Leaders begin wars, but it is soldiers, often with no opinion of the battle or preference on who to defend, that fight and die.
A Moment of Silence
First and foremost, we would like to extend sincere condolences to the families of servicemen who have fallen while discharging their duties to protect our country from enemies both foreign and domestic on Kenyan soil and abroad. Theirs is not a bench marking tour and their sacrifice is of the highest order, playing no heed to the petty politics of race, religion or ethnic background. They fight for the Kenya we ought to be, not the Kenya we are. Their families release them to our causes and they willingly go because more than anyone else they understand why the fight is important. What we hear and see on the news they see first-hand and still they fight on for us. More often than not we do not deserve their service and yet they continue to give it. So we salute the families of our soldiers, officers and other service men and women; those serving and those who have served and will serve, those injured in service and those who we have regrettably lost in service.
We salute those who as we speak are hunting the enemy with no face and pray that God in heaven will guide the commanders and generals, colonels, lieutenants, captains as they plan to fight this war we do not fully understand back home and bring them all back home.
We salute the sacrifice, and we purpose to honor the mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters of our defenders.
A Complicated battle and a more complicated debate
The war on Terror has been waging for the better part of the last two decades. In Kenya, our first true taste of terrorism was in 1998 when the global insurgency network known as Al-Qaeda attempted to detonate an explosive device attached to a vehicle at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. I say attempted because the bombers intended to detonate the device while the vehicle was in the building’s underground parking but this was not to be as the guard on duty suspected something was not right and delayed them at the gate. Regardless, many lives were lost in the subsequent explosion.
Since then, Kenyans have found themselves debating their reaction to terrorism and it is clear that we still do not understand what or who we are fighting. What we do share is fear;A fear that the terrorists will hit us when we least expect it; A fear that our leaders don’t know how to lead our military response, nor the capacity to plan efficiently for our defense and more recently the fear that the terrorists are people we know.
Radicalization is a term that has featured more prominently in our news media over the last two years kicking up a debate of its own concerning the Government response of shutting down mosques and raiding areas they feel radicalization was taking place. We watched in horror and surprise as teenagers were loaded onto lorries and carted off to face charges of terrorism.
We’ve read in our papers of seemingly intelligent young girls traveling to Somalia to become ‘jihadi-brides’. Some make it and some go further still to Syria to join ISIL.
What we do share is fear;A fear that the terrorists will hit us when we least expect it; A fear that our leaders don’t know how to lead our military response, … fear that the terrorists are people we know.
The complicated battle is not drawn along territorial lines. We’re locked in a war against an idea. And the dangerous thing about ideas is you never know who has them.
Your neighbor might be a radicalized terrorist…worse, you might be. I will never know it as I sit and write. So even as our soldiers fight to bring peace to Somalia the battle line might be right here at home.
Does that mean we need to pull our soldiers out of Somalia to fight the might be terrorist at home? Then what happens to the battle line drawn in Somalia?
‘It’s not my country!’
That would be a rather clever response if Somalia was a country in the Balkans where acts of terror are whispers on late night news stations. But while it is next door we cannot afford to ignore it.
Position one: Pull out Now
This point of view takes into account that Kenya is not safe from internal threat, which is not too far from the truth. If a twelve year old can rob you while armed with a handful of excrement and broken grammar and no action can be taken against him, how do we expect to live in any form of security?
Acts of terror have been committed in the country with no sign that our intelligence forces can cope with the scale and spread of the plots.
‘So why not call back the army and use them locally?’
Because Kenya is not a failed state with use of a police-army. The Police service should have various branches to deal with intelligence gathering and threat neutralization. The additional argument that deploying the army in Somalia costs money is laughable at best. Not because it’s not true but because any military deployment should cost money and we should expect it as part of any deployment.
When the Migingo Island in Lake Victoria stirred up some trouble between Kenya and Ugandan diplomats, some uninformed Kenyans called for the army to be deployed as a show of force. That would have cost money. What you should be questioning is the viability of the deployment financially and how long it can be sustained.
Additionally, the human cost must be taken into account. While it is true that pulling the troops out of Somalia will heavily reduce the casualty list, there is no guarantee that a deployment of troops at home reduces the likelihood of attack and death. Remember, there are radicalized elements here at home and they will not give up easily. The fight will be bloody and a number of your constitutionally protected rights and freedoms will be thrown out of the window so that you might be saved from potential imminent death.
Some of you brush this off as mere speculation but any closer examination of the ideology will tell you that sooner or later the insurgents plan to conquer the whole world by conversion or force. The casualties will stack up here or there unless we decide to fight them either here or there.
Finally, there is the Public relations aspect our army has courted while deployed in the region. Admittedly, some reports are nothing to write home about and rather than tarnish the memory of a few good men for the deeds of even fewer men let’s agree that our servicemen and women have had a few low moments.
…any closer examination of the ideology will tell you that sooner or later the insurgents plan to conquer the whole world by conversion or force…
Some who argue for a pull out simply use this as the basis of argument; we should bring them back to save face.
I posit the following to you; What war is fought cleanly and what army has no shame? Should we then not defend the innocent on a few errors of judgement?
Position 2: Fight to the end
Those who argue from this position do agree that Kenya is not safe. However, they hold onto the idea that the threat is greater outside Kenya (Somalia) than within. The training bases have long been established in the country and radicalized youth are crossing the border to train there before returning to execute deadly plans. The defense for their position is that they may not be able to root out the ideology but by destroying or crippling the network in Somalia they will be able to de-fang the monster (to some degree if not wholly).
It would be credible and highly effective if the intelligence and security forces operational within the borders of Kenya worked effectively, which we know is not the case. Thanks to this inherent inefficiency KDF has been fighting a defeatist war against public opinion. Why fight over there if we are not safe here, right? Well, we could fix the flood then deal with the leaks later, right?
And their argument centers on that central point. The finance and other aspects must be ignored because it is the best chance to deal with the terrorism menace in the region (provided of course that the respective agents in Kenya do their part in intelligence gathering and counter-terrorism).
Personally, I would say we need to revise our plan on Somalia. But I cannot say how. A pull out might hurt our regional interests while staying could hurt or regional interests. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
So I would like to ask you to think like one of the soldiers or a family relation of a soldier currently deployed. For these families the debate is not on the news, it’s at every meal. When you count out the plates and realize you do not need one more plate because ‘dad’ is not coming home today.
When father’s day, or mother’s day begins with a sigh for the good old days.
When you need to look for an apartment on the ground floor because ‘Unko’ lost a leg in the war.
These are the people we need to have in mind as we have this debate. Them and the people they are liberating. Those who have lost all taste of war.
Stand with them and speak for them.