union Mission in Somalia, or AMISOM. Though the mission only gradually mobilized military resources to support the Somali central government, AMISOM was granted a muscular “peace making” mandate. However, it was not until August 2011 that the AMISOM mission (of around 9,000 soldiers in mid-2011) helped push the anti-government group Al-Shabab out of the Somali capital.

Kenya’s entry into Somalia – and the integration of Kenyan soldiers into AMISOM in mid-2012 – is the main reason the mission has grown to around 16,000 personnel at present. Crucially, Kenya’s forces are focused in the southern portion of Somalia, where AMISOM did not previously have a presence.

What is remarkable about the Kenyan intervention is how commonplace these actions were in the pre-United Nations era. Before the UN, failed states were frequently conquered in whole or part, or otherwise controlled by stronger (neighboring) states. The United Nations era norm against conquest does have real benefits, but, as Kenya recognizes, it can also allow the problems of failed states to fester and blight whole sub-regions.

*** Did you like what you read here? You might be interested in the new book by this blog’s author, Failed States: Realities, Risks, and Responses.

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