Defence Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma during an interview with the  Nation at her office in Nairobi on October 8, 2020.

| Pool

CS Juma on KDF exit from Somalia, rescuing KMC and Nairobi

What you need to know:

  • Kenyans should expect KMC to work; that is my commitment to them. We have a capacity to turn it around. We have a capacity to contribute to the productivity of this nation. 
  • We don’t just deploy uniformed people, we deploy competencies. And that is what we are good at because in the MoD, particularly the uniform side, we have an array of high-caliber capabilities. 

Kenya’s military forces have been in the news lately for a number of reasons. Other than the deployment to Somalia, they have been busy building local railway lines, running a meat factory, and even taking over the city. In this wide-ranging interview with the Nation, Cabinet Secretary for Defence, Dr Monica Juma, explains to Weekend Editions Managing Editor Bernard Mwinzi the perceived militarisation of government, the welfare of frontline soldiers, exit from the trenches of Somalia, and the revolving saga of the abducted Cuban doctors

Bernard Mwinzi: Good afternoon Madam CS and thank you for having this conversation with us today. Let’s start with a clarification about Kenya’s mission in Somalia, its current position under the African Union Mission to Somalia (Amisom), and whether we are still following the withdrawal plans that had been announced earlier.

Monica Juma: Well, there’s no clarification really. You know, Kenya happens to be one of the troop contributing countries Amisom. We went in under a UN Security Council resolution and have remained engaged. But you’ll also know that our engagement with Somalia came long before Amisom; right at the point of the collapse of Somalia in 1991-92 we were engaged because we have a duty of care to our neighbourhood. A lot of engagements took place that led to the negotiation meetings and conferences that led to the buffing of the transitional administration and government. We escorted that government into Somalia and we’ve been engaged even after Amisom in contributing to creating the capacity of Somalia to protect itself and protect its neighbours.

Does that mean there is no withdrawal plan, as yet?

We are part of a multilateral effort, bound by the plans within that framework. (Our stay in Somalia) is governed by the United Nations Security Council, which is driven by assessments that are often carried out between the African Union and the UN Security Council. There is obviously a plan, as you probably know, for exit, which is supposed to be based on change circumstances on the ground because people did not go to Somalia to walk about. There was a reason to go into Somalia, and so there is a condition-based framework of exit by Amisom, and so we are part of that entire system.

Amisom

A Kenyan soldier who is part of the African Union Mission in Somalia  is pictured at a base on February 11, 2017.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What are those conditions?

That there is security of the ground, that Al-Shabaab is defeated, and that there is local capacity to provide security for Somalia.

Based on the progress so far and the years we’ve been engaged there, do you think we are heading towards achieving those conditions?

We have come a long way, absolutely.

If you are to speak about even the level of progress, today we are having state institutions that are functioning in Somalia.

Remember, when Amisom went in, one of its first mandate was to protect a very nascent administration; now we are having a fully-fledged administration in Somalia, we have federal member states that are functioning, we have an economy that has been running and improving. Al-Shabaab, which is the main reason for going in, has been seriously degraded, but it is still a threat.

So, are we at a point where there is sufficient capacity to hold territory, to provide services, to do all the things that an effective military formation can do? Not yet, but there is progress. Clearly we are not where we were in 1993.

There has been talk of a 2021 exit though.

Of course, and that discussion has been held even at the highest level of the UN Security Council. This is an agenda that remains on the table of the Security Council and every so often, in fact every six months, we invariably have the status of Somalia being deliberated. So it's an evolving situation and that is what is going to guide us.

Kenya’s continued stay in Somalia has implications on the budget. There have been concerns about, for instance, about how much money we are spending annually to keep boots on the ground. How much of that is split between Kenya and the other supporting partners in the EU and the UNSC.

