Hegemonic Agenda In The Horn Of Africa – OpEd


By Abdi Dirshe

‘For all students of human society, sympathy with the victims of historical processes and skepticism about the victor’s claims provide essential safeguards against being taken in by the dominant mythology.’ -Barrington Moore

With much bravado and arrogance, Kenya declared invasion of Somalia on October 18, 2011 in what it justifies as ‘a hot pursuit of al-Shabaab’. Several kidnappings of foreign tourists and several other shootings along the Kenyan border with Somalia presumably by al-Shabab led to the decision to engage full military invasion of Somalia to ‘inflict trauma’ on al-Shabab, according to the Kenyan authorities. Kenya invokes Article 51 of the UN Charter, which allows all countries to defend themselves against an armed attack by another state. In this perspective, Kenya’s claim of pursuing a terrorist group contradicts the letter and the spirit of Article 51.

Kenya is not attacked by Somalia, so Article 51 can’t be applied in this situation as confirmed by the International Court of Justice 2005 Advisory Opinion in the DRC v. Uganda Case (Democratic Republic of Congo V. Uganda, 2005 ICJ (Dec. 19)). Al-Shabab is erroneously used as a legitimating factor for the invasion of Somalia without any legal basis. In this view, Kenyan leadership could be charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity as a result of civilian deaths caused by Kenyan military invasion. Moreover, this action underscores the rapidly deteriorating international approach of the Somali conflict and the intricate political choices Somalis have to make.

In this context, the presence of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) represents the collective choice of the African Union, EU, US, and the UN with regards to the political crisis in Somalia and the war against al-Shabab. Similarly, the Somali people have a shared resolve to defeat al-Shabab but in the face of the Kenyan aggression against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Somalia, all bets are off and we may see renewed support for al-Shabab as happened during the Ethiopian invasion in 2006. However, it is pertinent to point out that the Kenyan invasion is ill timed as it takes place while al-Shabab’s leadership is in disarray as they had suffered a deeply humiliating defeat in Mogadishu in the hands of the African Union and Somali forces. The tide against al-Shabab is significantly tied to the vast public support in Somalia for the defeat and elimination of al-Shabab for its violence against the civilian populations.

Moreover, since the collapse of the central State of Somalia in 1991, the Somali community in Kenya has been growing significantly and many Somalis have established their businesses there, bringing a relatively cordial relationship between the Kenyan and Somali people. For the political class of Kenya to claim that they are invading Somalia to prevent kidnappings in Kenya contradicts the interest of the two states and the action is politically dangerous and costly in the long-term for both Kenya and Somalia. At present, Somalia is facing haunting massive economic and political crises in which many people are dying from hunger and many more are displaced by endless wars. This invasion imposes new restrictions on the movement of refugees who are fleeing from these multiple threats which, if not eased immediately, may lead to significant loss of life. Similarly, Kenya’s confusion over its war aims emanates from, in part, the deep divisions within the elites and the fact that key international actors have divergent strategic objectives in the Horn of Africa that are designed to control the political decision-making processes in these countries.

In this context, recent events in Kenya can only be explained in conjunction with the broader globalisation agenda that informs particular foreign policy. As Robinson (1996) explains, after the end of the Cold War ‘diverse forces battle to reshape political and economic structures as a new world order emerges’. He argues that the focus increasingly shifted from ‘power concepts’ to ‘transnationalisation of civil society and of political processes’. This means that new political and social relations are formed to assist the emergence of a single global society in which no hostile or power vacuums are acceptable like those in ‘Somalia, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, and the former Libya’ as disclosed by General Wesley Clark of the United States. In this perspective, the invasion of Somalia by Kenya can only be understood ‘as part of a broader process of the exercise of hegemony’ where Kenya and Somalia are less significant in the overall strategic objective.

This analysis seeks to discover the intricate emerging political class in East Africa and their participation in reshaping this region as part of the broader hegemonic agenda. Moreover, this analysis intends to explore crucial policy options for Kenya and Somalia to prevent extensive bloodshed in their pursuit of internal security and economic progress. In conclusion, I’ll present a compelling argument that presents alternative policy options in support of a lasting political solution in Somalia, which doesn’t threaten continued regional stability and also leads to regional security cooperation.


Kenya fails to consistently clarify the goals of its military adventure in Somalia. The Guardian (Nov. 8, 2011) reports that this invasion was planned long before with military advice from Western states. ‘Several sources agree, however, that the Kenyan intervention plan was discussed and decided in 2010, then finalised with input from western partners, including the US and to a lesser extent France. Nairobi seems to have seized on kidnappings of foreign nationals by Somali groups on Kenyan territory as an excuse to launch an operation ready and waiting.’ The rationale behind the Kenyan invasion of Somalia is to control parts of Somalia for political and economic motives. More importantly though, it is part of the broader US strategy to presumably ‘promote stability and prevail over extremism’ in this region in its war on terrorism and to bring the countries in the region under its political domain. In this view, for the US war has been strategically essential for the promotion of these ideals.

