Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Somalia-Kenya and Afghanistan-Pakistan?

The New York Times has an interesting article today about how the Shabab insurgents who are fighting the Transitional Federal Government in Somalia are increasingly active in neighboring Kenya. Apparently, the Islamist militants have been threatening westerners, kidnapping kids from schools in Kenya to use as soldiers, etc.

But there's more about this Somalia-Kenya story that strikes me as similar to the ongoing conflict on the Afghan-Pakistani border. The article describes the border:
In most places, this line, the official international border, is not even marked, let alone protected. Here in the village of Hulugo, there’s simply a tattered Kenyan flag and a cinderblock schoolhouse with chicken-wire windows. Then a meadow of thorn trees and donkey dung. Then Shabab country.
Well that doesn't strike me as that unusual for most African countries (or come to that for most countries in general, witness our continuing problem on our Southern border). I mean Berliners routinely point out, it's not really a border unless there's a big wall, guard posts, guys with automatic rifles...

But to return to border challenges:

American and British advisers are working closely with Kenyan counter-terrorism teams, but the area along the Somali border is known to be a gaping hole.

“The Kenyans don’t have the skills to close the border, even if they wanted to,” said one Western diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing diplomatic protocol. “People are very concerned. But on some level, we can’t defend Kenya’s border for them.”

When asked to assess the level of security at the Somali border, the diplomat flatly stated, “there is no security.”

The raging war in the country next door, between Somalia’s weak transitional government and the Shabab, is rapidly becoming a proxy war — with Western arms and money keeping the transitional government alive, while Arab and Pakistani jihadists with links to Al Qaeda fight for the Shabab.

Now that also sounds familiar. We've been helping with counter-terrorism border capacity building, the article says. I looked at the State Department's budget justification for Kenya and the most I could find about border security capacity building assistance to Kenya was this (yes with a $2.5 million request for "stabilization operations and security sector reform" and another $6 million for "governance"--there was no "rule of law funding"):

Issues such as coastal, port, aviation and border security, cyber crime prevention and detection, professionalization of police and military units, improved immigration controls,refugee and internally displaced person security, domestic terrorism, and violent crime are approached from an integrated,
multi-USG agency perspective.

I think that means anything from a more immigration focused capacity building efforts or knowing who is coming and going, to assistance on monitoring and interdicting all manner of weapons trafficking (from the next to impossible small arms to scary things like WMD). Nonetheless, om the work I've done, bilateral assistance (and come to that international assistance, if you think UN peace operations have systematic mandates to monitor borders and build border management capacity, think again) rarely focuses on building more systematic border monitoring and management capacity, particularly in areas where customs revenues aren't large enough to pay for people to live and work there. I understand that assistance providers would want to focus on trade route firsts (since like I said, customs revenues are the backbone of government revenue in many countries) but still it strikes me that if borders are a problem, then maybe border security forces would be a good idea (I think we're doing some of that in Afghanistan, but we're just starting).

And then, the Shabab are using a typical technique to scare the population away from wider assistance:

But in the areas along the Kenya-Somalia border, it seems anti-Americanism is still spreading, despite the millions of dollars the American government has spent on a hearts-and-minds campaign [I think that the $500 million that's in the budget for health and education].

Take an American-built well in the village of Raya. No one is using it, though Raya is desperately poor and desperately dry.

“The Americans wanted to finish us,” said one villager, Ibrahim Alin, convinced that the American water engineers who built the well had poisoned it to sterilize him.

So if all of this doesn't remind you of Afghanistan/Pakistan, complete with cross border raids, refugee crisis, poverty, insurgency, the weak corrupt government on one side and the stronger, corrupt government and corrupt security forces on the other...and I'm just getting started on parallels here, I don't know what will. The question is, have we learned anything from our experience in Afghanistan that will make dealing with this easier and on the flip side, have we learned anything over the years about dealing with our favorite ally in East Africa, Kenya, that will help us deal with our good friends in Pakistan?


  1. How useful is it, though, for us to say "Kenya is to Pakistan as Somalia is to Afghanistan"? Does this kind of "understanding" fool us into imagining opportunities for constructive action that probably don't exist?

    The fact of the matter is that it's just not particularly realistic to expect either Kenya or Pakistan to be capable of securing a border, and there really isn't much we can do to change that. You alluded to this already, Lil, but just consider America; it's the richest, most technologically advanced nation on the planet and we're unable to stanch the flow of guns, drugs, people, or much of anything else in both directions across our southern border.

    There simply isn't any way to extend the rule of law and the writ of government(s) to every square mile of the globe.

  2. I completely agree on extending the rule of law and I don't necessarily think there are lessons to be learned or that the parallels run deep enough to be meaningful. I think that the analysis of parallels and lessons learned could range from the non existent (to pick something out of a hat, say on drugs) to the extremely useful (again, randomly, maybe on population migration).

    Similarly though, is it useful to ask whether anything we learned in Iraq can be applied to Afghanistan? Are contexts/situations always so different that trying to draw conclusions in this way is most often useless?

  3. Iraq and Afghanistan comparisons are slightly different, wouldn't you say, considering that we are or have been engaged with large numbers in combat operations in those places?

  4. Sure but just to be contrary, at what point does it make sense to start and stop comparing?

  5. While not specifically answering your many questions, here, Neustadt and May give us a pretty good methodology for determining comparisons across context. If you haven't read it, you should.

  6. I haven't--thanks for the tip!

  7. Some differences between Kenya and Pakistan:
    -about 250 Kenyans were killed by AQ (not even AQ linked by AQ) in 1998. Anti AQ sentiment is strong in Kenya among the 90% who are not muslim.
    -any appeal for AQ is limited to Kenya's 10% muslim minority
    -President Obama is extremely popular in Kenya and extremely unpopular in Pakistan. If anything Pakistanis disliked Obama more than McCain. Partly because Obama said he would bomb Pakistan, and partly because Obama is black.

    What we should do?:
    -Remember that China and India are large trading and investment partners with Kenya. America should urge them to help increase Kenyan capacity. America doesn't have to do all the grunt work without any help.