Aden Duale: I will tear down Somalia wall

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NAIROBI: Remember the construction of a 700-kilometre concrete wall along the Kenya-Somalia border aimed at restoring peace in the region and keeping at bay the Al-Shabaab militia group?

 

Now the new Defence Cabinet Secretary, Aden Bare Duale, describes the move as archaic and plots to roll out a modern, sophisticated and comprehensive security system.

The notion of the wall was mooted following a series of bloody attacks in Kenya by the Somalia-based militia group, including the deadly attack on Garissa University on April 2, 2015 that claimed 148 lives.

Complete with security cameras, a heavy mesh and razor wires running, the wall was aimed at limiting the movement of armed militants across the porous border.

In an interview with The Weekly Review, Duale also addresses the long-standing Kenya-Uganda dispute of Migingo Island, described rather hilariously by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni as “a senseless battle over some rocky grounds in Lake Victoria”.

In the interview, Duale also responds to the delicate issues of Kenya Defence Force’s (KDF’s) latest deployment to eastern Congo, the mission in Somalia, and the tasks ahead at the Defence Headquarters.

Below are excerpts…

Let us start with your appointment. Why do you think the President picked you for the Defence slot? Do you have any background or understanding in this area?

I have no idea why he picked on me as only he can talk about my suitability. However, I will take the heavy responsibility bestowed on me by the President to perform my duty with the diligence and satisfaction that is required.

And except for having an early brush with the military fraternity at high school, that is Moi Forces Academy, where I did my Form Five and Six, and being a son in-law of an army general, I have no military background.

Nonetheless, I am very much at home with the military fraternity and I will try to make a difference during my tenure as Defence CS.

Kenyan Somalis as well as those in Somalia, Ethiopia and in other parts of the Horn of Africa regard you as an influential political leader in the region. How will you balance their expectations with those of your countrymen and women?

It is true that I am a prominent leader among the Somali and Muslim communities in Kenya and the Horn of Africa.

This notwithstanding, I am first a Kenyan, and Somali next. I have been a legislator for three terms and had just won my forth term and having been the first and longest-serving Leader of Majority in the National Assembly, I now want to make a mark and impact in government.

I need to add value to my government.

And do you think you will be conflicted with clan politics?

This is a rather irritating, if not unfair, question that keeps being directed at me. I am not the first Kenyan from a community that transcends our borders to be appointed to the Defence docket.

Or are we suggesting that the Maasai, Luo, Bukusu, Kuria, among others, should never hold this portfolio? In any case, I am not the first Somali to hold the Defence or security docket.

Others before me like the Senator Yusuf Haji, did their bit and I don’t think they underperformed or compromised our country’s security.

As you settle down into office, there have been concerns among Kenyans over the “militarisation of government services”. Should we expect an extension of the same by this government?

Should we expect an extension of the same by this government?

It was wrong for the former President (Uhuru Kenyatta) to have given military personnel civilian authority, and the question of efficiency by KDF as the excuse for doing so should not arise here. Whether or not my officers can do a better job, that role must be played by the right institutions and personnel as envisaged by the Constitution.

Devolution is particularly important and a critical phase of our Constitution, and that is why we maintain that notion of NMS (Nairobi Metropolitan Service), headed by a military officer, was a big mistake. Even the notion of transferring the Kenya Meat Commission docket to the military was inappropriate and we are right now in the process of reversing all that.

I can assure you that going forward, the Commander-in-Chief of the KDF will revise any such previous mistakes.

Separately, what are your views on the long-standing dispute over the ownership of Migingo Island in Lake Victoria?

It is being looked into by us, not only my ministry but three others – internal, foreign affairs and land.

The matter is being discussed at the highest levels of the governments of both Kenya and Uganda.

What about our fishermen, who are constantly harassed and arrested by the Ugandan authorities?

The Migingo issue, along with the arrest of our fishing communities, is a result of a dispute over territorial waters.

This is very important to us and we are looking at addressing both these concerns. We will first try to resolve the border dispute with the courtesy of an inter-ministerial team.

In light of what a Ugandan army general recently said on social media, are you prepared to take advantage of the situation – now that you are in charge – to show neighbors that we are a force to be reckoned with in the region? Are?

We have good relations with Uganda and we consider President Yoweri Museveni as an elder statesman and a good friend of our country and of the President.

Furthermore, the matter has already been addressed at the highest levels of government, with President Museveni apologizing to his counterpart.

Needless to add, there is no doubt that our military position in this area is first class and it is a fact known to all.

Talking about the regional situation, last Friday President William Ruto deployed more than 900 military personnel to deal with armed groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. What is the motivation behind this move?

