War in Somalia: Clear objectives needed

Last week, we declared war on the al Shabaab militia that was accused by our government of masterminding kidnappings and attacks on targets within our territory.

A declaration of war is not a light thing, and certain procedures needed to be followed.

Since we were committing our military and economic resources to the objective of eliminating the terror threat to our country, one would have expected the commander-in-chief of the Kenya Defence Forces address the nation, laying out the reasons for the declaration of war, the objectives of the war, and how we will know when we have achieved those objectives.

Instead, we got a press statement from the ministers for Defence and Internal Security.

To their credit, the ministers outlined a cogent case for a war, enumerating the long chain of events that eventually led to the decision to attack al Shabaab deep within Somali territory.

From their presentation, it is clear that the war is fully justified. What is not clear, however, is the objective of the war.

“Pursuing the terrorists wherever they may be” makes a good soundbite, but it provides very little information on the specific objectives of the conflict.

A second bit of information that was missing from the statement concerned the end-point and exit strategy.

Citizens do not expect to get fine details of the campaign, understanding that secrecy is part of military strategy.

Broad goals

However, broad goals of a conflict must be enumerated in order to help Kenyans to track the progress of our forces, and know when the time comes to pull out and let others continue with the war.

This information needs to be provided by the commander-in-chief, who was technically given that responsibility by the Kenyan voter.

HG Wells, writing in “Outline of History”, says that “war is a horrible thing, and constantly more horrible and dreadful, so that unless it is ended it will certainly end human society”.

It is for this reason that a nation must not contemplate the decision to go to war lightly, and when it does, the strategy, objectives and end-points must be very clear both to the soldiers and to the general population.

In our case, those of us that support this action can imagine one main short-term objective for this war, with a related secondary objective riding on it.

The main short-term objective, in my view, should be to create a buffer zone between Kenya and Somalia.

This zone should be heavily policed to ensure that no militiamen enter our country to terrorise Kenyans with impunity.

The secondary aim of this incursion into Somalia should be to use the buffer zone to enable the transfer of the refugee camps in the North-Eastern region of our country to Somalia.

Creating a secure buffer zone will provide an environment that will allow the international humanitarian community to operate within Somalia, and free Kenya of the risks and responsibilities inherent in hosting a refugee population containing potential terrorist militia.

In the long run, it will then fall on the international community to provide support for the refugees nearer to their homes within Somalia, making it easier to re-integrate them into normal life when the situation improves in the rest of their country.

However, whatever the reasons for this war, we must continue to support our soldiers as they engage this amorphous enemy, and wish them quick success.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association and lecturer at Moi University’s