Two significant events occurred this week in the eastern African region that stewed emotions and anger of Kenyans in equal measure.
One was the murderous attack on members of the Kenya Defense Force (KDF) by suicide bombers of the terrorist group Al-Shabaab at a remote outpost called Kulbiyow, 18 kilometers from the Kenyan border, that stirred memories of past terror attacks.
The other was the voting of the Chairman of the African Union (AU) Commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, an event which brimmed with geo-political undertones, connivance, and intrigues.
The early morning explosions left an unspecified number of Kenyan soldiers dead, and brought to the fore once again, the menace of terrorism in a country which has seen numerous terror attacks in past years with deadly consequences. The attack also reinforced the message to the world that Al-Shabaab, a branch of Al-Qaeda, is alive and active despite reports that it was diminishing and on the run.
The buzz it created in the media rekindled a critical debate regarding Kenya’s presence in a country that has not seen peace since the overthrow of dictator Siad Barre in 1991.
Why should Kenya sacrifice its soldiers in Somalia, many asked. And, why don’t Kenyans walk away and leave Somalia to deal with its own internal insecurities?
Kenyan authorities do not want to discuss these questions for various reasons. One, it has to do with its own safety. Nairobi’s thinking is that Al-Shabaab must be stopped at the source, and that can only be done by weakening its attack capability and preventing militias from crossing into Kenya and causing damage.
However, this reasoning is feeble given the fact that even with troops in Somalia and along the border, terrorists have managed to penetrate the porous border into Kenya. They have done this by corrupting Kenyan security officials and colluding with evil characters hiding behind the refugee camps inside Kenya.
There is also pressure from the international community to get Africa to work its own wars. Not a single foreign nation wants to be involved militarily in Somalia, particularly since American soldiers were killed and humiliated on the streets of Mogadishu 17 years ago. Countries that have established diplomatic relations with Somalia have opened embassies not in the war-torn country but in either Nairobi or Djibouti.
For now, there is no timetable for a pull-out and Kenyan troops – which are part of the African force called AMISOM – must expect to remain in Somalia for the unforeseeable future regardless of public opinion back home.
On the other hand, if there was one dramatic AU meeting, that meeting took place this week. It aroused tremendous interest in Kenya because the country’s indefatigable Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed was on the ballot for the prestigious position of chairman.
But just as the meeting divided Africa further into linguistic and regional blocks, so did it polarize Kenyans along political and religious lines.
There were hoots and ovations from opposition supporters happy about Amina’s loss and equally, there were echoes of grief and despondency from the government side.
She was defeated by the Chadian Foreign Minister Moussa Faki Mahamat largely because Kenya’s neighbors, namely Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi, either abandoned her through abstaining or voted for Mahamat in the last crucial round of voting.
What this means is that the simmering schisms which have been brewing below the surface for years among the East African countries are now above deck. Each one of them had reasons of declining to vote for the Kenyan candidate.
Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, and Tanzania are members of the East African Community, and the events in Addis Ababa this week are likely to drive yet another wedge beyond suspicion and antagonism.
But more than anything else, Amina’s clobbering was a personal blow, and an embarrassment, to President Uhuru Kenyatta who sent lobbyists to 53 countries and spent Shs350 million of taxpayer’s money in an attempt to secure her victory.
It has also brought to a sudden halt Uhuru’s strident desire for recognition as a principal player at the AU.
Now that the Addis Ababa drama has ended Kenyan leaders can go back to the crucial problems facing the country, starting with the biting starvation hitting one third of the population, and the doctors’ strike, now in its third month.
And that is my say.
Joe Khamisi is a former journalist, diplomat and Member of Parliament. He is also the Author of ‘Politics of Betrayal:Diary of a Kenyan Legislator‘, a political memoir about the situation in Kenya between 2001, when the ruling party of President Daniel Arap Moi, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), merged with Raila Odinga’s National Development Party.
The book also narrates cases of corruption in Parliament and in the Media and records Senator Obama’s visit to Kenya in 2006. As a friend of Barack Obama Senior, the author also remembers the times and tragedies of the American-educated economist.
Joe Khamisi’s second book, a biography, ‘Dash Before Dusk’ is also now on sale.
Joe’s latest book is ‘The Wretched Africans: A Study of Rabai and Freretown Slave Settlements‘ which has recently been published and is now available to purchase.