We still remember that the whole world was gripped by the terrible massacre of 150 students of Garissa University College in northern Kenya on April 2, 2015 by Somalia’s al-Qaeda – linked al-Shabaab gunmen.
Early this month, they attacked Kenya again and they killed 14 people who were working in a quarry in Mandela in the Northern part of Kenya.
This guerrilla movement is demanding that Kenya and Uganda must withdraw their troops from Somalia. It is remembered that Kenya sent in troops in 2011 following Uganda, “to maintain peace in Somalia”. The African Union formed the AMISOM force which included Burundi also, to maintain peace and train Somalia’s army. Peace is reported to have been restored in Mogadishu only.
Looking at the recent history, Uganda and Kenya showed their utmost magnanimity towards the people of Somalia and the country itself, when the two countries sent in their troops to bring and maintain peace and tranquility, and to train a strong Somalia army.
It was Uganda who sent in troops first and later on Kenya followed as well as Burundi.
Kenya sent troops after suffering numerous military incursions in the Northern part of the Country. There were also several bombings in the city of Mombasa and all these attacks were carried out by terrorists from Somalia. Tanzania and Rwanda which are partners in the East African Community stayed silent on the Somali problem. South Africa, with its formidable army has not come out to help end the Somali problem.
I remember there was a time when some of the Somalia political leaders set up a temporary “government in exile” in Nairobi and the Government of Kenya accommodated them very comfortably. It was, therefore, terribly shocking to see that the Somali al-Shabaab paid back by killing innocent Kenyan students of Garissa University College and they have not stopped attacking Kenya.
Following that massacre, the people of Kenya, who lost 150 students, demanded that Kenya and Uganda must now withdraw their troops from Somalia. This brings out a question – what if Kenya and Uganda pulled their troops out of Somalia?
More questions are being asked – what do we really gain by having our troops in Somalia and what do we really lose by pulling out and we leave the Somalis to sort out their own affairs after all we have helped them since the 1990s. They are not small children to be nursed by adults all the time.
Somalia and the origin of their political chaos
Somalia is found at the Horn of Africa above the Equator. The neighbouring countries are Kenya, Ethiopia and Eritrea. It shares a long border with Kenya, which touches Mandera, Garissa, Wajir and Lamu counties. In the East, is the Indian Ocean, where Somali pirates used to capture foreign cargo ships and demand huge ransoms in millions of dollars.
At the time of European colonialism, the Somalis were in two countries. There was British Somaliland in the North and Italian Somaliland in the South.
The British, as we know them, developed British Somaliland to a high level with Western education, economic development and the infrastructure. The Italians somehow neglected the area which they ruled and they left the people to bend more on Religious Fundamentalism and trade.
At the time of independence in 1960, the two countries merged and they formed the Republic of Somalia.
In 1991 a terrible tragedy befell Somalia. The army overthrew the Government of Mohammed Siad Barre and he fled into exile to West Africa where he died. The north, which was originally ruled by the British, broke away under the leadership of Mohammed Egal and declared itself the Republic of Somaliland. The capital is Hageisha, and they have not had any political problems since then. The South has had all kinds of leadership since the time of Siad Barre and at one time, they had the “technicals” which are now not heard of.
The Somalis are one ethnic entity. They do not have tribes as other African countries but they have clans. They all speak one language, Somali, and all of them belong to one religion – Islam and this unites them more than anything else. They cannot speak English or any other language when they are together. Their culture is the same and all of them dress the same. God created them in such a way that when you look at them you will straightaway see that they are Somalis.
They are masters of trade and in Nairobi they occupy the whole area called Eastleigh, where they set up a huge trading centre where one can buy whatever he / she wants.
The whole north-eastern part of Kenya, which was called the Northern Frontier District (NFD) before independence, is occupied and inhabited by the Somali people.
When Kenya achieved independence, the Somalis in the NFD fought to break away from the rest of Kenya and join Somalia. President Jomo Kenyatta fought them fiercely with the General Service Unit and completely crushed that rebellion. He used to say “bring me a Somali shifta dead or alive”.
During the rule of former President Daniel arap Moi and the governments that followed him, the Kenyan Somalis were fully integrated in the Kenyan social system everywhere and now they are referred to as “the neutral tribe”. Most of the young generation of Kenyan Somalis are now highly educated and rich. Many of them hold executive positions in the civil service and the private sector besides running different kinds of businesses.