The current aggression against the Somali state is promoted by the US and Kenya as a limited security measure. However, this war is seriously flawed as its objectives may lead to a greater humanitarian disaster in Somalia and will surely spur new tensions between the Somali and Kenyan people. As Stoessinger (2011) puts it, war is a manifestation of organised insanity and sickness. In this context, those who wage war insanely believe that it would lead to successful resolution. This notion, Stoessinger advises, goes against the reality of war as he illustrates that ‘no nation that began a major war in this century emerged a winner’. In this context, Hitler of Germany, Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Milosevic of former Yugoslavia are all examples of aggressions that failed to achieve their objectives. Inadvertently, Kenya has succumbed to this temptation and has become fully merged with the US cause and accepts the conceptualization of US security framework.

In this perspective, Kenya has joined the US in its treatment of international law as what Bobbitt calls as ‘an inconvenient obstacle’ to be cast aside to pursue its state interest as it violates Article 2 (4) of the United Nations Charter and gravely misrepresents Article 51 in its claim to have the right to invade Somalia according to this article. From the US security perspective, Somalia poses a great challenge as it is considered to host multiple threats to US interest including a political vacuum that offers bases for terrorism and piracy that threatens international trade. Moreover, the Somali people have endured continued violence internally and suffered from complex political crises owing to external interference and military interventions for two decades. As a result, Somalia has become the object of contradictory international policy instruments; all seeking to, simultaneously, resolve humanitarian, political, social, economic, and security issues.

In this effort, the US has effectively enlisted the support of the countries surrounding Somalia to assist the US policy towards Somalia. These are Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti where the US has been building military bases such as Manda Bay in Kenya, Camp Lemonier in Djibouti and the remote southern Ethiopia airfield in Arba Minch where Reaper drones are flown to attack targets in Southern Somalia at present. In this context, the mission to deal with the ‘Somalia problem’ as the State Department describes it has created a joint battle by all government agencies in these countries, military and non-military actors. As the US government increased its Foreign Military Financing program (FMF), the countries surrounding Somalia have also received large military financial assistance as part of counterterrorism funding according to the US Defence Department.

Kenya has, for example, received an increase of ‘roughly 15 times its previous value’ for its cooperation, and its military receives free education at military academies in the US, making sure that Kenyan forces become more effective in combat missions in Somalia. Kenya has been a key US military partner and major military assistance recipient since the 1998 twin bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The formation of military and intelligence cooperation with the countries surrounding Somalia makes US operation in Somalia relatively inexpensive and obscures its military footprints while it guarantees unsurpassed military presence in the Horn of Africa. However, according to the Arms Trade Resource Center, this means that more violence is likely to engulf the countries involved. Countries that have received weapons and military training during the Cold War from the US have ‘experienced violent conflict and, in fact, many of the top US arms clients of the Cold War – Liberia, Somalia, Sudan, and Zaire (now the DRC) – have turned out to be the top basket cases of the 1990s in terms of violence, instability and economic collapse.’ The Cato Institute presents a more ‘disconcerting’ picture as it draws our attention to a study conducted by the US Army’s Strategic Studies Institute (2008) in which it asserts that ‘a well-trained and armed (African) force of elite soldiers’ trained by US military become a threat to their own countries as soon as the ‘US withdraws (financial) support for its SSR programs and funding.’

While the Cold War strategy was to defeat communism and propping up repressive governments was a small price to pay in the minds of policy makers, it is becoming awfully clear that, while the objective now is to secure democracy and good governance, Africa is in repression and human rights violations abound. Military assistance in Africa has a predictable outcome, according to Arms Trade Resource Center. ‘Often, the US offered weapons and military assistance to repressive governments with one hand while raising the other in the name of securing democracy and promoting stability. Inevitably, somewhere down the line the regime collapses, and US policy makers are left struggling to re-write their lines. Once a new government takes power, the cycle re-emerges with the same old offers of US military training to help secure democracy.’

From this perspective, the US military assistance will likely result in the disintegration of the current establishments in Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti and the likelihood of civil war increases. Moreover, Kenya’s invasion of Somalia underlines a growing concern that this military escapade is likely to lead to the radicalization of the Somali people and a bloody blowback as a consequence. There are growing tensions already in Nairobi and other cities in Kenya. The US State Department is warning its citizens to be alert in that part of the world.


Today the discourse on human security revolves around two perceived threats. From the Western perspective, the usual suspects are in the developing world and view threats by non-state actors such terrorist organisations, piracy, migration, and transnational organized crime demand strong ‘military, economic and political intervention (Duffield and Waddel 2006). In contrast, there are those who advocate that security be linked to global economic justice and hold the view that ‘freedom from fear and violence’ will not be achieved as long as the gap between poor and rich is growing. Similarly, following the tragic 11 September 2001 attacks, many scholars and US officials have encouraged increased development assistance to the developing world as they concluded that there was a strong connection between poverty and terrorism (Laura Tyson 2001).

