AJUOK: Uhuru should secure all borders, not just wealthy ones

This is not a call for war, but an invitation to the table of reality

In Summary

• Somalia is a malignant tumor on Kenya’s security and sovereignty.

• The Shifta war was because of Somalia’s expansionist ambitions  and the terrorist threats posed by Somalia-based groups have continued to haunt Kenya

Map showing disputed maritime area
Map showing disputed maritime area
Image: FILE

You can safely presume that the armed forces of any country love it when their commander-in-chief reacts to threats on the territorial integrity of their state exactly the way President Uhuru Kenyatta did over the maritime dispute with Somalia.

Troops take the oath on the belief that they will be commanded by firm and principled generals, as well as a fearless and forthright commander-in-chief. It is the only way one can put their life on the line for their country. Days before the ICJ ruled on the long-drawn matter, Kenya had already declared it would not listen to whatever the court had to say.

The President donned his C-in-C  fatigues, travelled to Boni Forest to inspect military war exercises before heading to upgrade the Manda Navy camp into a fully-fledged base.

In words and deed, the President was declaring that Kenya would exercise the right to defend its borders, if the ICJ ruled against it.

For lack of a better description, Somalia is a malignant tumor on Kenya’s security and sovereignty.

The infamous Shifta war in the 1960s was fought because of Somalia’s expansionist ambitions in the region. Decades later, terrorist threats posed by Somalia-based groups have continued to haunt its western neighbor, leading to Kenya’s entry into Somalia in 2011 in the military excursion befittingly dubbed “Operation Linda Nchi”.

The cost in terms of lives and finances has been enormous. Kenyan troops remain in Somalia, with no proper exit plan, and no way to tell if their exit would be a mirror of America’s Afghanistan debacle, where the Taliban overran the country as soon as the US started to withdraw its troops. War is, however, not a black and white matter.

In her new book Do Not Disturb, Michela Wrong revisits the time regional countries invaded the DR Congo, each with its own interests, and then fell out in the vast country. They unleashed heavy artillery on one another, and erstwhile friends such as Uganda and Rwanda turned on each other, leading to heavy combat in a foreign land.

Rhetoric and grandstanding can sound very appealing, but when heading into state-to-state war, you can never know who else you will find on the other side. It has been said that the disputed sea waters between Somalia and Kenya are rich in gas and oil deposits.

That alone means interests around it may be bigger than Somalia, which we can rightfully treat as a failed state and, therefore, without the military might to withstand our bombs and heavy artillery. But what if we get to the frontline and find there are mightier armies standing in support of Somalia, with an eye on the gas deposits?

Presumably, we have considered which global powers will be on our side and who will not, because once the first shot rings out in combat, you can never really control who will join on which side. In fact, you could end up with a regional or global war on Kenyan waters.

I am sure Saddam Hussein never foresaw the world’s top armies mobilising across the border to topple him when he invaded Kuwait in 1990.

The path of peace and diplomacy exists for a reason. But the robust reaction towards Somalia over the maritime dispute reminds me of a security “cold case” in the form of Migingo Island in Lake Victoria. The tiny rock of an island is reputed to be surrounded by waters rich on fish.

Obviously, because fish is not oil and gas, it may not rank high enough to warrant military action in defence of Kenyan fishermen long harassed and detained by Ugandan security forces. The arrests and harassment continue, but Migingo has been allowed to become so “normal” that even the media no longer covers stories from the island.

The larger Nyanza region holds the unenviable reputation of being the only one of the former provinces that does not host a military facility. Strangely, it has a long stretch of international borders with Tanzania and Uganda. Marginalisation can hide in plain sight, and you only need to take a look at recent boat accidents in the lake to see the extent.

In these tragedies, local fishermen and youths acted as the search and rescue teams, even though conventional wisdom has it that in any part of the country, there would be Navy divers, Coast Guards and Army search teams doing the work.

I can guarantee you that one of the reasons Uganda’s strongman Yoweri Museveni has the luxury to station detachments of his forces in what is practically Kenyan waters is because the region is inhabited by a community he considers to be out of favour of Kenyan regimes.

I suspect any Ugandan forces in Kenyan islands will melt away quietly if Raila Odinga takes the oath of office as President late next year. Be that as it may, I submit that the only way this country can claim its newfound strong belief in its territorial integrity is by securing all its borders, not just the places rich in natural minerals.

In studying the capitulation of Donald Trump at the feet Russian president Vladimir Putin, Democrats and liberals loved to point out that Vladimir Putin only respected strength, and could only be approached from that standpoint.

Leaders with regional political and military designs such as President Museveni also respect strength. This is especially so for the variety with a military or revolutionary background, who assume the whole world can be changed by military force. Kenya and Ethiopia are the military top dogs of this region.

There is absolutely no reason to be subservient to smaller military powers because perceived military dominance has a way of giving undue political credibility to countries that pretend to be powerful when they probably are not.

The President and Kenya’s military generals must extend the same firm robustness exhibited in Somalia to all other Kenyan borders where foreign militias and forces have violated our space.

This is not a call for war, but an invitation to the table of reality. We shouldn’t be seen as acting all tough only because it is Somalia, a hapless state without any meaningful structures of engagement and military capabilities left to speak of.

While at it, the military would do well to read the part of its mission statement that says “…to restore peace in any part of Kenya affected by unrest and instability….”

Before we head off to Somalia, we should ask ourselves whether the current situation in the Kerio Valley or Laikipia, where militia attacks continue unabated, paint the perfect picture of a security force ready to defend all our land without fear or favour.

I think we should remove the reference to “rich in oil and gas deposits” from the disputed waters so that we can look at the entire map of Kenya as worth defending and keeping safe.