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Facing Al Shabab attacks, some Kenyans call for Somalia withdrawal

The Kenyan government is committed to keeping troops in lawless Somalia. But opposition parties want troops to come home soon, arguing the extended deployment in Somalia has brought terrorism to Kenya.

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In this 2011 file photo, hundreds of newly trained al-Shabab fighters perform military exercises in the Lafofe area about 0 miles south of Mogadishu, in Somalia.

Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP/File

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Amid a high-profile and unprecedented government crackdown here that is widely seen as targeting Somali refugees and Muslims, leading Kenyan opposition parties are calling for the withdrawal of the country's troops from Somalia where they have been since 2011. 

The call comes in the wake of twin bombings in the cities of Nairobi and Mombasa on May 4 and 5 that security officials here blame on Al Shabab, the Somali-based militant group that attacked the upscale Westgate shopping mall here last September.

In the past month, Kenyan security forces have arrested more than 4,000 youth in sweeps in Nairobi's Eastleigh or "Little Mogadishu" neighborhood alone, and have cracked down on mosques and conducted emergency raids around the country looking for foreigners without visas. 

Recent blasts in Kenya targeted public transport, with two buses blown- up Sunday along the newly Chinese constructed Thika Super Highway. The evening blasts left three people dead and more than 80 injured. Blasts on Saturday night hit a bus terminal and a hotel in Mombasa, the coastal city.

The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), Kenya’s main opposition, argues that the human cost of the attacks is too high and the Kenyan component of the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) should return to concentrate on protecting Kenya's borders. Similar calls to withdraw came from the United Republican Party (URP) today.

However Kenyan officials including Vice President William Ruto laughed off the calls to withdraw and said that is what extremists want. Mr. Ruto said that Kenyan forces had damaged Al Shabab inside Somalia and also in Kenya -- and said terrorist attacks on Kenyan "soft targets" were acts of "desperation." 

Anyang Nyong’o, acting leader of the ODM, demanded the government unveil a road map for withdrawal. ODM has clout and influence and is linked to former Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

According to Mr. Nyong’o, any Kenyan military exit plan should include the training of Somali forces to help police groups like Al Shabab from inside Somalia, one of the world's least stable states. 

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 “It is our position that as country, Kenya has done its bit in Somalia and we have suffered enough for it,” said Nyong’o in a press statement.

According to Nyong’o, the Kenyan deployment in Somalia is taking place with little realization among ordinary Kenyans about the full costs involved, extending to the human cost of Kenyan families "losing bread winners.”

Somalia temporarily recalled its ambassador to Kenya after a Somali official was arrested and detained in a police station in Nairobi as part of the on-going crackdown on illegal migrants in Eastleigh following the Al Shabab attacks. 

“There (is) no cordial relationship between the two countries ...I don't see why the forces should stay in the country in the name of keeping peace,” said the ambassador, Mohammed Ali Nur. 

The longer the force stays in Somalia, the more it is seen as an occupying force, warns Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad, a Nairobi-based Horn of Africa specialist.

“That will surely continue to trigger more attacks in Kenya. I think they need to come back and Kenya (needs to start) thinking of other measures to protect her citizens. It could think of fencing the Kenya-Somali border,” he says.

Mr. Ruto said today that Kenya, "will not relent and we will not withdraw until Somalia has a stable government. We will face them, confront them, deal with them and defeat them.”


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