By Chris Wamalwa in USA
Kenya’s United Nations Permanent Representative in New York has appealed directly to the Obama administration for support for Kenya’s incursion of Somalia to root out Al Shabaab Islamist rebels.
|Kenya’s United Nations Permanent Representative in New York, Ambassador Macharia Kamau.|
In diplomacy reflective of President Kibaki’s strategy of courting international support for the war in Somalia, Ambassador Macharia Kamau early last week made a rare appearance at the Capitol Hill, the seat of congressional power to make a case for Washington’s support of the war.
“We would love to see the international community, with the US right up there, engaging in Somalia in ways in which they have not for quite a long time,” Ambassador Macharia Kamau told the press in Washington, DC soon after meeting some members of US congress.
Kenya deployed tanks and troops to the
Al Shabaab-controlled southern Somalia on October 14 to fight the Al-Qaeda-linked rebels the country blames for kidnapping foreigners and making cross-border raids thus disturbing the peace and threatening the tourism industry.
“We would like to see the US and the international community taking advantage of basically what Kenya is doing, which is putting troops on the ground, taking risks that need to be taken to achieve the goals that we all say need to be achieved, which is to bring peace and security to Somalia,” said Ambassador Kamau.
But, Pentagon officials told National Public Radio’s (NPR) Michelle Kelemen in an interview broadcast over the weekend that the US is monitoring the Kenyan incursion, but not providing assistance.
The State Department is advising caution, said Donald Yamamoto, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Africa.
“You don’t know what the consequences are going to be,” he said. “Look at the Ethiopian incursion into Somalia, look at our own personal history. It’s fraught with a lot of problems and dangers. The Somalis just do not like foreigners in their area.”
Yamamoto said Kenya’s motivations were understandable, but the US has tried to keep focused on beefing up the African Union forces, supporting a transitional government and reaching out to major clans.
“The overall issue and solution to the Somalia problem is going to have to be a regional, concerted approach, [an] international approach, but also ultimately the Somalis themselves will have to resolve this,” Yamamoto said.
Ambassador Kamau’s courting of lawmakers in DC among them Democratic Senator Al Franken and Democratic Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, seems to be bearing fruits. Late last week as a result of Mr Kamau’s briefing, Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, a state with a vast Somali-American community that Al Shabaab has tapped for recruits, made a presentation in the House of Representatives asking the US government to help Kenya deal with the Al Shabaab menace once and for all.
Making reference to these links, Mr Kamau said Al Shabaab was training over 40 known American citizens in Somalia, warning that there was a direct line from the group right back to American cities that poses a clear and present danger for Americans.
“We should never forget that what’s going on in Somalia, while it might appear to be far away, out in the middle of nowhere, has tentacles that stretch back to the United States,” he cautioned.
Ambassador Kamau made a fresh appeal to the United States to consider imposing a blockade on the rebel-held Somali port of Kismayu to choke off the rebels’ supply line, a move Washington has been reluctant to support.
“Why this has not happened is actually a little bit beyond us because it does not require any troops on the ground, neither does it really put anyone at any risk,” he said.
“It’s really a question of moving their naval assets into positions that would ensure that these people are not able to continue to supply through Kismayu,” which is an Al Shabaab “nerve center,” he said.
The envoy said Kenyan forces had cleared rebels out of towns and areas they once controlled and suggested that “maybe the international community might take advantage of that to send down peacekeeping troops to ensure that these towns and areas are not re-infiltrated by the armed groups and terrorist elements.”
US officials said Kenya has been making what one senior senate source called “a full-court press” for Washington’s help on Somalia and against the Al Qaeda linked Al Shabaab, with top diplomats reaching out to key lawmakers for help.
The ambassador said he would also meet with non-governmental organizations in Washington in a bid to improve the flow of humanitarian aid into Somalia.
And he reminded US lawmakers wary of fresh commitments at a time of belt-tightening that “Kenya itself is not in the best of economic times.”
“But we ourselves have recognized that all our collective long-term interests demand that we make the necessary sacrifices now, because if we don’t, then the price that we shall pay, collectively, as an international community, whether Europe, Asia, or the United States, could be quite severe,” he said.
The month-old incursion caught the United States and others off guard and has raised alarm among aid groups.
Speaking on National Public Radio (NPR) over the weekend, ambassador Kamau said, “We surprised ourselves. We have never in our history engaged in any kind of foreign adventure of a military sort. But I think what it is, is that matters did come to a head.”
“When you are dealing with a violent group of murderous individuals, you have to come to a point where you make a decision: Do you continue to allow the slow bleed to happen, so that the country becomes completely anemic and unable to function, or do you, after 25 years of living next to a failed state, make a decision that you can no longer afford to tolerate the situation?” he asked.
(Additional materials from: NPR and AFP)