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February 17, 2019

If we ever retreat from Somali, we will bolster al Shabaab - Maalim

Farah Maalim
Farah Maalim

Farah Maalim is a former Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly of Kenya. He spoke to our reporter Ramadhan Rajab about Amisom forces role in Somalia in relation to al Shabaab militants. Here are excerpts:

 

Families across the country are mourning as they bury their loved ones who were massacred by terrorists at Garissa University College a week ago, there is fear over increasing senseless killings by terrorists, what are your thoughts?

As a Kenyan I feel pained. However my deep and heartfelt condolences go to the families of the students who were butchered by these terrorists, and to the survivors, I wish them quick recovery. We are with them during this trying times.

I commend our very own security forces the KDF, Recce squad who put their lives on line to try save lives. We need to support them and give them a big thank you for their sacrifices to this nation. My condolences go to the families of the three officers who were killed in the line of duty I salute them because they were exceptional young man who met their death with courage as they served the nation.

 

As you commend the security officers, critics have pointed out that more lives could have been saved if the response was quick, how accurate is this analysis?

That morning, as information about the attack started streaming in, I spoke to a senior police officer urging him and the entire security apparatus to do whatever they can at whatever cost and end the siege as quickly as possible. I told him that the longer the siege the more time and space the terrorists get to massacre our children.

I believe if the Recce squad was flown in as early 7am we could have saved over 80 per cent of the lives. It took a very long time for specialised units to be deployed giving the terrorists over 10 hours to wreak havoc and this should be condemned. Those in-charge should be put to task to account for the lapses.

Attack after attack our security apparatus is always caught off-guard. Why this is so and why are we unable to learn from our mistakes and be preemptive in our approach in dealing with these terror threats?

The glaring omissions and commissions is worrying and makes us wonder if at all we have a functioning state. Inability to learn from past mistakes and strengthen our security responses to such threats and secure our country are signs and symptoms of a failed state.

There were alerts given on impending attacks on institutions of higher learning, malls, and other key installations, but it saddens that the authorities did nothing to deflate these threats before they happened. We know that these terrorists’ ‘modus operandi’ is to create a religious rift between Christians and Muslims.

What we are doing today is playing into their hands by buying into their idea by being proponents of religious hate and with the government seemingly unmoved.

 

It’s been almost five years since the Kenya Defence Forces went on an onslaught against the al Shabaab fighters in Somalia they were joined by other forces from different countries. Despite this the militants are still holding ground in parts of Somalia and have been able to launch very successful and devastating attacks away from their bases in Somalia. What are your thoughts about this?

Kenya has the state of art communication transmitters and receivers that can monitor all the communications of these militants especially from Bardere in the Gedo region, Jiliib and Saku areas that are still under the militants’ controls and are barely six or less hours from Kenyans border. But one wonders why we are stuck in Kismayu and are not going straight to their strongholds and taking them out.

We have even refused to facilitate resources and hardware to the Raskamboni militia. They are on the ground and have understanding and capabilities of tracking al Shabaab fighters and engage them in combat until this whole menace is wiped out.

So far al Shabaab has been defeated they have been partly dislocated and have lost some of their ground and fighters the estimate is that they are less than 2000 ragtag fighters in Somalia running around in small groups of about 20.

They have been thoroughly degraded all we need to do is to finish the job but we aren’t finishing the job both as KDF and Amisom.

 

In your observation why do you think the army contributing countries seem reluctant to decimate al Shabaab yet it seems its deathbed?

What is worrying us is where is al Shabaab getting arms supply from. Thank God, we have no information of them getting arms from KDF and Djibouti forces but we have heard that other Amisom contingency forces are selling arms.

This shows that there some interests hellbent on seeing al Shabaab thrive despite the massive economic and emotional damage it is bringing to the region.

The symbolic presence of al Shabaab and the sporadic high profile attacks that grabs world attention not only serves the interests of the militants but the political interests of some regional leaders.

 

When ‘Linda Nchi Operation’ was launched in October 2011 you were part of the coalition government that made that decision. What were the strategies, goals and did Kenya blunder on the way? Have KDF overstayed in this mission and should it retreat?

The way we had seen it and planned it was that our forces move in finish the job by decimating al Shabaab completely. Then we would support local administration there to put up their own systems and train their officers so as they are able to secure the region.

This would help avoid a relapse of anarchy and allow a region near the border of Kenya to serve as a buffer zone. But clearly that is not the case now as we are just in Kismayu as a few ragtag militia roam some regions of Somalia regrouping and strategising, clearly a show of no political will.

A pullout at this moment without finishing the job which is to eliminate the al Shabaab completely is ill-advised. If we ever retreat, we will bolster al Shabaab who will come out as victorious. They will take over Jubaland, use Kismayo port as a base to get revenue and be able to recruit across the world, and it will be stronger, which will be even more difficult to contain.