There is no expense you can equate to the defense and security of our nation, because if you don’t have security, you don’t have a nation. Having said that, though, we are part of United Nations Security Council-mandated force in Somalia. This force is funded by a number of multilateral kitties, the largest one being EU funding through the African Union Peace Fund. We have supported our troops through provision of force multipliers, which has been a sticky issue with the UN Security Council, because, to date, Amisom still remains a land-based force; it does not have force multipliers, doesn't have air assets, does not have a naval asset, but we know that these assets are critical to the functioning and the success of any mission. We would not have taken Kismayu in 2012 without the naval capability and the air cover. A lot of the supply lines are mined, as you probably know, and so we have to do responsible activity in support of our troops on the ground, and that is how we utilize our assets. So a lot of what is assumed to be expenses on the Exchequer is taken up by the multilateral resources.

Kenyan military troops and US marines carry out a joint military exercise in Manda bay, near the coastal town of Lamu, on January 15, 2004.

Photo credit: Simon Maina | AFP

Alright. Let’s then move to the ongoing trade negotiations between Kenya and the US. Are there any military capacity negotiations on the table?

It is quite premature to speak about the content now. We just launched the negotiations.

There have been questions about US drone deployment on Kenyan space.

I think that has been part of the of media excitement. I don't know where you got it from, and really, it’s not something that I would be happy to comment on, because I’m not aware of any such negotiations. But as far as the trade agreement is concerned, having come from Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and having actually negotiated the bilateral strategic dialogue which is the basis of the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA), we were looking at evolving a strategic relationship that is comprehensive and diversified, that would open Kenya as a gateway because we are a gateway to East Africa into the African region, particularly within the context of the CFTA, so we hope that these negotiations will take that character. That notwithstanding, the relationship between Kenya and the US as far as defence and security is concerned has remained robust, and it's our intention to keep it so.

Al-Shabaab has for a very long time remained Kenya’s biggest security risk. Does that still obtain today. Do we still view Al-Shabaab as Kenya's biggest external threat, or is there another threat that has emerged?

There is no doubt that Al-Shabaab is a very significant threat to us because it is not just a localised band.

It is part of a global network of terrorist activity, intentions and agenda. Terrorism has a way of creating a global web.

They have pledged their allegiance to Al-Qaeda, some of them have pledged allegiance to ISIS, we know there is a link between them and Boko Haram, we see their footprint going down south, all the way to Mozambique and maybe further on, and we have seen appetite into Eastern Congo. Therefore this is not just a small band; it is a network of global intent to impact and change or appropriate the ways of life and afflict the values that we consider primary to us as a democratic country and people. The threat is not just to Kenya, not just to the Horn of Africa, but globally because of its character of global networks.

But other than Al-Shabaab there are many other evolving threats. One of them is linked to the question of climatic volatility and what you are increasingly beginning to see as the climate crisis. The ecological volatility that we are seeing, particularly in our own geographic region which is fragile ecologically and has been prone to famine and cyclic drought, has seen forced migration because of natural factors. Now all these things put a lot of pressure on the State to deliver social services, and that has a way of impacting the security and stability of a nation.

Magdalene Munyoo, whose father Phillip Kioko Munyoo died in the August 7, 1998 bomb blast, speaks during a commemmoration on August 7, 2019 at the August 7th Memorial Park in Nairobi.
 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

In the small communities we live in, that crisis is displayed by communities rising against communities, but when you put it at the national level and the larger international level, are we likely to see this resource race pitting nations?

The resource-based clashes have become cyclic in our country, and that is why there is a lot of effort in terms of developing the dryer part of this country, in terms of opening up infrastructure, and diversifying the economy. For example, if you are dependent on livestock, how do you create a value system from the point of production to the point of marketing? This is part of the reason we have been tasked with turning around the Kenya Meat Commission so that we can create a ready market for livestock.

But the counter-argument would be that, that ready market has always been there. The Kenya Meat Commission has always been getting animals from local Kenyan farmers. What is going to change now to build their capacity?

What is going to change is that we are going to create a quantum. Right now, we are at a point where KMC is incapable of reaching its potential of, say, processing up to 3,000 animals a day. That is also subject to the kind of management and governance systems you put in place, you know, so we are looking at the whole system.

I don’t know whether you have timelines, but what should Kenyans hope or expect to see coming out of KMC in the next few months?

Kenyans should expect KMC to work; that is my commitment to them. We have a capacity to turn it around. We have a capacity to contribute to the productivity of this nation. We have a capacity to rehabilitate, we have done that to a number of infrastructure, critical infrastructure. And, in our mind, KMC is one of those critical infrastructures that must turn around.

