The Implications of Kenya's Military Operation in Somalia

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Lisa Mullins: I'm Lisa Mullins and this is The World, a coproduction of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH in Boston. Somalia is arguably the most chaotic country in the world and it's about to get more volatile. Kenya confirmed today that it has sent forces into neighboring Somalia. Kenyan officials say that they have the right to defend their country against the Somali Islamic group, Al Shabaab. They blame Al Shabaab for a spate of high profile kidnappings of foreigners. The BBC's Will Ross is in Nairobi, Kenya. From a distance it sounds like a very provocative act. We also know that there are African Union forces from Uganda, forces from Burundi already there. Why suddenly have the Kenyans decided to go into Somalia as well?

Will Ross: The Kenyan government was in a predicament in that it couldn't do nothing. There were big question marks over Kenyan security, how safe was the border, so something had to be done. The question is are they doing the right thing and how long is this operation gonna last, and what are the consequences gonna be for Kenya? We know all too well from past experience that foreign interventions in Somalia had pretty drastic ramifications. There was of course, the American involvement in the capital, Mogadishu, back in 1993 that ended in the Black Hawk Down incident that became a very well-known film. And ever since then interventions have taken place, but at a high cost. And of course, America in recent years has been very worried about the Al Shabaab Islamist insurgent group. So America has been pretty active in Somalia or at least above Somalia using drone aircraft, no troops that we know on the ground. But a lot of bombings have happened of Al Shabaab suspected positions by America. Now Kenya has got involved. As I say, the question is how long is it gonna go on, this operation, because some Kenyans are worried that this could lead to Kenya becoming more of a target for Al Shabaab attacks.

Mullins: You mean Al Shabaab attacks within Kenya itself, retaliatory attacks?

Ross: Exactly, and we've had a statement from Al Shabaab warning Kenyans not to let what it called flames of war spill over into their country.

Mullins: In terms of US foreign policy, you know, the United States as you said is staging drone attacks over Somalia. Is the Kenyan intervention, uncharacteristic by the way for Kenya, but is the intervention in Somalia something that would further complicate at least US efforts or maybe even act on behalf of the US?

Ross: Well, I'm sure that the US wouldn't be angry that Kenya is going on the offensive against Al Shabaab. I'm not sure it necessarily complicates the relations with Somalia and the US. It's more of a worry for the Kenyan population itself, some of whom feel that this might make feel Kenya a target. But it's unlikely that the US is going to stop its activities which have mainly centered on drone attacks on suspected Al Shabaab positions.

Mullins: What's the bigger picture here for the region as a result of this?

Ross: Well, I think the region in general is worried you know, all the way around east Africa, what Al Shabaab might become. I mean it has been very weakened over the last few months. It was pushed out of the capital, Mogadishu, but the fact that it said it was behind the bomb attacks in Ugandan capital, Kampala, last year was a kind of warning to the whole region that you know, the insecurity in Somalia will not necessarily stay within that country. And I think for the region it emphasizes the need for Somalia to be sorted out, for there to be a policy which will bring peace to the country. Yes, there have been so many efforts talking peace to try and get the politicians, and the clan leaders and all the different rival clans in Somalia to agree. Those have failed for now more than 20 years, but this intervention will once again focus minds on you know, what is the solution for Somalia?

Mullins: Okay, speaking to us from Nairobi, Kenya, the BBC's Will Ross. Thank you, Will.

Ross: My pleasure.