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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Experts wary Kenya becoming "playground" for foreign militia groups

Sunday Standard
May 8, 2011

After the slaughter of nearly 50 people in northwestern Kenya, President Kibaki has come under severe criticism for allegedly playing politics at the expense of the territorial integrity of the country.

Security experts and the public in general are wary that Kenyan territory is becoming a playground for marauding foreign militia groups in the absence of Government's swift action to seal the porous borders.

However, even as the President drew flak over the failure to deal firmly with the frequency of foreigners - bandits, rebel militiamen and foreign troops - who cross into the country and commit atrocities at will, the Department of Defence says the President's hands are tied because the attacks are not carried out by conventional forces.

The different perspectives raise questions about whether border security should be addressed as a police or defence mandate in the absence of policy guidelines.

Defence and security expert, Capt (rtd) Simiyu Werunga, says the raid on Todonyang in North Turkana has exposed Kenya's vulnerability because of a serious lack of a defence policy.

Defence policy

"If we had a strong and clear national policy, foreign troops would not turn Kenyan territory into a playground. Our political leadership lacks an international defence policy. What is happening is that our military is idle. Only the President as commander-in-chief can give orders for the deployment along the borders," he says.

Kenya is ranked among African countries with the most professional armies. It has contributed troops to United Nations peacekeeping missions in various parts of the world, where its soldiers have distinguished themselves as professional and highly trained. In the recent past, however, the Department of Defence has been besmirched by serious graft allegations.

The police have also serious image questions necessitating an overhaul of the force, which is yet to take place as per the recommendations of a Government-appointed taskforce.

Defence constitutes a major component of any country's foreign policy. In the United States, for instance, it takes the lead in how Washington interacts with the rest of the world. It is against this backdrop American election themes revolve around homeland security, defence and foreign policy.

Former Tourism and Informational PS Ali Korane says the threat of foreign forces invasion is real and should start getting serious budgetary and policy attention.

"Border management has been lacking and our response is often reactive. As a result, it is not clear whether border security is a defence or police mandate. We must have a clear policy because incursions by Uganda, Sudanese, Ethiopian, and Somalia groups are increasingly taking a clear pattern that we must address urgently," says Mr Korane, a holder of a master's degree in security and police management.

Kenyan side

In the past 20 months, there have been approximately ten incursions by foreign forces inside Kenyan borders. The one that nearly resulted in diplomatic standoff between Nairobi and Kampala is the presence of Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) on Migingo. Last week, the Uganda soldiers extended their occupation on Kenyan side of Lake Victoria to Ugingo Island without a response from the Government.

The passivity of the Government and the public apathy to demand accountability have been put into question following allegations that latest conquest was stage-managed by President Museveni to deflect attention from the social unrest in his country over rising cost of living.

Ugandan forces invasion of Migingo and parts of Pokot coincided with international pressure on Kampala to uphold human rights in the north, where rebel activities have been ongoing for two decades.

According to Werunga, "We have a political leadership that does not care about our territorial integrity. The Department of Defence should have driven out forces of occupation from our soil. We have defective defence policy that allows foreign forces to cross into and out of the country at will. "

Since 2008 when the Toposa militiamen from South Sudan crossed into Kenya and killed eight people and stole 5,000 livestock in Lokichoggio, there have also been cross border skirmishes between Pokot herdsmen and their Karamajong counterparts in eastern Uganda. However, it is UPDF's raid on the same community that raised questions about the Government's disinclination to territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Heavy casualty

Between the Toposa attack and last week's incursions by the Mirille bandits from Ethiopia, there have also been raids by foreign militiamen across the Kenya-Ethiopia and the Kenya-Somalia borders. Areas around Liboi, Mandera and Moyale have in the intervening periods been battlegrounds with a heavy casualty outcome.

With the benefit of hindsight, critics say the Kibaki administration is preoccupied with succession in his government and military at the expense of the national defence and security.

Retired president Moi's decisiveness in repulsing foreign aggression is well documented in the manner he dealt with Museveni's threats to overrun Kenya. On a number of occasions, Moi ordered the military and police to pursue aggressors into Uganda, which ensured territorial integrity.

As a former long-serving DC in security operation areas, Korane says Museveni has demonstrated to his people this government can measure up to any military challenge in the region.

"This assurance has leveraged him over his potential rivals in East Africa, where he is seen as the big man compared to his peers. Moi considered Museveni a junior. Therefore, he was under pressure to demonstrate that he was senior in East Africa, hence dealt with Museveni decisively," observes the former PS, who is lining up for the proposed position of Inspector General of Police in the envisaged police reforms.

Defence Assistant Minister, Maj-Gen Joseph Nkaissery absolves the Government from blame.

"Kenya is not at war with any of the countries where the rebels and bandits originate. The President can, therefore, not order a military response. Agreed, the response in Turkana should have been swift to prevent the second attack by the cattle rustlers," Nkaissery says.



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