In Uganda, the Somalis keep a low profile and they reside in the Kisenyi area of Kampala. This country has benefited quite a lot in the services of prominent Somali people who are running the petroleum industry. The most outstanding are Mendela of the City Tyres Group of Companies, who has built excellent service stations on the outskirts of Kampala and Madam Aminah Hersi Moghe the proprietor of the Hersi Oil industry and runs real estate business in Kampala. Mandela was some years back a minister in the Kabaka’s government and a member of the Buganda Lukiiiko. The other Somalis are lorry drivers who drive long trailers ferrying petroleum products from Kenya to Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan and Eastern Congo.
The Kenyans are demanding that following this massacre, the government of President Uhuru Kenyatta must pull out of Somalia all the Kenyan troops. People are demanding that Uganda must also pull out its troops from Somalia and let the Somalis sort out their problems of terrorism.
There has been so many terrorist attacks on Kenya since 1998 when the American Embassy was bombed and recently there was an attack on the Westgate Shopping Mall west of Nairobi.
In 2010, there was a terrorist attack in Kampala when bombs were thrown in Kampala, one at Lugogo when many people were watching the finals of the football World Cup and another one at Kabalagala on Gaba road.
Just recently, Ms. Kagezi who was the Deputy Director of Public Prosecution, was gunned down by the al-Shabaab, late evening when she was returning home. The al Shabaab admitted having carried out the attack and they threatened to hit targets which will hurt Uganda more. The al Shabaab are reported to have the support of Iran and some Arab countries, therefore Uganda must be on full alert.
Listening to the BBC World Service, the world heard the people of Kenya suggesting very strongly that Kenya and Uganda must pull their troops out of Somalia and station enough battalions inside Kenya at least one mile from the Kenya / Somalia border and be ready to repel any military incursions from the al Shabaab terrorists.
Judging from what has happened elsewhere in the world, Kenya and Uganda can pull their troops out of Somali, which will definitely put a stop to the al Shabaab terrorist attacks on Kenya and Uganda now and in the future. There will be no shame or losing face in this because the two countries will be saving the lives of their citizens as well as property.
I remember, in 1972, when President Richard Nixon of the United States of America, succeeded President Lyndon Bains Johnson, he pulled out all the American troops from South Vietnam when America, (inspite of all the daily bombings which America was using), failed to defeat the Viet Cong forces of Ho chi Min. The Ho chi Min trail took over the entire South Vietnam and the Capital Saigon was named Ho chi Min City.
Some years back, America pulled out of Afghanistan and Iraq. America, in the 1990s pulled out of Somalia after being terribly humiliated when bodies of dead American soldiers were tied on military trucks and pulled on the streets of Mogadishu. America had sent troops into Somalia thinking that they could quell the Somali uprising at that time.
In the early 1960s, Britain pulled its forces out of Cyprus after failing to defeat the forces of General George Grivas who was fighting to achieve independence for the Island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea. The British were surprised to see that the guerrillas of General Grivas had captured Nicosia, Limassol, Furmagusta, and Lanack all the cities in Cyprus and the best option was to pull out. After the war Archbishop Makarios who spearheaded the struggle for independence became president of Cyprus.
Britain pulled out of Kenya when the MAU MAU freedom fighters immerged victorious in the war of independence and Kenya became independent on December 12, 1963. Jomo Kenyatta the MAU MAU leader and who spearheaded the struggle for independence and was at one time described as “Jomo Kenyatta the burning spear in the flesh of Europeans”, became President.
Britain surrendered their control of the Suez Canal in Egypt on the Red Sea in 1956 when President Gamel Abdel Nasser proved a hard nut to crack.
The French pulled out of Algeria in 1964 after failing to defeat the National Liberation Front (FLN) who were being commanded by General Houerri Boumediane, who was fighting to achieve independence for Algeria. After the war, Mohammed Ben Bella, who started the war of independence, became president of Algeria.
In the 1970s the Portuguese pulled out of Mozambique and Angola after they failed to defeat the freedom fighters, who were fighting to achieve independence for those two African nations.
Finally, there is one dangerous factor which both President Museveni and President Uhuru Kenyatta must seriously guard against. The al Shabaab may apply the Bin Laden plan of recruiting young people and they let them grow in the system and society here without the knowledge of the two governments. When they seize an opportune time in future, they un-leash terrible havoc in society both in Kenya and Uganda which will be a terrible disaster as it happened at the World Trade Centre in America some years back.
Therefore, we shall not lose anything, if Kenya and Uganda pull their troops out of Somalia. We grew up being told by our parents that “prevention is better than cure”.
The writer is an elder from Kyaggwe in Mukono District