Kenya’s incursion into Somalia is only the latest flare-up in a two-decade long civil war that has sent millions of Somalis from their homes, and forced millions to rely entirely on international food aid for their survival. Somalia’s inability to come up with a government that can bring stability is not just a problem for the Somalis themselves; it also creates a safe haven for criminal gangs to engage in high-seas piracy, as well as a haven for small terrorist groups such as Al-Shabab to operate, and to launch terrorist attacks against Somalia’s neighbors. On July 10, 2010, Shabab took credit for a pair of suicide bombings in Kampala, Uganda, that killed 64 people.
Kenya insists that it had planned its incursion into Somalia for months, and that it coordinates its activities with the Somali transitional government in Mogadishu. But the military operation followed swiftly after a string of kidnappings of Western tourists from the coastal town of Lamu, and Spanish aid workers from the border refugee camps in Dadaab.
One British woman, Judith Tebbutt, was kidnapped and her husband murdered on Sept. 10. A French tourist, Marie Dedieu, was kidnapped from her Lamu home a month later, and subsequently died from lack of medicines. Two aid workers for Medecins Sans Frontieres were kidnapped in mid-October. MSF has largely gone silent about its ongoing effort to secure the safe release of its colleagues, noting that press comments might hinder their release.
Roger Middleton, a Horn of Africa specialist at the British think tank Chatham House, says that the Kenyan military operation puts obvious constraints on continued foreign aid operations and on efforts to secure the release of those foreigners who have been kidnapped.
“The access of international NGOs was not particularly great before the Kenyan incursion, and now it’s even less so,” says Mr. Middleton. With most foreign aid groups now out of southern Somalia, most aid work is being conducted by smaller Somali groups, funded by members of the Somali diaspora, but even these groups are finding difficulty getting clearance to bring in truckloads of food and other goods across the Kenyan border, for fear that they might be supplying Al Shabab, he says.