That brings us to the issue of this perceived militarisation of the government.

Another cliché that really doesn't have any meaning, frankly. If anybody was careful to look at the Constitution, to look at the tasking of the MoD by the Constitution, you will discover that we have three core areas of operation. One; we defend and protect this nation and its people from external aggression and threats. Two; we respond to any emergency that affects this country, and that is why when there is a landslide, when a bridge breaks, when a ship or a vessel capsizes, when there is a fire in the Tsavo, we are there. The third one is that if there is a threat to the stability of this nation, whether there is a crisis that the police are dealing with, we can, with the authorisation of Parliament, support efforts to restore peace and stability. Once you read that, then it becomes obvious that there is nothing that can be seen as out of context if we are engaged in any activity that responds to these three areas of tasking by the Constitution.

General Robert Kariuki Kibochi takes the oath of office as the new Chief of Defence Forces during the swearing-in ceremony witnessed by President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House, Nairobi, on May 11, 2020.

Photo credit: PSCU

What would you say is the crisis we face now that warrants the deployment of military personnel in key government positions that have been in the hands of civilians?

Well, there is no crisis, but I think you should ask that question differently. What does the military or MoD have to do right? And by the way, it is not just the military. We deployed a civilian staff to start up the Kenyan Space Agency, so people are just focusing on little things. We don’t just deploy uniformed people, we deploy competencies. And that is what we are good at because in the MoD, particularly the uniform side, we have an array of high-caliber capabilities. That is why we could, within three months, rehabilitate the Thika-Nanyuki railway line; that is why we are rehabilitating the Nakuru-Kisumu line, and I can tell you it will happen within time. That is why we have been able to rehabilitate the Kisumu Port, and today MV Uhuru is shipping millions of tonnes of goods into Port Bell since December of 2019. So what we are deploying is not military, but competencies of Kenyans who are loyal to this country.

There were plans to set up of a Nairobi metropolitan force to complement the National Police Service functions in the city. Is this still on course?

Well, I don't know about the police force. We don’t do police forces, we are the defence forces.

But that's not the point. Nairobi and its metropol contribute to this country almost six per cent of the GDP. Nairobi is the only capital in the global south, so it is important globally. Nairobi happens to be the capital city, both administrative and legislative, of this country. So by all measure, this is a city that should work. So we are deploying competencies and they are turning things around, and what we hear from the citizens is gratitude. We hope part of these competencies can also be transferable because it is important that this excellence also permeates other parts of this country.

That pre-empts a question I wanted to ask. Now, if we have core competencies that are domiciled in one place, isn’t there a risk of that place colonising the other places where those competencies are missing? And, to avert that risk, is there any programme to transfer those core competencies?

When we were working on Thika-Nanyuki railway line, KDF officers were working with a range of actors from other agencies, including NYS, Kenya Railways, and the national administration. A lot of these things are being done by teams, very diverse teams that are drawn from across the government depending, again, on competences. The second thing that we have to offer is the ability to have a modality of work that is driven by discipline. It is very important that when you have a task you execute it within the given time and allocated resources. It is that discipline that this ministry has been able to keep, and that is something that can be replicated. So it’s not about colonising. I didn’t know that a Kenyan institution can colonise another. That’s a terrible way to describe the optimisation of competencies for the benefit of society. It is important that we pat the backs of these committed Kenyans that are working for this nation.

That’s a valid argument. Let's shift gears and talk about the welfare of Kenya's troops, both on the frontlines and those that are based here. If you go to the War Memorial Hospital you will find a lot of them suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders. Is this ministry doing anything to address the health issues of our soldiers, and if so, in what ways?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is not a military problem; it is a societal problem and, frankly, as a Kenyan, it is safe to flag this as a problem.

You just have to look around to see it, whether you are talking about the levels of domestic violence, or violence against young people, or all sorts of things, it manifests in the number of homicides, suicides, murders… all sorts of things. There is stress, no doubt, but it is not an MoD preserve.

I think that needs clarification. When you talk about the suicides or the homicides, most of them are not linked to post-traumatic stress disorders, but to other psychological ailments such as depression.

