News 2008


Why the instability in Somalia should be concern for Kenya

Letters - Daily Nation


10. March 2008

Last week’s US military strikes on a Somalia town close to the Kenya border have worked to once again spotlight how hardships in Somalia continue to affect Kenya.

Throughout the 16 years that Somalia has been without an effective government, Kenya has had to establish new security guidelines for its neighbour and the border that separates them.

Somalia could be harbouring terrorists, and that worries Kenya. When the Islamic Courts Union was ousted from power, security concerns in Kenya continued as thousands of refugees streamed across the two countries’ border for sanctuary in Kenya.

Open warfare in Somalia eased briefly, but then radicals began insurgency that soon created bloody skirmishes in many parts of Mogadishu. Snipers shot from rooftops, car bombs were detonated and public places were blasted — all in an effort to keep Somalia unstable.

Since early 2007, the Somalia government and its Ethiopian allies have been targets of almost daily attacks by Islamist radicals.

Somalia recently heated up again, as insurgents created serious turmoil trying to recapture Mogadishu. Thousands more Somalis fled the city, many of them heading for the Kenyan border. The increased fighting also killed a Kenyan policeman in Mandera, the third Kenyan police officer killed in such circumstances this year.

The incessant fighting has led to a humanitarian catastrophe. The radical-inspired insurgency has displaced at least 90,000 residents, adding to the exodus of 400,000 inhabitants in earlier fighting.

Gunfire continues to ring out in many parts of the capital, and in one episode, a child was killed in a shootout with radical militia.

Police said the radicals were trying to catch eight aid agency workers who had refused to pay them protection money.

Even though thousands of Somalis are fleeing Mogadishu, they are finding life harder and more painful elsewhere. One woman tried desperately to hold onto the security of her Mogadishu home for herself and her family despite the daily gun battles.

She abandoned hope, however, when a mortar shell killed three people in a nearby house. She packed a few belongings and fled with her six children. They are now with about 500 other families in a camp for displaced people in Elasha, 20km south of Mogadishu.

Many refugees have erected makeshift shelters on the road. Most people agree that life in the camps is hard, but returning to Mogadishu is not an option. Some refugees see their biggest problem as getting water in the camps. Hundreds of women wait with their jerrycans for local charities to deliver water in tankers. Many days they head back to their shelters without a drop.

In another incident, about 40 people — mostly Somalis — drowned while crossing the Gulf of Aden trying to flee to Yemen. Nearly 90 others survived and managed to reach Yemeni southern shores of Shokara after their rickety vessels capsized.

The UNHCR has reported that at least 439 migrants have died while attempting to cross the Gulf of Aden in 2007, and another 490 are missing.

Also in 2007, more than 10,000 Somalis reportedly arrived in Yemen by boat.

Meanwhile, despite the need to help people in desperate circumstances, Kenya keeps its security antennae raised high. Kenya closed its border with Somalia in January to prevent extremists from crossing, but humanitarian considerations forced it to accept thousands of homeless refugees.

Observers agree that humanitarian issues must be faced, but so must security matters. The choice is difficult, but protecting one’s country is imperative.