President Uhuru Kenyatta on Wednesday led his Nigerian and Somali counterparts in paying tribute to KDF soldiers who were killed in Somalia during a memorial service attended by friends and relatives of the fallen heroes.
The President said Kenyan troops would not withdraw from their peace-keeping mission in Somalia any time soon despite the recent attack at a Kenya Defence Forces’ camp in El-Adde which left tens of soldiers dead.
Speaking at an inter-denominational service at Eldoret’s Moi Barracks in honour of the fallen soldiers and survivors, the President — who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces — vowed that the fallen soldiers’ blood would not be shed in vain.
“We will make sure every single one of those cowards who murdered them will be hunted down and brought to justice, for our soldiers’ blood will not be shed in vain,” President Kenyatta said during the solemn service also attended by Presidents Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria and Hassan Sheikh Mohamud of Somalia and Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto, Cabinet secretaries and the military top brass, led by the Chief of Defence Forces, Gen Samson Mwathethe.
Moi Barracks is the home of the ninth Kenya Rifles, where most of the soldiers killed in the attack came from. The others were from the Gilgil barracks.
President Kenyatta described calls for Kenyan troops to withdraw from Somalia as “failed courage” and vowed to soldier on in the peace-keeping mission with the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom).
“With our other allies in Amisom, we will continue in Somalia to fulfil our mission.
“Some whose courage has failed them want us to give up the mission now. They want us to retreat, to leave the field to the enemy in the hope that the enemy will leave us alone. They have forgotten one thing, and that is the enemy has made it clear that he will not leave us alone and that he will follow us home. And they have forgotten that as good neighbours, we cannot leave the people of Somalia also to the tender mercies or murderous terrorists,” said Mr Kenyatta.
He said the people of Somalia stood with Kenya in the mission.
“This is not the time to waver or to listen to the voices of defeat and despair. This is the time for the people and the government of Somalia to choose peace and progress over violence, hatred and stagnation,” he noted.
Presidents Buhari and Mohamud expressed their support for the KDF soldiers.
“Our efforts to collaboratively tackle terrorism is our sacred duty as leaders, politicians, compatriots and in whatever position we find ourselves in, to ensure that the blood of these fallen patriots was not shed in vain,” said President Buhari, a former Nigerian Army major general.
Like his host, the Nigerian leader said terrorists must be smoked out and defeated.
“We must take the battle to the terrorists, whoever they are and wherever they are,” he said. “This requires commitment, sacrifice, resources, collaboration and, above all, a realisation that no country is immune to these terrorists who don’t respect nations and boundaries, race, colour, religion or creed.”
President Mohamud thanked Kenya for its support in pursuit of peace in Somalia, and moved the audience to tears when he narrated how another Al-Shabaab attack on a beach in Mogadishu took the lives of innocent people including a mother and a breast-feeding baby.
“Somalia will ever remain indebted to Kenya for the great kindness and humility you have shown to my people. The evil forces we are fighting together are enemies of humanity,” he said. “We will definitely defeat them since we defeated them in the past and we will win the war.”
President Mohamud, who landed at the Eldoret airport at 11:10am, just 10 minutes after Mr Ruto’s arrival at the busy airport, briefly held talks with members of the Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Foreign Relations before meeting potential investors at Eldoret’s Boma Inn hotel.
At the Moi Barracks, security was tight, with journalists asked to assemble at the Sirikwa Hotel in Eldoret at 11am before being driven to the barracks, about 25 kilometres away, by uniformed soldiers.
With the government yet to reveal the number of casualties from the January 15 attack, at the barracks’ main gate, some are being honoured already with a plaque erected bearing the names of the fallen heroes attached to Eldoret’s 9th Kenya Rifles.
Guests, religious leaders, relatives and friends of the soldiers all underwent thorough body searches and security checks at the main gate before being allowed in for the service.
And once inside the barracks, journalists were not allowed to access the survivors of the Al-Shabaab attack.
Kenya Defence Forces flags were flown at half-mast all around the barracks with Kenyan, Nigerian and Somali national flags at full mast.
President Kenyatta’s speech was full of encouragement to the Kenyan soldiers and sympathy for the families who had lost their loved ones.
“To our brave men and women in uniform, to all our countrymen, we stand shoulder to shoulder until the enemy is defeated,” he said.
“We must all admit that these are very trying times. The men who fell served in difficult circumstances, far from their homes, all to keep us safe.
“During the El-Adde attack, when the enemy attacked, they fought with great bravery to defend their camp, protect each other and defeat an enemy in a foreign land that threatens all of us here at home.
“Regrettably, many paid the ultimate price, and this is heart-breaking. As a parent and also as their commander-in-chief, my heart once again goes out to them and their families and loved ones.”
He described the war against terror as a “global war” and expressed solidarity with Nigeria, which has also borne the brunt of terrorist attacks from Boko Haram.
“We are fighting a global war that requires a global response. We are not alone. President Buhari and Nigeria are no strangers to the enemy we face. Like us, Nigeria has had to comfort victims of terror and families of soldiers who paid the ultimate price,” he said.