African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams

Report from Kenya #287 – July 11, 2014

Kenya at War


I was born during World War II, although I can’t remember anything about it. During my life, the United States has been almost perpetually at war and continually preparing for the next wars. In 1962-63 my uncle, who fought the “Japs” — as he called them — in the Pacific during WWII, would not visit us because my parents were hosting a Japanese foreign exchange student with whom our family still has very warm contacts. From 1961 to 1969 I had to avoid the draft which I did by going to college and then joining the Peace Corps. I was finally granted conscientious objector status and have continued to be a war tax resister the rest of my life. For two years in the mid-eighties I taught English for Wilmington College at Lebanon Prison in Ohio. Almost all my student/prisoners had fought in the Vietnam War. Today I have to take off my shoes when I go through “security” at the airport; but I was informed that when I am 75 years old I will be exempt from this.

The point is that I, like all Americans, have taken war and war-making as just a fact of existence, like the fact that I need to buy food at the store in order to eat. The war from 1948 to 1989 was called the “Cold War” but it was only “cold” in the US and Russia while the “hot part of the war” brought death and destruction to far-away countries like Vietnam and Angola. Then, although its roots were in the old “Cold War” era, in 2001 another “war,” the War on Terror began. President Bush at one time accurately called this new war a “crusade” against Muslims, before he was reprimanded and reminded that war needs obfuscation.

From 1963 to 2011, I had appreciated and supported the Kenyan government’s commitment to keep its troops at home and not invade foreign countries. This was one of the reasons for its reputation as a “peaceful nation” and one that allowed it to be a peace negotiator, particularly, for example, in the conflict between Sudan and what has become South Sudan.

Then, in October 2011, Kenya – without much discussion nor thought of the repercussions – decided to invade Somalia. The Kenyan government was blinded as were the Americans were in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, thinking that because they had superior organization and weaponry, it would easily prevail over a non-descript, poorly organized Somali “enemy” called al-Shabaab. In a certain sense, they have prevailed because they have conquered and controlled a small amount of Somali territory near the Kenyan border. War, though, is no longer about two grand armies slaughtering each other until one retreats in defeat, like the North and South at Gettysburg during the US Civil War. Today’s wars are “asymmetrical” with hit-and-run tactics on soft targets. Although, with the rise of suicide attacks, there is often only “hit” with no running.

Shortly after Kenya invaded Somalia, the Kenyans, who could not afford the cost of this military adventure themselves, joined AMISOM, the African Union Mission in Somalia, as peacekeepers. AMISOM, and therefore the Kenyan military, is mostly financed by the United States. This is the preferred method of US military projection in Africa – supporting and funding surrogate African armies. There is a tremendous financial incentive for Africans to participate. Where a common soldier might receive a monthly salary of $100 at home, those posted to Somalia receive more like $1332 per month that the UN pays its peacekeepers.

Al-Shabaab has responded to the Kenyan invasion of Somalia by conducting terrorist attacks in Kenya. The most spectacular was the Westgate Shopping Mall attack in Nairobi in September 2013 where at least 67 people died, including Juan Ortiz from Peru who had just resigned as head of AGLI’s sister organization, Change Agents for Peace International. In March of this year, our daughter-in-law’s aunt was wounded in an attack on a Christian church she was attending in Mombasa where two people were killed. The objective here was to incite Christian/Muslim conflict. This year so far 170 Kenyans have been killed in terrorist attacks and many more wounded. So far there have been on attacks in western Kenya where I live, but I think that it is only a matter of time before a soft target in western Kenya is hit.

Although there was almost no dissent when the Kenyan army invaded Somalia, there are now calls, particularly from CORD (the Coalition for Reform and Democracy) opposition, that Kenya ought to withdraw its troops from Somalia and focus on security inside the country. Reflecting the box that encloses those who are entangled in war — like George Bush’s stance in Iraq and Afghanistan — Uhuru Kenyatta has firmly stated that Kenya would not negotiate with terrorists nor withdraw from Somalia.

Both American and Kenyan governments responded to terrorist attacks with indiscriminate targeting of suspected populations. This only leads to further alienation of those populations and the enhanced ability for the “enemy” to recruit additional members; like cutting off the head of a hydra only to have two grow back. Kenya has rounded up Somali people, despite the fact that in northeast Kenya, Kenya controls a major section of what is called “Greater Somalia” with about two million Somali who are Kenyan citizens. Muslims, who are somewhere between 10% and 20% of the Kenyan population, are also targeted, particularly along the coast where they are the majority population. A number of radical imams in Mombasa have been assassinated, perhaps by government hit squads. Each attack and assassination has inflamed the situation on the Kenyan coast leading to rioting by Muslim youth and additional suppression by the Kenyan security forces. This is a downward spiral leading to chaos.

Due to terrorist attacks on the Kenyan coast and in the Somali dominated section of Nairobi called Eastleigh, the US, British, and Australian governments among others have issued travel warnings for these areas. This forced a British tour company to immediately evacuate about 400 tourists from Mombasa since they no longer had valid evacuation insurance. This was loudly condemned by the Kenyan government and population. Tourist arrivals dropped almost by 200,000 (more than 10%) from 2012 to 2013 due to the threat of terrorist attacks. Yet the Kenyan Government has bought President Kenyatta a bullet-proof/bomb-proof car and has advised the population not to watch world cup games at cafes and bars since two cafes where patrons were watching world cup soccer matches were bombed.

As any good pacifist knows, but military planners and politicians seem to ignore, war always has unintended consequences. Kenya at war has led to not only a major decline in security in the country, additional costs to the government so that other pressing needs are neglected, but also to the reluctance of investors to invest. In particular, one of the mega projects being proposed in Kenya — the road, railroad, pipeline, and new port of Lamu to northern Kenya and Uganda, South Sudan, and Ethiopia called LAPSSET (The Lamu Port Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport) Corridor project – is having financial difficulty as no one wants to put their money so close to the border with Somalia. The Kenyan shilling, which had been mostly stable for the last three years, has declined by 2% in the last few months, indicating loss of confidence by the business and financial community.

Getry Agizah, the Friends Chruch Peace Teams coordinator, and I have brought back from the US as many of the FCNL (Friends Committee on National Legislation) bumper stickers as we could to propagate its message “War Is Not the Answer.” The wars of the US have followed me to Kenya.


Leave a Reply