 

The political interests you hinted at, who are out to maintain the status-quo of a failed State in Somalia, what is the way out from that limbo?

Right now people of the region are asking those questions too. Personally I don’t think regimes in this region have a long time to hide.

Look at al Shabaab and Ethiopia, there seems to be a tacit understanding between them.

Al Shabaab moves in a zone and the Ethiopian forces moves out from that zone and vice-versa, you hardly hear of an engagement between these parties.

You wonder sometimes whether there is an unholy alliance between them. Look at the region like Mandera where the al Shabaab sneaked in and killed Kenyans in a quarry.

It is around the Ethiopian forces sector but the militants are able to infiltrate cross over the border and kill and return back. Ethiopia has capacity and resources to clear that menace in less than a week but they seem uninterested to clean that area.

The global community and funders of these operations should start asking hard questions on whether they are putting their money where their mouths are.

They should make sure that the forces utilise resources to meet the set out goals and objectives and give a timeline because as there is now an impression that the Amisom forces don’t want al Shabaab menace wiped out because it serves as shield to fend off international scrutiny and pressure on towing the good governance line.

 

There have been calls from government circles as well leaders from the Northern Kenya demanding that Dadaab refugee camp be shut and all the refugees repatriated to Somalia claiming that the camp is fertile ground for breeding terrorists, how accurate are their observations and are these calls justified?

This is case of blaming the victims, with no any justification. Refugees ran away from Somalia because of al Shabaab. They came here for safety and even at the camps the al Shabaab used to move in and kill them, especially those who used to oppose them.

Up to now those assertions are based on emotions and guesswork because to this moment no evidence or information has been forthcoming that links the refugees to attacks in any of the urban towns.

To what extend radicalisation is taking root in refugee camps is something we aren’t told and we need to get facts and I doubt if relocating refugees will ever give us a solution to this problem.

If we have to take them back we must secure all areas in Somalia or else we will face a colossal humanitarian crisis and give a fresh recruiting ground where they will triple the numbers and be even more stronger.

 

Muslims leaders especially from Northern Kenya have been blamed for condoning terror activities and are reluctant to cooperate with the government in stemming these menace, to what extend should they take the blame?

We cannot take blame for this, and the government should never blame us but it should instead blame itself. We have been asking questions but no one listens; we offer them advice and they rubbish them, only to wait for the terrorists to strike and emotionally start diverting attention of the public from real issues of lapses in our security system.

The other day after the Garissa attack the president and his deputy summoned members of parliament from the region at statehouse and told them that they were pissed after losing so many Kenyans and that the leaders should give answers, and what should be done. My take on that is that they should stop asking for answers and ideas if they cannot take or even consider them.

For a long time we have been telling them to put together a small police unit under a Somali command and deploy it to northern Kenya to deal with this problem, which I believe can follow the suspects everywhere and take them out. Their response has been that doing that will be balkanizing the country.

You can’t put a blanket blame on religious leaders, because we have had top Muslim clerics who have been standing out against the al Shabaab’s ill-founded and misleading ideology but unfortunately some have been gunned down yet the government had a mandate of protecting such leaders so that they can help in elbowing out the terrorists ideology.

 

There is increasing Islamphobia in the country following President Uhuru Kenyatta’s statement that tended to shift blame on mosques and Muslims, what does the future holds?

What do we stand to gain from terrorism? We have been in institutionalised marginalisation by previous regimes, and with the coming of devolution we knew this is the time for our take-off. If the system want to carry out genocide against Muslims and Somalis because of al Shabaab then the world is there to see.

We have seen many state-sponsored genocides like the one in Rwanda, and it starts by building up a public opinion and inciting emotions against a section of the community on issues in which they are victims as well.

The government is only trying to run away from its own mistakes by trying to look for other people to blame. Do Muslims and Somali have authority over the security of Kenya? No. Then why should they be blamed when they are reeling under the same pain of insecurity just like any other Kenyan.

Look at what is happening in Northern Kenya, that alone shows that we have a bigger reason to fight terrorists than anyone else, but to be blamed wholesomely for condoning it is being insensitive to our plight. As a result of the attacks our businesses are crashing, our children are no longer going to school, but it’s absurd Kenyans are being turned against a section of its own brothers.

We cant be happy and we can’t condone destruction of our own motherland, because we have no other home we know apart from Kenya. I have no any other neighbours, brother, friends and sisters except the 42 other tribes that make Kenya.

 

Leaders from Northern Kenya have promised to compile and and hand over a list of all those individuals and entities suspected to be aiding terrorist in the region. The deadline for handing in the list ends today, what are your general thoughts?

I doubt if they have capacity to come up with such a list. Unless they want to compile a list of business and political rivals and hand them in so as they can get them off their way. The government in partnership with the community should be able to compile this list.

However one wonders if these leaders know these people, why did they wait until students were massacred for them to come out claiming they know who are behind the attack. Their motive and resolve doesn’t make sense to me.

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