Operation Linda Nchi (“Protect the Country”) is an ongoing coordinated military operation between the Kenyan military and the Somalian military that began on 16 October, 2011, when troops from Kenya crossed the border into the conflict zones of southern Somalia. The soldiers were in pursuit of al-Shabaab militants alleged to have kidnapped several foreign tourists and aid workers inside Kenya. According to the Ethiopian foreign minister, the operation represented one of the final stages in the Islamist insurgency of the Somali Civil War. This is the official reason why the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) are in Somalia, but is there another agenda?
I was speaking to one of my contacts here in Mogadishu, and he believes that there is a different agenda behind why the Kenya Defence Forces are present in the country. It should come as no great shock to learn it’s really about natural resources. Sounds familiar, right? There is a dispute between the Kenyan government and Somalian government about a piece of ocean territory that stretches for more than 100,000 sq. km. Tests have shown potential reserves of gas in the area. The dispute has been going on for the last six years, keeping investors away because of a lack of legal clarity regarding who owns the potential off-shore oil and gas reserves.
If we look at where the KDF are operating in Somalia, their main forces are in Kismayo, the second largest port town located near the disputed area. They do not operate farther inland, as this would raise questions about what they are really doing there. The Kenya Defence Forces first arrived in Somalia in 2011, not as part of AMISOM, but on their own with their own objectives. Only later on did they become a part of AMISOM, and many here believe it’s because they could not afford to fund their campaign in Somalia otherwise. By joining AMISOM, they receive funding to continue doing what they came here for.
A local source in Kismayo informed me of a deal between the KDF and the Jubaland government pertaining to the charcoal business. Apparently, high-ranking officials inside the Kenya Defence Forces have deals with local businessmen in the charcoal industry, and are selling this product and making millions. This would shed some light on why Kenya gets attacked by al-Shabaab; al-Shabaab used to run the charcoal industry down here, but lost control of it to the KDF. As if to rub salt in their wounds, the Kenyans are selling it and making good money from it. The KDF also provide security to the local port, which gives them room to handle their shady business without interruption.
What makes this problem worse is that the KDF were put in this location to stop the illegal trade in the area. On top of this, the Jubaland government and the government of Somalia have a fragile relationship, so putting a stop to this will be even more difficult. The Jubaland government will inevitably side with the KDF, as they are making more than a little money from this arrangement.
Going back to the initial invasion of Kismayo, the Kenya Defence Forces used a local Islamic group called Ras Kamboni to help them take the town. This group used to be aligned with al-Shabaab. Their clan leader, Ahemd Madobe, was a former Islamic Courts Union member also believed to have ties to al-Shabaab. He was wounded in a U.S. airstrike only to later get captured by Ethiopian forces. Then, he pops back on the scene as the leader of Ras Kamboni, eager to assist the KDF in taking the town of Kismayo. Now, first of all, why did the Ethiopians let him go, and then why did the KDF ally with this man given his background and ties? Fast forward to present day: He is now the president of Jubaland. Sounds like funny business to me.
Also according to my source, Madobe took this position by force. I wonder if he did this to get into bed with the Kenya Defence Forces. I also wonder if the KDF placed him in this position so they could carry out their operation. From where I am sitting, it all seems kind of suspicious. At this moment, I am unable to get a response from the KDF about this.
I have one more theory on this subject: There has long been a bad relationship between Ethiopia and Somalia, largely because Ethiopia invaded in 2006 to oust the Islamic Courts Union that was ruling the country at that time. Some people say that the U.S. government pushed Ethiopia into doing this. The people I have spoken with here tell me that the most peaceful time in the last 20 years was during the time of the Islamic Courts Union’s rule. When Ethiopia dismantled their government and pushed them out, they plunged Somalia back into chaos. Some people here believe that was the agenda, that the main goal was to destabilize Somalia. But there has long been a feud between the two countries, which can be traced back to when Somalia was the top dog in Africa. Somalia used to ransack Ethiopia back in the 18th century. Let’s not forget that Somalia invaded Ethiopia back in 1970, and was only stopped by the U.S. and Russia. As you can see, there is an abundance of hatred between the two nations.
So what does this have to do with the KDF, as both Kenya and Ethiopia are a part of AMISOM and both have boots on the ground in Somalia? The Ethiopians had captured Ahmed Madobe, the leader of Ras Kamboni, which was aligned with the Islamic Courts Union. Why would the Ethiopian forces let go of someone who only a few years before had been their enemy? Sure, they undoubtedly got plenty of information out of him, but why keep him around? What if they kept him because they knew that one day they could use him and put him into play? I think Kenya and Ethiopia are working hand-in-hand, and there was a deal struck between the two to let Madobe live.
No matter how much Kenya may deny it, they have their own agenda here in Somalia. As long as they can keep the south in chaos, the oil and gas companies will stay out, and that will mean less money for Somalia and no development in the south. This is why the Kenya Defence Forces use Ras Kamboni—a militia group that was once linked to al-Shabaab—to continue creating instability in the region. They could easily be mistaken for al-Shabaab members. But now that the head of this militia group, Ahmed Madobe, is the Jubaland governor, I would be very worried as to where his loyalties lie. First it’s the Islamic Courts Union, then links to al-Shabaab, then working for the Kenya Defence Forces. Is he really going to be the best option for the south of the country where al-Shabaab remains at its strongest? I don’t think so. This spells trouble in the future for Somalia. If they truly want to regain the south, taking this man out of power is the first step on a long road of troubles. The next step is to pull the Kenya Defence Forces out of that area and disband Ras Kamboni. Will this happen? Not anytime soon. There are too many people making money from it.
“This biggest problem here in this beautiful place is the corruption.”
Now am I saying that all Kenyan troops are bad? Not at all. Let’s not forget about the boys on the ground—the guys doing the fighting. They won’t see the money or secret deals; they are just grunts like me and you. We never get the full picture; we get orders, we do them, and that’s that. We aren’t involved in politics or shady deals going on in the chain of command. They did a great job down there and continue to risk their lives every day for that. I tip my hat to them. It’s not their war, but they are in it and they are doing their job.
(Featured image courtesy of allafrica.com)