To begin with, this is not entirely the decision of the President or our country. The move followed a proposal by the head of states in the East African Community, after the DRC was formally admitted to the regional body in March this year.

This is a decision that was taken while the former President was in power and was taken with a view to solving the crisis in the DRC.

In addition to Kenya, which is deploying one battalion, the mission includes two battalions each in Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, one in South Sudan, while Tanzania has committed to join the mission at a later date.

What is the overall objective of this engagement by the regional powers?

The mission’s objective is clear – to implement the decision of the Head of States to restore peace in eastern Congo, open humanitarian corridors to allow vulnerable and marginalized groups to participate, and give a lifeline to the political process .

What’s in it for us as a country, Bawana CS?

We are pleased to participate for a variety of reasons, including the fact that we are making an investment in peace in the region that has enormous benefits for us.

Don’t forget that Kenya is seen as a neutral arbiter in this matter especially as we are the only nation that does not share a border with the DRC.

Accordingly, we have a credible and professional military and we look forward to building on this factor as well as our experience integrating our forces into peacekeeping missions around the world. It provides a good capacity-building and information-sharing opportunity.

Don’t you think that by getting directly involved, Kenya risks being drawn into the current hostilities with Uganda and Rwanda?

We are conscious of the fact that we may be dragged into ongoing proxy wars involving other regional nations.

But we have accordingly, right from home, where we have obtained approval from Parliament as per Article 240(8) of our laws, up to the presidential level to the head of our army, just to make sure everything is smooth and safe, And that we don’t get caught up in local hostilities. Before stepping into DRC, we also ensured that we get support from all relevant bodies, from the regional community, the AU as well as the UN Security Council.

How long are we in the DRC, or are we likely to end up en route to Somalia where we entered the country in 2011 hoping to end a security operation soon but as of today we are stuck in the country?

I know the situation in the DRC is going to be even more complex than in Somalia, where the Al-Shabaab militia is the target group. In the DRC, however, we are faced with over 150 militias.

Yet we do not plan to stay in Goma, where the KDF is stationed, for more than a year. We are also mindful of the realities regarding the financial and other associated costs of this mission.

In the case of Somalia, are there any new plans by the government regarding the presence of KDF in the country?

We do not have a new calendar for our troops in Somalia, given that KDF troops are serving under ATMIS (African Union Transition Mission in Somalia) along with other TCCs (Troop Contributing Countries).

We will be in that country to restore peace and once that is done we will move out of Mogadishu.

However, there is already a drawdown to the exit plan, starting with the TCC who have more troops like Uganda. But since the KDF’s entry into Somalia, the al-Shabaab militia has yet to be suppressed. Our engagement is based on national security and we believe that we have registered some achievements as the number of attacks have come down.

The presence of the KDF and other forces has also helped to professionalize the SNA (Somali National Army) and build their capacity to deal with the threat of militia groups.

Which reminds me… what happened to the concrete wall the government was building on the border between Kenya and Somalia?

I have no idea about its progress or how long the wall extends. But I will have to go to Mandera soon to assess the situation.

In this day and age, are you still convinced this is the appropriate solution to physical border security enforcement?

This is clearly an antiquated program. We are now working with the Federal Government of Somalia on an improved and refined approach, building a stronger border security with the help of other development partners, which also aims to open secure border crossing points in Kiunga, Liboi and Mandera.

We have put in place the relevant infrastructure on our side and are just waiting for Somalia to do its part. It is going to be an interdepartmental approach involving the various Ministries of Defence, Interior and External Affairs. Ultimately, the program will ensure that we have a more comprehensive security approach.

Separately, you are known to be a great supporter of former Somalian President Mohamed Farmajo. How does that sit with the reality that you will now be working with his main rival, President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud, in your official dealings with Somalia?

While it is true that on a personal level Farmajo is a friend, I do not support individual leaders, rather I always work with the current government.

I also know President Hassan. They have shown us the goodwill of working with the government of President William Ruto and we have embraced them accordingly. As a government, we do not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. We deal with them only on the basis of mutual interest and good neighbourliness.

What should we expect from your dealings with Somalia?

We will support President Hassan and the people of Somalia to bring peace to their country and region, just as we do with DRC, Ethiopia and within the EAC and IGAD.

And finally, what are your specific goals for the KDF

I want to focus on enhancing the welfare of our servicemen and women through better healthcare, housing and training, and also ensuring that they get the most appropriate modern facilities and weapons – hardware and software.

I will also create a regional posture and presence of our forces. We boast of a history of maintaining peace in the region and we would like to keep it that way.

Source: daily Nation

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