Kenya is attempting to address key border issues with Somalia after al-Shabaab’s mass raid attack at El Adde this past January.
This week, Kenyan Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery reached a cooperation agreement in Nairobi with a group of Marehan clan members, including ex-Somali prime ministers Abdi Farah Shirdon and Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed.
The agreement stated in very broad terms how the Marehan community can help to counter terrorism in Gedo region and on the Kenya-Somalia border. It also appealed to the Kenyan government and others to contribute to peacebuilding and development programs in Gedo.
According to Kenyan media outlet NTV, the conference was convened because there has been speculation that the strained relationship between the two parties contributed to al-Shabaab’s ability to penetrate the Kenyan military’s base in El Adde.
Nkaissery cited several reason for the broken relationship between Kenya and the Marehan clan (via Daily Nation):
For a long time, he said, the locals have…been resisting KDF operations based on clan rivalry between the Marehan and the Ogaden.
Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery on Sunday said the initiative was adopted owing to poor flow of information, especially intelligence, that has hindered Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) operations along the Kenya-Somalia border and in their areas.
Mr. Nkaissery also said that the construction of the border wall would continue but assured Somalis that it will be purely to check incursion of the Al-Shabaab terrorists and not to restrict the residents’ movements.
While clan rivalry is a factor in the region’s conflict, it is hard to ignore Kenya’s indiscriminate bombings that often harm civilians in Gedo region as an issue that needs to be publicly addressed to respect and regain the confidence of local communities.
The agreement gave a nod to the recent reconciliation meeting between the Interim Jubba Administration (IJA) and the Marehan. But that deal already may be unraveling as the IJA is suspected to be seeking more administrative changes without full coordination and transparency of local leaders, apparently causing militias to build up.
In addition, Kenya has its own share of work to do — such as conducting more civic projects outside of Kismayo — to improve its standing with locals in the entirety of the Jubba region.
The communique also established a “council of elders” to act as “custodians of (traditional customary law)”. Several other points highlighted the critical role that elders play in promoting peace along the border and among communities in the Jubba region.
But, the description of elders as peacemakers is no different from how they function in everyday life, so it is unclear why these points are included in the agreement. Instead, it probably would be more pertinent to include actual details on how the relationship between Kenya and broader members of the Jubba community (going beyond elders) can be enhanced to prevent civilian casualties.
Lastly, Nkaissery dedicated part of his speech to an issue that would make Donald Trump proud — that Kenya still plans to build a huge wall between the two countries for security purposes (at the 1:08 mark):
Similar to Donald Trump’s declaration on the U.S. border with Mexico, nobody really knows how much the Kenya-Somalia border project costs, how it is being funded, or when it will be completed, as NTV points out.
Like Mexico, Somalia probably will not be paying for it (financially, at least.)
The ambiguity of the conference’s outcomes means that it is hard to tell if this is a public relations opportunity or a tangible sign of progress. If the deal is genuine, there should be less incidents where the Kenyan military is blamed for arresting Somali officials or errant air strikes.
Regardless of what happens in the short-term, the conference shows that Kenya is willing to acknowledge areas where it can improve its intervention in Somalia.