The Real Reason for the Offensive on al Shabab (By Okech Okech)

By Okech Okech

Celebrated American financier and banker JP Morgan said that a man always has two reasons for doing anything: the good and the real reason. Over acentury ago when this incisive observation was made, the subject wasn’t Kenya’s military nor al Shabab, in fact both had not been born. Today, these words sound truer and more relevant if one is trying to objectively look at the Kenya vs. al Shabab war.

To begin with, Al Shabab is a ruthless militant group that has made public their affiliation to al Qaeda. They have tormented native Somalis and have made it impossible to have an operational government in Somalia, external efforts to have a transitional federal government notwithstanding. Kenya has continually borne the brunt of their activities in Southern Somalia; influx of refugees, violence spill over into Kenyan territory and kidnappings within the Kenyan territory that are not only a security problem but also economic threat.

Al Shabab is quite naughty, they have hijacked several cargo ships and notably MV Faina that had in it heavy military artillery and other forms of arsenal reportedly destined for South Sudan. The public opinion had favoured a more hawkish response to these threats and this was only given a nod after two or three Europeans had been kidnapped by the same Al Shabab militia.

Which begs the question what are the real reasons for the military offensive against al Shabab? While the good reason is to protect Kenyan economic interests, security and territorial integrity and perhaps sovereignty of the country, the real reason as any keen observer would expect remains obscure.

In industrialized states like US, the real reason for going to war is to create jobs, increase local industrial production and improve the balance of payment or gain control over natural resources such as oil and natural gas. This is a complex of interrelationships often referred to as the military-industrial complex, a term coined by Dwight Eisenhower in his farewell address.

So where does Kenya stand? In the war against al Shabab, the defence forces are in it not for the Kenyan interests but it is squarely about pride. This is why. Al Shabab is not new and they have consistently posed a threat to our national interests ever since it was born. It is a little disturbing when one tries to look at what might have moved our forces to launch the offensive now and not earlier. Al Shabab is a terrorist network that operates in more than one country and because of its operational links to well funded terror groups like Al Qaeda, the Kenyan military intelligence must have advised that by occupying southern Somalia, al Shabab will not be defeated. This might have been the reason why the CIC had been reluctant to allow our forces to cross into Somalia to weed out Al Shabab and instead opted to create military bases close to the border with Somalia. May be he was drawing lessons from US experience in Afghanistan where despite the superiority of the US military intelligence and military technology, finishing Taliban and Al Qaeda has taken over a decade and still counting…

Kenya also understands the devastating effects the war has on the economy and the treasury must have advised that the shilling would continue to lose against major world currencies. With the cost of living factored in, I don’t see how Finance minister would have okayed the move since we have to import everything including bullets and it is tactically naïve to rely on US and France on the war front.

A week into the war and several questions are being asked as to why did the CIC sanction the war, even without a parliamentary vote on the same. The public opinion is fast changing after two blasts in Nairobi downtown in 24hrs that have rekindled the horrendous scenes of August 7th.

The fact that it was the ministers of defence and security who made the chilling announcement should not be taken lightly. It was the CIC who was supposed to make the announcement to Kenyans and the world, flanked with the PM, VP, house speaker and ministers for defence, security, finance and Foreign Affairs, together with CGS, military commanders and police commissioner. The message it sent was that the war is after all not about Kenya and Kenyans, nor is it about our tourism and the economy, not even our security.

This war is about an individuals’ pride and whose pride is it? The war is about CGS Gen Julius Karangi, it’s about his personality and his legacy. I can bet that if Gen. Kianga was still at the helm, perhaps we would have increased surveillance along the border with Somalia and try to weed out resident sympathizers of Al Shabab. Who knows, our own Guantanamo prison could have been established instead of going into a rash, costly and seemingly unwinnable war that exposes us to greater risk. I call it rash because Kenya did not seek cooperation with her neighbours and lately the TFG president has been quoted as saying he does not support the presence of Kenyan military is Somalia. Kenya should have had an effective and coordinated intelligence not an ethnically oriented operation, and a sabotage of the economic networks that make Al Shabab have a strong internal presence, both in Kenya and Somalia.

Who knows, with a general election in the offing, could it be a plot to extend the life of the current administration or an armchair warrior is making money through the imports? Or is it a mere, albeit expensive, tact meant to distract us from grand larceny in government and an economy on a nosedive, rising cost of living with no increase in disposable income and an ever depreciating currency? Remember this administration scores poorly on the economy.

Okech Okech is Masters student at the University of Nairobi (Political Science Department) and a commentator on issues of governance, leadership and forward social, political and economic trajectory in Kenya. You can view his blog at


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