Not Our War: Kenya as a Pawn in America’s War on Terror

Firstly, some perspective. Kenya is safe, beautiful, and booming. The clichéd “war on terror” is fought far in the north-eastern badlands, deep in the hidden slums, and high in the dingy corridors of power. These places could not be further removed from the cool-gin-and-tonic-on-the-veranda-while-the-sun-sets-over-the-herd-of-elephants idyll of Kenya’s unparalleled tourism spots. And if the hysteria of the popular media was taken seriously, then in the same vein, tourists should be abandoning their surfing trips to Hawaii or hiking holiday in the Rocky Mountains due to the pervasive danger of high-school shooters and trigger-happy white cops. As Kenyans, we treat the monthly security alerts issued by the UN and US embassy much like the well-meaning but slightly trying protestations of a hypochondriac elderly relative. Life goes on, and, with the greatest scenery, wildlife, beaches and hospitality in the world, life is really rather good.

DSC04426Elephants on safari in the Maasai Mara (image: author’s own)

However, for the sake of a good foreign policy conversation, let’s give a nod to the Al-Shabaab attacks which threw Kenya into the unflattering glare of the global media “War on Terror” spotlight; Westgate and Garissa. The Mpeketoni attacks were merely a tribal land-feud dressed as an Al-Shabaab attack, and done so in an amateur fashion at that. Westgate and Garissa, however, were the perversely self-fulfilling manifestations of a phoney war against an American-heralded “Terror” which was never previously directed at Kenyans.

An invasion of Somalia, even as part of a combined African Union Force, was never in Kenya’s interest, nor was it something Kenya was capable of managing strategically, politically or financially. In fact, with a 700km open border with Somalia and a significant Somali population, Kenya had the most to lose out of all the AU nations from the inevitable blow-back from invading the country which sent the sharp end of the American army packing in 1991. Today, as a thinly veiled US proxy invasion, Kenya is fighting a war it didn’t choose. The Prime Minister who sent Kenyan troops to war – Raila Odinga – is America’s man in Kenya. In the run-up to the invasion, the Kenyan army, previously ardently British in its structure and doctrine, began showing off its Ranger battalions – a distinctly American concept equipped with distinctly American hardware. Since the invasion, American drone strikes and Special Forces raids have characterised the war in Somalia, much as they have in Yemen. Odinga’s apparent motivations for war – a handful of kidnappings in the border region and along the coast – are cause for tightening security and border control – situations which have both worsened since the invasion.

Al-Shabaab fightersAl-Shabaab militants in Somalia (image: The Guardian)

The US-led AU mission in Somalia has, against all odds, achieved relative success, and the Ugandans’ achievement in clearing Al Shabaab from Mogadishu is commendable. However, the Ugandan People’s Defence Force was born out of decades of fighting insurgencies against Idi Amin and counterinsurgencies against Joseph Kony’s LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army), and stands head and shoulders over the untested Kenyan units they deridingly refer to as peace-time warriors. Furthermore, Uganda shares no border with Somalia, houses no Somali population, and is therefore sheltered from the invasion’s fallout. Kenya takes the hit for Ugandan President Museveni’s policy of military adventurism (and subsequent UN subsidising of his armed forces).

So, in the opinion of this Kenyan, we have been duped into fighting a war on an Islamist “terror” which was never explicitly aimed at Kenyans. Yes, before the invasion we had weapons, bandits and refugees pouring into the lawless frontier region, but we never had massacres in our shopping centres and universities aimed not at Americans or Israelis, but at Kenyans themselves.

By guest writer, Anonymous

Cover photo: Lamu, Kenya – Kiran Ahluwalia Photography


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