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Al-Shabaab should be taught a lesson

Saturday June 27 2009

By KWENDO OPANGA

I argued here recently that the solution to the piracy in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia lies not offshore but in the borders. I suggested that Somalia’s neighbours should consider moving into the country to restore order.

In a separate article about the disputed island of Migingo, I wrote that today it may be Uganda laying claim to Kenyan territory, but tomorrow it could be Sudan or Somalia.

Increasingly, the world is discussing Somalia, especially since the extremist Islamist forces gained the upper hand in the fighting against the Transitional Federal Government and now look set to overrun it.

Al Shabaab are not confining their military activities and designs to the borders of Somalia; they have warned that they will attack Kenya if Nairobi masses troops on the 1,200 km-long border.

And only last week, the Islamists warned that they would blow up a bridge that links the rest of Kenya with the north as if to emphasise their earlier claim to North Eastern Province . In other words, like Siad Barre, that policeman-turned-soldier-turned-butcher president, al Shabaab are saying they believe in a greater Somalia, an expansionist dream best captured in the pointed stars of the Somalia flag.

This dream explains why Mogadishu and Addis Ababa went into a misguided war in the late ‘70s over the Ogaden region of Ethiopia and the strained relations between Nairobi and Mogadishu over Kenya’s North Eastern Province.

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Somalia is a danger to Kenya as long as all manner of ragtag armies and warlords exercise jungle law. Kenya is host to some 300,000 Somali refugees forced here by the endless fighting in the country. I need not belabour the strain this exerts on our battered economy.

Kenya’s maritime trade has been adversely affected by the piracy off the Gulf of Aden, which has become a major source of foreign exchange for the pirates but which is forcing ships to take longer routes to avoid the coast of Somalia.

In a land where lawlessness is the disorder of the day, all manner of enemies would love to use Somalia as a staging post for evil plots against Kenya. I need not belabour the point that al Qaeda would flourish in Somalia.

The threat to our security is not just posed by the possibility of al Qaeda using Somalia as a staging post against Kenya. Al Shabaab are capable of causing havoc if they are not contained. Then there are the many illegal arms that are finding their way into Kenya from Somalia.

Last, which could well be first, there is the danger posed by the kind of Islam Al Shabaab may introduce next door and seek to spread to those areas of the neighbouring countries they are laying claim to.

If Al Shabaab are going to cut off the limbs of young people caught or suspected of stealing, they may, like their Taliban counterparts, introduce other forms of Islam that would threaten the practice of the religion as Kenyans know it.

As many have argued, there may be no reason for Kenya to intervene militarily in Somalia, but how will the threat of Al Shabaab be contained?

The alternative, it appears to me, is to support the Transitional Government and that means if we are to avoid involvement, joining forces with Igad to train and equip its security forces, police our borders fiercely and do everything possible to weaken the Islamists.

Second, Kenya needs to teach Al Shabaab a lesson should they ever cross into the country.

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I had decided to share this with you two weeks before the passing of Michael Jackson. His death has not changed my mind. I like to listen to Hugh Masekela. Hear him as he talks to the BBC radio. “South Africans don’t sing love songs; they sing about the quality, the texture, of life.

“When I first listened to a gramophone at four years old, I thought there were little people living in the speakers. I wanted to join them in there and I have been living there since.

“Fela Anikulapo Kuti and I shared a passion for women only his was 100 times more intense than mine. When I last visited Kuti he was said to have 26 wives. When I asked him where they were, he replied that he had divorced all of them because they were envious of his girlfriends!”

Is it possible to divorce an artiste from his or her foibles and just concentrate on the career? If your answer is yes, celebrate the great work of brilliant Michael Jackson. Nobody commanded the stage with bewitching moves, voice, artistry and wizardry like MJ.

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