Others (Kreuger and Maleckova, 2003) have suggested that terrorism is ‘a response to political conditions and long-standing feelings of indignity and frustration.’ This means that political persecution and lack of freedom in the hands of dictators and puppets lead to anger, dissent, rebellion and sometimes terrorism. Since its independence in 1963, Kenya has maintained close relations with the Western world and had been impacted by the growing economic globalisation and political liberalisation agenda. Due to donor conditions, Kenya has adopted many of the international organizations’ development schemes to deal with its human security needs. These included a range of international projects including food security, HIV, corruption, organised crime, conflict management and host of other schemes. However, Brown (2003) argues that ‘donor-sponsored political liberalisation indirectly resulted in the rise of ‘ethnic clashes’ in Kenya.

In addition, Brown asserts that the Kenyan state has not only failed to provide security to its people, it has actively participated and sometimes ‘instigated much of the violence in the country. Ethnic clashes have spiked since 1990 and ’resulted in the deaths and displacement of thousands of people.’ On August 7, 1998 the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam were bombed by al-Qaeda terrorist group. Following the attack, Kenya has been officially added to the US Anti-terrorism Assistance (ATA) Program (Whitaker 2008), making Kenya a partner in the struggle against terrorism. The purpose was to assist Kenya with its domestic security threats but everything changed after 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks inside the United States. Kenya has become a key African ally in the war on terror. The Bush Administration’s 2002 security strategy characterised Kenya as an ‘anchor for regional engagement’ (New York Times, 20 September 2002).

But many Kenyans remain sceptical about the outcome of the war on terror and blame the US for the increasing terrorism in Kenya. Whitaker (2008) asserts that many in Kenya believe that they are victims of America’s counter-terrorism policy. Kenya has a large Muslim population which is an integral part of the Kenyan society and since the onset of the war on terror, tensions between the Muslims and non-Muslims are on the rise. Similarly, Lind & Howell (2010) conclude that many Kenyans believe that their leaders are ‘forced to cooperate’. The invasion of Somalia by Kenya raises important questions. Given that Kenya has serious security shortcomings, how can invading Somalia help the domestic security vacuum in Kenya? The Economist (10 August 2002) has concluded that crime rates in Nairobi are ‘worse than in notoriously dangerous central Johannesburg’.


The current invasion of Kenya is of great concern from security perspective for both Somalia and Kenya, but even more so for Somalia in particular as this spurs ‘a devolutionary cycle’, to borrow Dr. Weinstein’s insightful analysis with regards to this unending crises in Somalia, whereby external forces with divergent and sometimes convergent interests re-escalate the crises in Somalia whenever a solution is feasible and nearer. This illegal Kenyan invasion reignites al-Shabab’s resolve and gives respite to the losing al-Shabab as the wider Somali public grows more cynical with unending foreign intervention.

With respect to the legality of the invasion, it is obvious that the justification given for the invasion of Somalia speaks volumes of the unspeakable misconduct of the Kenyan regime. In its pursuit of terrorist forces in Somalia, Kenya fails to apply ‘right reasons’ under international law with regard to the exercise of ‘the right to self-defense’ by misrepresenting Article 51 of the UN Charter and criminally using disproportional force in its attacks of civilian populations and non-military facilities inside Somalia. The Article 51 of the UN Charter is not open-ended and allows states to fend off an imminent military invasion with consultation and guidance of the Security Council. This means that there must be practical grounds to engage in military battle but only for defensive principles, and only when you are in pursuit of enemy combatant. Moreover, there must be an exit schedule under international law.

With this illegal invasion Kenya has used its military muscle to invade another sovereign nation and is inside Somalia more than a month after its forces crossed in; that is not pursuit of al-Shabab but an illegal invasion of killing and maiming innocent civilians inside Somalia and the silence of the international community gives a tacit support for the invasion which equally amounts to violations against innocent civilians and is as guilty as Kenya. Cahill (1996) referring to the former UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Eliasson, writes that, ‘prevention of conflicts is a moral imperative in today’s world … it is a political necessity for the credibility of international cooperation, in particular for the UN.’ Given that the UN through its UNPOS in Kenya is witnessing all of this but failing to condemn, the credibility of the world community is undermined and the Somali people are rightly becoming more resistant to any international solution.

Moreover, it is important to look at the invasion through the lens of empire building agenda, as the USA uses Kenya as one of its client states in the war against terrorism – in essence the US is coercing Kenya for its global agenda just as it is using other draconian states and dictators as clients in its fight against terrorism. Kenyan, Ethiopian, and Djiboutian political class benefit from aid flows as a reward for their proxy status in the war against terrorism and their allegiance to Washington. However, the people in the Horn of Africa will pay a hefty price as increased military assistance and militarisation of the region will lead to greater instability and civil strife.

Stability in the region can be achieved through a genuine peace building initiative in Somalia in which the Somali people are assisted to pursue a restoration of law and order, a free society characterised by independent media and judiciary and a government accountable to its citizens. Al-Shabab is no match to a Somali people united for the common good, but this potential is weakened by the constant external interventions that continue to recreate and strengthen groups like al-Shabab and the warlords who continually pose an existential threat to the Somali State. In contrast, a strong democratic Somali tate poses no threat to international security and stability.

Abdi Dirshe is a political analyst and the current President of the Somali Canadian Diaspora Alliance.

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