Kenya has fractious allies in southern Somalia


Kenyan Defence Force soldiers on the outskirts of Tabda in southern Somalia on February 20, 2012. Since Kenya's decision to send troops into Somalia in October 2011, the fight against terrorist group Al Shabaab has escalated further with the UN Security Council voting to increase the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia by more than 5,000 soldiers.


William Davies

NAIROBI, Kenya — One reason why foreign military interventions founder in Somalia is that outsiders are incapable of understanding the overlapping and interlocking webs of clan and business allegiances on which Somali society rests. Back one group and you make yourself enemies of the others, pick the wrong allies and you're in serious trouble.

Kenya is learning all this on-the-hoof in southern Somalia which it invaded in mid-October.

On Monday at least three Somali army officers, part of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces, were arrested by the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF), according to the Somalia Report website.

The arrests reportedly followed a dispute between the TFG officers and warlord Ahmed Madobe, who commands the Ras Kamboni militia, over who would administer the nearby town of Afmadow once Al Shabaab is pushed out.

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Arresting the TFG officers means Kenya is taking sides and choosing Ras Kamboni which is the more powerful fighting force on the ground right now. It's a pragmatic choice but one that could backfire. During a visit to the town of Dhobley in January GlobalPost saw these tensions firsthand:

"Ras Kamboni is not the only militia aspiring to run the place. Wearing camouflage uniforms with Somalia flags on the sleeves are members of the Azania militia. For now the two are working side-by-side with each other and the Kenyan army but there is neither love nor trust lost between either the Azania and Ras Kamboni
footsoldiers or leaders.

After speaking to Ras Kamboni fighters, the Azania militiamen drag me aside to complain bitterly that they are being neglected by Kenya and pushed around by Madobe’s men.

Both militias are allied with the TFG but among the sidelong glances and bitter words spat across this bullet-riddled town it’s easy to see how, when the Kenyans move on, the militias might turn on one another, plunging this part of Somalia into yet another round of conflict."

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