Can we impose democracy on Somalia? At what cost? By MUTHONI WANYEKI | Tuesday, June 12 2012 at 14:50
We are informed that the Kenyan military has “taken” Afmadow and Biibi. We are further informed that it intends to take Kismayu by this August at the latest.
We are meant to infer that this is good. It is hard to see any evidence that it is not good. The advance of the Kenyan military into southern Somalia has been covered with photographs of smiling soldiers, next to equally smiling Somalis. Some of this coverage has been generated by the Kenyan military itself. Some of it has been generated by what can only be referred to as the Kenyan version of “embedded’ journalists.”
The Kenyan journalists at the frontline seem happily unaware of the criticism of “embedded” journalists — enjoying being able to send excited little missives from the frontline. And little criticism of the Kenyan military offensive has been publicised anywhere in Kenya, except at the start. References to the deaths of Kenyan military personnel in Somalia are hard to find. As are references to the aftermath of the Kenyan advance — just how many towns seized have remained Al Shabaab-free when the Kenyan military moves on? Who knows.
Then there is the question of our preparedness to deal with the blowback, given the small series of explosive attacks we’ve had to deal with ever since. In typical Kenyan fashion, however, we have not devoted coverage to all the explosive attacks in Kenyan border towns. But we have waxed jingoistic and nationalistic about the explosive attacks in our capital — the latest being just the week before last. The jingoism and nationalism has been unnerving — as has been the fervent affirmation of the Kenyan military in the wake of the attacks. We shall, it appears, never surrender.
So what are we doing in Somalia? The blueprint is that provided by Afghanistan and Iraq. Go in. Bomb the hell out of any possible insurgencies. Deal with any possible legitimacy and sovereignty questions by supporting a negotiated transitional government of Somalis despite the apparent inability of said government to control a single square kilometre of territory on its own. Rebuild institutions — particularly those relating to elections, law and order and security. Support elections for a wholly legitimate and sovereign government. And then get the hell out.
The problem is, as Afghanistan and Iraq have shown, that real life is not a videogame. Nothing works as planned. Can democracy really be imposed from the outside? Can a democracy so installed really sustain itself? What’s the level of investment required to ensure that it does — in terms of money and, importantly, time? Are we really prepared to make that level of investment? And is getting out really that easy?
The level of investment required is high — and Kenya and the AU do not expect to make that investment themselves. Think how quickly Kenya demanded multilateral financing for our military offensive in Somalia once the Kenyan military was under Amisom. Forget about Kenya and the AU paying for rebuilding institutions — what is the plethora of UN agencies supposedly active in Somalia meant to be for, after all? And thinking of that plethora of UN agencies, to be honest, the heart sinks — just as all the money poured into Somalia in all the post-Said Barre years seems to have done.
It is not a pretty picture. This is not about critiquing the Kenyan military for the sake of it — it is only following orders, after all. This is simply to say we don’t have the answers. And the kind of “embedded” journalism we’ve seen to date is not helping us even ask the right questions.
L. Muthoni Wanyeki is doing her graduate studies at L’Institut d’etudes politiques (Sciences Po) in Paris, France
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