President Uhuru Kenyatta’s visit to the Kenya Defence Forces troops in Somalia at the weekend has rekindled debate about their continued stay in the war-ravaged country, especially in the wake of the major casualties suffered at the hands of Al-Shabaab militants.
The worst attack was at El Adde camp, where tens of soldiers were killed last year. The latest was in January at Kulbiyow.
But the principle, as amplified by the President, is that our soldiers continue to serve under the African Union mission because of the desire to exterminate the terrorists right inside and not outside their backyard to guarantee peace and security within our borders.
However, there is a question that has come up forcefully, namely, the plight of the families of the soldiers killed in the Somalia operation.
Heart-rending stories emerged at the weekend, detailing the agony and misery of the families of the departed soldiers.
Despite the sacrifices they make, the compensation from the government and the AU Mission in Somalia (Amisom) is quite modest.
Since most of them die young, their families cannot enjoy benefits such as pension.
Matters have been made worse by greedy and insensitive family members, who deprive the widows and their children of the cash.
Support systems and counselling are unavailable. So we have a scenario where the families quickly sink deeper into poverty and want as soon as they bury their loved ones, and are left without any organised support.
This is not the first time Kenya is participating in a peace mission – it has done so before, in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Namibia, among others, during which it learnt many lessons.
But every mission has its peculiarities; the Somalia one has particularly been vicious, given the number of lives lost that bring to the fore the question of the rationale for our continued engagement there.
Since the government has taken the view that the troops must stay until the enemy is vanquished, a properly structured and enhanced system is required for compensating and cushioning families whose kin are killed in battle.