Okay, that’s fine, but the question of stress and the sum total of the context that produces post-traumatic stress disorder is not a military preserve. I think it is a bigger societal challenge that we need to look at as a whole, and I think the statistics from the Crime Research Centre will tell you this. But having said that, it is also true that across the board, uniformed forces tend to suffer a higher rate of post-traumatic stress disorder because of their context of operation. It even gets more complex if you are talking about a situation as we are in, in terms deployment to Somalia. And because of that, as part of military architecture, management of post-traumatic stress disorder is central to what we do. It is not just about the soldier, but about the soldier and the family, so we take this very seriously. That is why as part of that structure we have fully fledged chaplains in the MoD as part of creating the wholeness, the readiness of the troops at any one time. Since we went into Somalia, and because of the effect of that engagement, we have even expanded that programme. We have a fully-fledged wellness center, and the former Chief of Defence Forces is well acclaimed for having been at the forefront of expanding that weapons programme.

President Uhuru Kenyatta inspects a guard of honour during Kenya Defence Forces Day at Kenyatta Barracks in Gilgil, Nakuru County, on October 14, 2018. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

In that same regard, how did the barracks handle the Covid-19 situation in the country?

Very well, actually. I am very proud. We were able to take very comprehensive measures from very earlier on. We just came back from the passing out parade of the young recruits and the entire cohort came through it. All our institutions have been running, but they’ve been running under very strict observance of the MoH protocols

Have the same guidelines and the same protocols been deployed to our soldiers in Somalia?

Absolutely.

How do they observe the protocols on the frontline?

They make sure that they keep a social distance. They are sanitised. They observe all the protocols that we observe here.

Still on welfare, as we come to the end of this, we are preparing for the marking of KDF Day later this month. What should we expect to see from this ministry in terms of outreach programmes?

If I may make reference to the Covid-19 situation, the number of activities that we have done in form of fumigating informal settlements. A lot of work has gone into creating the right environment in KDF-sponsored schools as they prepare to receive children. We also continue to provide for services such as sinking of boreholes because we have made the linkage between public health and the prevention of Covid-19 infections. You will continue to see these types of things across the entire country and the demands are growing from everywhere.

And, finally, let’s talk about the abducted Cuban doctors, whom I interviewed in Mandera a few months ago. Kenyan elders who crossed over to Somalia to negotiate their release say that the abductors said they will only engage with the Kenyan government. The Kenyan government, unfortunately or fortunately, depending on who you ask, says it does not negotiate with terrorists. What’s the position of this ministry as far as the Cuban doctors are concerned?

There is no position of the ministry besides the position of the Kenyan government.

We abhor the fact that anyone could abduct healthcare providers.

Even in a situation of war, international law provides for the protection of healthcare providers, and that includes doctors.

It provides for the protection of certain other critical infrastructure, like schools like hospitals. And so the position of this government is that we condemn in the strongest terms that anybody could abduct doctors and take them as hostages. Our policy as a government has been that we do not negotiate with the terrorists. Not just on the question of the medical doctors but on any other matter because we are diametrically opposed in terms of the orientation of what their objectives are and how they seek to pursue those objectives. That position has not changed.

What kind of role is Kenya playing in securing their release?

In the kind of situation that we are talking about, I don’t think we will be able to give you that information

Should we expect their release any time soon?

We are hopeful that we will get them out. And it is our desire that we get them out safe.

Police and members of the public are pictured at the scene of the kidnapping of two Cuban doctors, general physician Assel Herera Correa and surgeon Landy Rodriguez, in Mandera County, on April 12, 2019.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What kind of engagements have you made, either with the Somali or Cuban governments, on this matter?

This is an operational matter so I won’t reveal any details of it. It is safe to say as a country that condemns in the strongest terms any terrorist activity, that we condemn this activity, and the Cuban doctors were in Kenya under the understanding between Kenya and Cuba. They were not in the territory outside of Kenya, and so this was really a provocation. A lot of work is going on.

What proof do we have that they are alive?

This is not a question that I can answer.

Alright then. On that not, thank you very much for your time.

Thank you

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