Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Outlining the Impact of the Kenyan Elections on Somalia - By Aaron Stanley

Kenyans are cautiously approaching the first general elections since violence erupted following the 2007 election. The elections will be a test for one of Africa’s most prosperous and stable nations, a hub of East Africa, and quickly becoming one of the primary locations for business on the continent. Regional consequences are plenty: crucial players in Somalia’s stability; economic partners with South Sudan; and key players in the East African Union, destabilization and turmoil in Kenya will have significant consequences beyond the country’s borders. Internally, the implementation of a new constitution, citizen confidence in the government, and significant internal investment in infrastructure, business development, and citizen services, will all feel a considerable depression in effectiveness and growth if disturbed by a violent transfer of power. This article specifically examines how the elections could play a unique role in the continued stability of Kenya’s fragile northern neighbor, Somalia.  

Kenya’s current role in Somalia

Kenya is currently one of the key players in both security and governance development of Somalia’s Juba region. In October 2011, the Kenyan Defense Force (KDF) entered southern Somalia [1] in order to: (1) secure their borders following multiple high profile kidnappings from within Kenya by Al Shabab and other Somali groups, and (2) to aid the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) in removing Al Shabab and attempting to create long-term security in the country. Moving slowly, the KDF finally reached Somalia’s second largest city and port, the southern city of Kismayo in October 2012 [2].

Following their capture of Kismayo, the KDF (now formally under AMISOM auspices) continues to maintain security in large parts of the Juba region. Kismayo, as a hub of Somalia’s southern economy has been contested since the removal of Al Shabab. Warlords, politicians, clan elders, and others are all vying for control of the city, which would give them power over measurable resources and wealth.

Kenya has maintained relations with Somalia’s newly established (September 2012) Federal Government. In mid-December 2012, the President of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud visited Nairobi. During his visit, he and Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki signed cooperation agreements committing the two countries to continued collaboration and inter-connectivity [3].

Finally, Kenya has been the primary receiver of Somali refugees. At times heavily criticized for not doing enough to improve refugee’s conditions, Kenya houses one of the largest refugee camps in the world - the Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya. Somali refugees have recently come under high levels of scrutiny following a multitude of attacks within the predominately Somali neighborhood of Eastleigh in Nariboi. Multiple grenade attacks spurred laws calling for the removal of Somali refugees from Nairobi (however, courts declared this law void) [4]. The attacks and the legislative response provide a view of an underworld of interactions between Kenya and Somalia in what many would consider a positive relationship.

Kenyan Elections

Kenya’s elections, scheduled for 4 March 2013, have already seen conflict between political party supporters and protests turning into riots. Primaries held on 17 January 2013 brought about several conflicts following the announcement of results. Many are claiming this is only a preview of what is to come following the general elections. The presidential elections main candidates are (current Prime Minister under the 2008 power sharing agreement) Ralia Odinga and (former Minister of Finance and currently under International Criminal Court investigation) Uhuru Kenyatta.

While the presidential election is certainly the most talked about and contentious, governor races over newly formed counties will also have significant possibilities of violence emerging following their results. The 2008 constitution divides regional governance into 47 counties rather than the current 7 regions, creating new constituencies and more contests for regional power.

The Presidential Candidates and Somalia

Prime Minister Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and Uhuru Kenyatta of The National Alliance Party (TNA) have shown to be far above other candidates for president. As the most likely candidates for president, it is important to examine their positions in relation to Somalia.

As prime minister, Odinga has played a significant role in Kenya’s current interactions with Somalia. Odinga has been quoted as saying, “It is my intention to bring the people of Somalia together in order to find a lasting solution to the conflict.”[5] Odinga currently is responsible for appointing the Kenyan political advisor on Somalia. Additionally, he has been noted as saying that Kenya will not pull troops from Somalia until security and stability have been restored. Overall, one senses an Odinga presidency would lead to a continuation of Kenya’s current strategy and policies in regards to Somalia.

Uhuru Kenyatta is a lesser-known quantity regarding his policy on Kenyan-Somali relations. The majority of information on Kenyatta’s Somalia policy relates to domestic policies that relate to Somalis and Somalia. Kenyatta has received backing from the counties bordering Somalia (which also maintain large Somali populations). Additionally, Kenyatta has been outspoken about resisting a ban on miraa (also known as Khat – a plant chewed in Somalia similar to Coca). Kenyatta’s lack of defined policies on Somalia leaves speculation about possibilities for alterations or changes to the policies currently conducted by the Kenyan government. 

Of note is Uhuru Kenyatta’s current prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Accused of being one of the key conspirators of violence following the 2007 election results, it is unknown how the prosecution against him would affect his role as president if he were to win. It is imagined that this process could create significant destabilization; however, at the moment there is not a strong understanding among Kenyans of what this could entail or how it would be handled.

Destabilization, Kenya, and Somalia

Despite Kenyatta’s policies towards Somalia being somewhat of an unknown quantity, it should be safe to say that the actual results of the elections will not have a significant impact on Kenyan-Somali relations. What could have a significant impact is post-election violence and turmoil. The possibilities of electoral conflict in Kenya could destabilize the country, removing focus from external relations and onto establishing security and governance in Kenya, rather than Somalia. The impact of this would be quite dangerous to the security of southern Somalia. A decrease in security surrounding Kismayo port could allow in-roads for Al Shabab back into the revenue-rich city.

The reality is that political violence and turmoil poses a huge possibility of removing significant amount Kenyan troops from southern Somalia. Similar to the country, the Kenyan military remains highly associated to regions and tribes. Their allegiances could pull them back to Kenya to participate or aid in the conflict. Kenyan troops leaving southern Somalia would open up opportunities for renewed access by Al Shabab, regional militias, and contests for security power by warlords; all of whom have been pacified, removed, or are in the process of being removed by the Kenyan military presence. Somali progress in governance and social services that has been so highly lauded in recent months is extremely dependent on the maintenance of security. A break-down in security would signal massive setbacks for Somali development and stabilization.

[1] “Kenyan troops enter Somalia: Military action comes after rash kidnappings from refugee camp,” CBC News, Last Modified 16 Oct. 2011,

[2] “Kenyan and Somali troops surround Kismayo,” AlJazeera, Last Modified 1 Oct. 2012,

[3] Joint Communique issued at the Conclusion of a Meeting Between H.E. Mwai Kibaki, President of the Republic of Kenya and H.E. Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, President of the Federal Republic of Somalia on Friday, 21st December 2012

[4] “Kenya orders Somali refugees to go to Dadaab,” BBC News, Last Modified 18 Dec. 2012,

[5] “KENYA: Odinga appoints new political advisor on Somalia,”, Last Modified 23 Dec. 2012,

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