Kenyan Defence Forces (KDF) are now fully engaged in a military campaign inside Somalia undertaking what they are calling operation “Linda Inchi”. While such a catchword for the military operation loosely translated in Kiswahili the protection of Kenyan sovereignty, the operation should actually be taken and even understood in a wider context to include the regional dimension of the security threats at hand.
KDF has crossed over to Somalia in a move that is meant to significantly reduce the capabilities of Al-Shabaab terrorists from posing the kind of security threats that it waged on Kenya in the last few months.
The operation means that Kenya has taken the bulls by its horns, a reaction that has been long over due. Kenya’s action to order its forces deep inside Somalia, which is a very justifiable reason given the spate of terror attacks its citizens had to endure, should also be considered on a wider regional or even continental level.
For instance, it is equally important to reflect on the kind of attacks, horror, killing, kidnappings and other related effects East Africans at large had suffered at the hands of this group known to have Al-Qaeda links. East Africans have been affected in various ways. Ugandans can be said to be one of the most affected.
Kampalans were targeted in the bombing and gruesome killings of innocent civilians as retribution for Uganda’s participation in peacekeeping operations in and around Mogadishu, an action that was taken by Uganda, purely as an African solution to an African problem.
It can be said that Uganda paid the price of taking the lead to seek practical solutions to the breakdown in security in the Horn of Africa, when it contributed a sizeable number of troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia.
To a lesser extent, the maritime disruptions along the Indian Ocean where Al-Shabaab spread terror through piracy, must have affected Rwanda in one way or another. Burundi has been threatened by the same group. Meaning that the terror activities of Al-Shabaab have affected East Africa in different ways.
While Kenya is now seen as fighting its own war, leaders of the region ought to take stock of the new kind of threats East Africa is facing especially as the integration gets underway. Security experts will tell you that, at the moment the region is moving to a level whereby such security threats cannot be seen as national but as regional matters.
It is very refreshing that an East African regional security architecture is now taking shape. A perfect example of such regional moves was the recently concluded East African command post exercise that was hosted by Rwanda. The drill, dubbed “ushirikiano imara”, brought together more than 300 officers from the EAC partner states’ armies. During the drill counter terrorism featured as a component of the initiative. The exercise was meant to improve the capabilities of EAC member states to overcome complex security challenges, mainly through military means.
While it can be said that there is political support at the highest levels, for such moves, one can as well add that leaders now need to move to the next level. Our leaders need to move beyond discussing cooperation in terms of military training, joint cooperation, technical cooperation, reciprocal visits and information exchange to getting firm commitments on joint operations on the ground.
One way of walking the talk for Africans seeking their own solutions to their own problems is through fast tracking such regional initiatives. We need to move beyond gestures of cooperation to timely and organized responses to threats facing EAC member states.
The lessons Africans have learnt while dragging their feet in the face of such problems have been very sad. While Kenya is busy fighting its war with Al-Shabaab, we cannot be sure who the next victim will be.
The author is an editor with The New Times