From the Dadaab Refugee Camp and Nairobi
Kenyan troops invaded Somalia on 16 October 2011. The official version given by Nairobi was that it began chasing al-Shabab, a powerful Somali Muslim organization which controls large parts of southern Somalia and which is allegedly linked to al-Qaeda. The Western-backed Somali government at first protested the invasion, but then changed its rhetoric and ‘agreed’ to work with the Kenyan troops.
Considering that Kenyan troops undertook a major military excursion to a neighboring country, Kenyan media showed extraordinary discipline and restraint – there has been no criticism of the action. Journalists from two major newspapers – The Nation and The Standard – have, since the beginning, been ‘embedded’ with the troops, firing zealous and patriotic dispatches. Independent media has absolutely no access to the battlefield.
There were two official reasons given for the invasion: the kidnapping of several Western tourists from the coast and the disappearance of foreign and local Medecins Sans Frontieres staff members from the refugee camp Dadaab near the border with Somalia in October.
But al-Shabab strongly denied any responsibility for the kidnapping and even some members of international organizations based at Dadaab camp (who want to remain anonymous) confirmed that there is absolutely no proof that foreign groups were involved in the kidnapping: “There are rumors that Kenyans performed the kidnapping of relief workers to justify their military action. A large military invasion is always planned long in advance, especially if performed by a poor country with bad infrastructure. Kenya invaded Somalia only few days after the alleged kidnapping of relief workers. It is simply not adding up…”
All over Nairobi there is talk that the West in general and the United States in particular are behind the invasion, but nobody is willing to go on the record. Kenyan elites are, one way or the other, linked to and dependent on US and European policy-makers: through funding, employment, ‘training’ or various travel perks. It is clear that nobody wants to risk having his or her name added to the visa blacklist.
And so there is silence. Even once outspoken voices like those of the head of the Social Democratic Party of Kenya – Mwandawiro Mghanga – are surprisingly muted these days, although Mr. Mwandawiro confirmed that: “Kenya’s open collaboration with Israel complicates matters.”
There is hardly any criticism even as the evidence is mounting that the Kenyan invasion is having a terrible effect on the civilian population in Somalia.
On October 31, 2011, BBC News Africa reported:
In a statement, MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres) said aerial bombardments in Jilib – a stronghold of al-Shabab – had hit a camp for displaced people on Sunday.
Three children, a woman and a man, were killed in the attack and another 45 people were treated for shrapnel wounds, MSF-Holland Somalia mission head Gautam Chatterjee said.
As a result of war, the dire situation in refugee camps in Kenya deteriorated even further; humanitarian crises now seem to be inevitable. There has been an outbreak of cholera in Dadaab – the largest refugee camp on earth with close to 500,000 people.
Refugee camps in Northern Kenya, mostly swollen with Somali refugees escaping sporadic fighting and insecurity in their native land, are restless, and so are Somali neighborhoods in Nairobi. Kenya is a country with a long and deep history of racially motivated violence, the worst recent example being gruesome ‘post-election violence’ in 2008 that left thousands dead. Anti-Somali feelings in Kenya are on the rise. Since the beginning of the latest conflict, threats are being uttered by government officials and by ordinary citizens. One of the employees of an international agency operating in Nairobi – US citizen of Somali origin – claims that she had been harassed on several occasions simply because of her appearance.
One of the threats pronounced, in a dark whisper, is to ‘clean up’ Eastleigh, a neighborhood predominantly inhabited by Somali immigrants and often nicknamed ‘Little Mogadishu’ (unlike refugees in the camps, immigrants in Eastleigh are ‘legal’ in Kenya – these are often people with money, many of whom managed to bribe Kenyan officials and as a result had been issued either Kenyan passports or permanent residence permits).
Naturally Dadaab remains the biggest problem, although Kakuma, in the Turkana district, which in Swahili means ‘nowhere’, is also experiencing overcrowding. While recently working there, I was repeatedly reminded by the refugees and members of international organizations about the fact that people there have already lost all their hope that one day they could go back or to be allowed to move forward. War in Somalia prevents them from returning, while Kenya does not give them opportunities to resettle on its territory, or even to travel outside the camps. There are hundreds of thousands of young men and women in the camps who never saw the mountains, meadows, ocean or a city. They were born in a camp, brought up there, and probably will never leave. Now after the Kenyan invasion and the constant linkage of the al-Shabab and Somali immigration issue, it is obvious there will be no improvement for the refugees in any foreseeable future.
In the last two weeks, international news agencies carried reports that Ethiopia, another staunch Western ally, sent troops to Somalia to back the Kenyan invasion there. The last time Ethiopia invaded Somalia, there was bloodshed and increased support for al-Shabab.
After the invasion, Prime Minister Raila Odinga visited Israel, which offered to help Kenya to secure its borders. It was reported by the BBC that, Kenya got the backing of Israel to "rid its territory of fundamentalist elements" during Prime Minister Raila Odinga's visit to the country.
Israel has been regularly playing a destabilizing role in East Africa, particularly in Uganda but in other countries as well.
The tactics Kenya began employing against the Somali minority and against its own population became outrageous: thousands of families in Nairobi – both Kenyan and Somali – fell victims of what officials often describe as the Kenyan war on terror. In the last days and weeks, police and army — who are accompanying heavy equipment that consists of excavators and bulldozers — had invaded slums and absolutely legal multi-story buildings.
At night, people, crying and screaming, are dragged from their dwellings, often in the rain. Workers then begin immediate demolition of their houses, making homeless even those who still did not finish paying their mortgages.
The official explanation? The houses, slums and apartment buildings are on the approach path of military planes. Nairobi has three major airports (including Moe Air Force Base) and given the fact that planes could approach from two directions, the government insists it has the right to destroy dwellings of tens of thousands of people.
Visiting one of the demolition sites in Eastley, I was told by Gilbert, a former resident: “There is no discussion and no negotiation. That’s how it is in Kenya. They call it democracy but in fact the government can come and throw us to the street and if we protest, they just shoot to kill.” As he spoke, the police and army were making their presence felt, holding machineguns while their germen shepherd dogs were struggling on their leashes.
Whatever is the truth behind the adventure in Somalia, Kenya appears to be playing an extremely dangerous game, endangering millions of lives for the benefit of the few members of its elite.
ANDRE VLTCHEK (http://andrevltchek.weebly.com/ ), writer, filmmaker, investigative journalist. His latest non-fiction book Oceania (http://www.amazon.com/Oceania-André-Vltchek/dp/1409298035) is showing the impact of Western neo-colonialism on tiny island nations in South Pacific. He is presently working on documentary film on Rwanda and Congo/DRC and on 1.000 pages political novel “Winter Journey”. Andre can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.