As the Kenya Defence Forces marks five years in Somalia, experts are still divided over whether Kenya should withdraw its forces.
According to Dr Ochieng’ Kamudhayi, a security and conflict expert, the military has no choice but to leave Somalia.
“We have had several windows for withdrawal. One window would have been after the El Adde attack though that would have looked bad on Kenya as it would have been seen as giving in to the terrorists. "But right now they have to find a way to exit,” Dr Kamudhayi told Sunday Nation.
According to the expert, there are two options: the first is to use the maritime boundary case before the International Court of Justice in which Somalia wants the maritime boundary with Kenya redrawn as a pretext for a withdrawal.
The second is to shift the bases the soldiers occupy and use that to quietly withdraw.
“It seems we never had an exit strategy. Perhaps they thought they would just go into Somalia and vanquish the Al-Shabaab easily then come back,” he said.
Yet another security expert, Mr Simiyu Werunga, takes a different view and argues that there are a number of considerations that Kenya has to make before withdrawing.
“From the moment Kenya re-hatted to Amisom, they lost that opportunity to unilaterally make decisions without reference to the African Union, the United Nations and regional neighbours,” said Mr Werunga.
A unilateral decision to withdraw, according to Mr Werunga, would have geopolitical implications.
“If Kenya withdraws, that will have a serious challenge for it to project its power and leadership in the region at a time there is a lot of competition with our neighbours. It can be seen as a sign of cowardice before the enemy is defeated. Even the political opposition in the country knows that,” he said.
Security analyst Major (rtd) Bashir Abdullaih of Vickers Security argues that the debate on withdrawal should now be “robust”.
“The exit strategy needs to be in place. But it is wise to talk about it when nothing is happening not soon after terrorist attacks because that will be seen to be giving in to the terrorists,” the retired officer said.
TIME TO RETURN
The calls for the military to leave Somalia started in 2014 following terrorist attacks on Kenyan soil with the opposition Cord and civil society groups leading it.
“We agreed with retired President Mwai Kibaki to send our forces there because the terror group had become the biggest threat to our internal security. We commend our forces for the good work in destroying the terror group.
"But as far as we are concerned they have no business being there anymore,” Cord leader Raila Odinga had said in 2014 while addressing a public rally in Eastleigh, Nairobi.
The calls peaked after the Garissa University College attacks in April last year in which Al-Shabaab killed about 142 people.
Even though the talk of withdrawal has subsided, President Uhuru Kenyatta in May threatened to pull out Kenyan forces from Somalia.
Addressing envoys from the UN Security Council, the President told the diplomats that the hole left by funding Amisom would not be filled by participating countries.
“As one of Amisom’s major troop contributing countries, Kenya is questioning whether it was worth the huge cost. [President] Kenyatta asserted that Amisom was not getting the support it needed in terms of resources and equipment, and argued that the UN needed to take on a much greater role,” the UN Security Council Report, an online bulletin by the Council, stated.
Four months after President Kenyatta issued the threats, the European Union in September disbursed €178 million (Sh20.114 billion) to Amisom which appears to have calmed the threats.