Kenya’s Contrasting Responses to Border Conflict with Ethiopia and Somalia

Last Friday, Ethiopian forces killed three Kenyan police officers and a village chief during a cross-border attack in pursuit of Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) rebels.

Kenya’s Daily Nation noted Ethiopian forces have carried out at least five often deadly incursions into the country just in the last eight months. Ethiopians have not been shy in killing Kenyan civilians and officials, as well as disarming Kenyan police reservists on Kenyan territory.

According to Standard newspaper, Ethiopia believes Kenyan villages are harboring Ethiopian rebels, which may in part motivate Ethiopia’s aggressive response.

Some may argue Ethiopia’s actions have less impact on insecurity in Kenya compared to al-Shabaab — though a bit strangely — both have been responsible for the death of Kenyan officials and civilians in operations.

However, Kenyan troops have had to deploy to the site of Ethiopia’s incursions, possibly overstretching the army in efforts to prevent al-Shabaab from entering the border in other areas, including the Boni Forest (822 km from Sololo) where security fores recently carried out anti-Shabaab clearance operations.

Will the lack of cooperation between Ethiopia and Kenya on basic issues between its own borders impact how the two countries cooperate in AMISOM? There may not be an impact since Ethiopia and Kenya were able to successfully liberate Baardheere from al-Shabaab in July. Still, it begs the question: if both countries can plan joint military operations against al-Shabaab, why can’t they cooperate on their common border?

Kenya’s Contrasting Response 

Ethiopia has taken a much more violent response to border-related disputes with Kenya compared to Somalia. But interestingly, Kenyan officials have taken a much more antagonistic attitude toward Somalia, indicating a fear of critiquing regional powerhouse Ethiopia.

Somali Defence Minister at Kenyan border, mid-Nov. 2015

Somali Defence Minister at Kenyan border, mid-Nov. 2015

In recent years, Somalia has used parliamentary and international legal procedures to stake claims on its maritime border with Kenya, as both parties await to see if the International Court of Justice will adjudicate the case. Earlier this month, when Somali elders accused Kenya of building a border fence in Somali territory, the Somali government sent a fact-finding mission to investigate, eventually finding no merit in the claims.

While many media outlets call still call Somalia a “failed state”, it is utilizing legal mechanisms to resolve serious conflict with Kenya, unlike development darling Ethiopia, whose controversial land use and security policies largely have not affected its international standing.

A recent Kenyan editorialist, without any self-reflection, criticized Somalia as a being corrupt, khat-addicted, and composed of makeshift governments, and hinted Somalia should abandon its maritime border case because Kenyan troops were fighting al-Shabaab.

The author conveniently did not mention that Kenya’s biggest current crisis — aside from insecurity — is corruption, that Kenyan farmers profit from khaat exports to Somalia (especially since the UK ban), and Kenya’s previous government was itself a makeshift composition after 2007-08 post-election violence.

Contrastingly, Ethiopia’s actions — whether it is the consistent and deadly cross-border attacks, co-opting Kenyan police as spies, or preventing Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s plane from flying through its airspace — have failed to draw any such level of criticism.

lion mouseLike Somali cartoonist Amin Amir pointed out, Kenya probably feels fearless when responding to issues with the Somali government but will balk at confronting Addis Ababa.

If Kenya has any ambitions of overtaking Ethiopia as east African hegemon, it could begin by standing in front of a fun house mirror before its engagement with Addis Ababa.

Categories: Ethiopia, Kenya

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