By Jerry Okungu
November 15, 2011
When Joseph Kony and his fellow bandits went to the bush to wage a war against the NRM government in Uganda, it was a protracted destructive conflict that pitted Ugandans against Ugandans. But because Kony’s militia was not a conventional army, it became near impossible to dislodge them from Northern Uganda. Occasionally when the NRM fire power was too much, they would melt into the jungles of South Sudan where another civil war was in progress. This was the tactic that sustained the LRA against the Ugandan army for years. It was only after the SPLM reached a peace accord with the Khartoum regime and the war in the South Sudan subsided did the LRA move out when the government in Juba threw them out.
Now, as I write this article, the LRA menace is yet to be over. It is rumored that they have moved deep into the jungles of the Congo Forest, Chad and possibly the Central African Republic where they have continued to raid villages and kidnap children for soldiers. To illustrate how the LRA is still very much alive in our region, just the other day, President Obama offered to give Uganda America’s special marines to help hunt down Kony and his fellow bandits and where possible hand them over to The Hague for trial for crimes against humanity. Whether the Americans will succeed where the Ugandan army didn’t have much luck still remains to be seen.
The Americans themselves have had their fair share of fighting an unconventional army. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not meant to drag on for a decade. Here was a mighty army, the only super power left on earth going to war with militias in the rough terrains of Afghanistan. Ten years later, the American might has been tested to the limit. With its warships, drones, fighter jets and ground troops, the 200,000 plus American soldiers did not overrun militia strongholds over night, in days and even in weeks. Slowly weeks turned into months, as months turned into years. As I write this article, there is no end in sight for the American soldiers in Kabul and Kandahar.
Based on these observations, one can only hope that before Kenya decided to pursue the Al Shabaabs inside Somalia just like the Americans pursued the Al Qaida in Iraq and Afghanistan, the authorities planned for a long haul inside Somalia.
Like their ideological bedfellows, the Al Shabaabs will hit and run for a long time. They will ambush Kenyan soldiers hit them at the most unsuspected moments. They will infiltrate Kenyan territory from time to time and carry out terrorist and suicide attacks if for nothing but for publicity. The reason they will employ these tactics is because as terrorist militias, they lack the resources such as those that are available to a regular military operation.
The Al Shabaabs know that they are fighting a superior army that is also backed by many countries in the region. Whether this expressed support for Kenya from the Indian Ocean countries as well as the East African Community countries will result in military, logistical and material support is yet to be known. What is important now is that there is a lot of moral support for the Kenyan operation inside Somalia against a terrorist group that has made life unbearable for law abiding Somalis.
Kenya did not invade Somalia as a country. It went there in hot pursuit to exterminate thugs that had made Kenya a playground. These thugs had become so daring that they started kidnapping and abducting Kenyans and tourists at will. It was becoming unsafe for tourists to visit Lamu and Malindi tourist resorts. Kenyan armed forces on the border towns in the North were not spared either. More scary was the realization that even Nairobi was no longer safe as local Kenyan young people had been recruited in droves, brainwashed and returned to Kenya to carry out terrorist attacks on Kenyan soil. Such attacks had increased with alarming frequencies. It was therefore just a matter of time before the Kenya government acted. And indeed it acted with measurable success.
However if Kenya has to win the war, the security intelligence forces must refocus on terrorist cells already in Kenya. Some of these cell members may look very ordinary to the unsuspecting public. Others may be local people born and bred in our midst yet they have been converted into Islam, brainwashed and made to believe that they are fighting a holy war because 12 beautiful virgins are waiting for them in paradise should they die fighting a holy war.
Kenya should work around the clock to persuade these local insurgents to confess, denounce the Al Shabaab and get them properly debriefed and integrated into the society. If it is poverty and joblessness that made them easy targets for the Al Shabaabs then the government must work hard to find meaningful employment for the youth of Kenya.
As the military continues with operations in Somalia, the Kenyan army and the AU forces must work as a team to give support to the populations already liberated. And this is where all those countries that have supported Kenya should come in. Somalia is in dire need of schools, hospitals and food. There is no infrastructure worth talking about. The culture of gun lifestyle must be eradicated in liberated areas. Somalia needs teachers, doctors, engineers, agriculturalists and civic educators to help them start all over again. This is a task that the whole of Africa needs to be involved in.