What you need to know:
- On the morning of January 15, 2016, Kenyans received news that Al-Shabaab had attacked an African Union Mission in Somalia base in El Adde.
- The impact of the attack in terms of personnel casualties and equipment losses is still not fully comprehended and will be known after a full inquiry.
- While a number of gallant troops have fallen, KDF has recorded many big victories, but these are not being told or revisited as we grieve El Adde.
On the morning of January 15, 2016, Kenyans received news that Al-Shabaab had attacked an African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) base in El Adde and had inflicted heavy losses on the
Kenya Defence Forces contingent. It also emerged that the unit concerned had just taken over from another in routine change-over.
The impact of the attack in terms of personnel casualties and equipment losses is still not fully comprehended and will be known after a full inquiry. El Adde is just one of the many KDF bases in Somalia and the Amisom operations are going on as usual.
The attack is, however, unique because of the intensity of the violence and losses — the first massive loss that KDF has encountered since it entered Somalia in 2011.
While a number of gallant troops have fallen, KDF has recorded many big victories, but these are not being told or revisited as we grieve El Adde.
Not about the number
The discourse on El Adde has been one-sided as we are told the losses that KDF incurred.
However, the loss of one member of KDF cannot be compared with that of 100 Al-Shabaab terrorists. Kenyans should be proud as a nation that our men and women put their lives on the line for us to enjoy the good life and freedom we cherish.
The soldiers have bravely faced Improvised Explosive Devices and suicide bombers, and lived in the trenches. We should not be held down by a war of words over how many have died for there will be death as long as the war continues.
This is war. Would it make any difference if only one had died? To honour them, Kenyans must prepare to fully support KDF. By living in unity, we give our country strength and honour and give our soldiers bravery to fight for a cause.
The behaviour of some Kenyans in the aftermath of the El Adde attack, though understandable, is regrettable. We are angry and have every right to be. However, in our anger, some of our reactions may have dishonoured our fallen heroes.
Kenyans quickly forget. Although they lived through the shifta war and witnessed the August 1998 bomb blast in Nairobi, witnessed Kikambala, Westgate in 2013 and last year’s Garissa University College attacks, some seem mesmerised by the recent violence.
With or without information, they have turned to mainstream media and social media to seek answers and comfort. Unfortunately in complex issues like war, answers are not readily available. As such people pass irrelevant and potentially dangerous information.
For instance, in the case of El Adde, pictures of dead and mutilated bodies were quickly exchanged.
Their origin was not authentic; it could have been the terrorists’ psychological offensive against Kenya. This is an old practice. In ancient Rome, a defeated enemy general was paraded through the city streets before execution or imprisonment.
In Transylvania, the enemy’s dead were presented on wooden stakes for all travellers to see. In ancient Britain, traitors to the crown were drawn and quartered, their body parts sent to the four corners of the kingdom and their heads put on spikes along the River Thames.
The reality of war is that many men and women are lost in large numbers. The strength of any country is the ability to mobilise to sustain the war. The aim of the terrorist is to discourage the population to do so by spreading propaganda, including sharing scary pictures.
El Adde, therefore, does not deserve the hype it has assumed which is driving many Kenyans scared. Our men and women did not die for nothing. We must not be blind to the cause they died for and their bravery. By sharing those photos, you are assisting the terrorists pro bono.
We must show respect for the families of the fallen and stand by them. By spreading the pictures of the dead, we violate the families of the fallen.
The loss of a beloved one is deeply traumatising and, though the sacrifice of soldiers is universal, they remain fathers, mothers, sons and daughters.
They leave behind social gaps that families need to deal with. This is a hard time for us all. Mothers of men and women in the military dread calls because they never know what news will come.
It is not the time to splash pictures of their dead on every screen.
The writer is a retired army officer and former Commander of Artillery Brigade.