GAITHO: If the head of the snake is here, why go to Somalia? - Daily Nation

If the head of the snake is right here in Eastleigh, why did we go to Somalia?

Monday October 24 2011

By MACHARIA GAITHO

To kill a snake, goes the popular truism, you cut off its head. Perhaps, then, somebody should explain why Kenyan soldiers are pursuing Al-Shabaab militants deep inside Somalia instead of taking out the nexus right here at home.

Internal security assistant minister Joshua Orwa Ojodeh told Parliament last week that the extremist group has its head in Nairobi’s Eastleigh suburb and its tail across the border in lawless Somalia.

Why, pray, did our military start the campaign against this dastardly snake by aiming for the tail instead of the head?

These are just some of the many questions that beg answers as the Kenya Defence Forces push into an area of Somalia hitherto controlled by Al-Shabaab goes into its tenth day.

While our brave men and women venture into dangerous territory in the effort to wipe out a demented bunch that poses grave threats to our national security, they might be on a misplaced mission, for the proper target, the head of the snake, is right here in our midst.

That was the import of the statement, delivered in Parliament — and not at some roadside baraza — with all the bravado only Mr Ojodeh can muster.

That was the kind of statement that might have some of us considering whether we are coming out in support of some misplaced military campaign, a dumb war as President Barack Obama so memorably put it on the US invasion of Iraq.

Mr Ojodeh promised that the security agencies would duly turn their attentions to Al-Shabaab cells in Kenya, but the only conclusion might be that some priorities were put upside down.

Why should we start by chasing the tail in Somalia when the head is right here in Kenya? Aren’t we in the process giving the head ample warning to take cover; also the time to plot some deadly retaliation on innocent Kenyans?

If it is true that the Al-Shabaab leadership and its command and control centres are in Kenya as suggested by Mr Ojodeh, then there is reason to be very afraid that those in charge of our national security should be so dumb.

But then it may be comforting that Mr Ojodeh is a mere politician who may have ‘misspoken’ while inflated with the usual hubris.

All the same, his statements give us pause to ask a few questions. The Kenyan people have largely united behind the brave and unprecedented campaign to take out Al-Shabaab right in its strongholds.

Kenyans have experienced the dangers and horrors of mindless fanaticism and generally, save for a few hotheads, will unite against any terrorist threat.

Many Kenyan chests have swelled with pride at the military push into Somalia, and even the media has on the whole backed the effort.

At a personal level, I would ask that no quarter be spared in the fight to eliminate all terrorist threats. There can be no apologies to make for waging war against bloodthirsty elements driven by a warped fanaticism to spread terror for the sake of terror.

That does not mean, however, that some serious questions cannot be asked.

A pledge by the military to hold daily press briefings on the progress in the battlefield was not honoured. Updates sent out by e-mail are no substitute to a press briefing hosted by a General, who can authoritatively answer questions on the state of the campaign, casualties, successes and setbacks, potential threats, and so on.

An e-mail also cannot field questions on key policy, operational and strategic issues such as the aims and objectives of the campaign, expected duration, long-term impact on the security and political fronts, the Somali political and clan equation, and so many other issues.

While the media continues to faithfully regurgitate the Department of Defence statements, I can bet my eye teeth that a frustration is creeping in.

No self-respecting journalist wants to be reduced to nothing but a conduit for propaganda.

That is why it will become critically important to develop independent sources of information, including sending journalists to the battlefields and also giving the military statements no more weight than might be given Al-Shabaab statements.