Kenya sent troops into Somalia last month in pursuit of al-Shabab, which it blames for a series of cross-border kidnappings. Since then, Kenya has faced the threat (and reality) of retaliation, confusion has emerged over which countries are supporting the military operation, and Eritrea has come under suspicion of arming al-Shabab. Most recently, Kenya said it is moving in on key militant areas in Somalia.
What do you want to know about Kenya’s pursuit of al-Shabab in Somalia? VOA’s East Africa correspondent Gabe Joselow is taking your questions now.
Watch the video to see answers to some of the most frequently asked questions, and add your own question by leaving a comment at the bottom of this page. Gabe will respond to your questions live throughout the day.
Who is funding al-Shabab?
Asked by Godfrey, Chukwuma, Mogomotsi, Anne and Jeremiah
Gabe: Traditionally al-Shabab has relied on funding from members of the Somali diaspora community who are sympathetic to al-Shabab’s cause. It’s very difficult to trace these transactions because a lot of them go through an unofficial halawa network, a system of financial transactions that avoids big banks and doesn’t leave much of a paper trail.
At the same time, the United Nations has said Eritrea has been secretly funding al-Shabab for years. The idea is that Eritrea is trying to support the group because it is also battling Eritrea’s biggest rival Ethiopia. Of course Eritrea denies all the allegations against it and has even accused Ethiopia of spreading these rumors as part of a smear campaign.
Why did Kenya decide to use force, and why now?
Asked by Hussein
Gabe: The Kenyan government will tell you it decided to go to war against al-Shabab because it had been provoked, and because it was in Kenya’s national security interest.
Over the past few months two foreigners have been kidnapped from Kenyan resort towns on the east coast, while another one was killed. Two aid workers were abducted from the Dadaab refugee camps, and Kenyan soldiers have come under attack in cross-border raids.
Kenya’s Department of Defense has said that the entire decision to go to war and all the planning took place within 10 days in October. There is speculation that some of this mission may have been planned months or years in advance, but the Kenyan government is sticking to its position that this was a direct retaliation for these provocations.
Who is partnering with Kenya on this?
Asked by Mogomotsi and Mad
Gabe: The Kenyan military suggested a few weeks ago that it was getting help from international partners, but it wouldn’t name who. All eyes were on the United States and France, but both countries have denied any involvement.
Of course, the United States has been training Kenyan army for a long time and has been providing logistical support for them. The U.S. also announced recently that it was sending unmanned drone aircraft into from Ethiopia into Somalia to conduct surveillance, but denied any involvement in the current operation
As for the African Union, there are about 9,500 AU forces (known as AMISOM) in Mogadishu on a peacekeeping mission. So far they have no part in Kenya’s operation, though the Kenyan government has said it will rely on AMISOM forces as well as forces from Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government to maintain the peace once Kenyan forces eventually pull out.
What is the United Nations’ position?
Asked by Okello, Martie and Stella
Gabe: So far the U.N. hasn’t come out in favor for or against Kenya’s military incursion. But there has been some grumbling among some U.N. agencies who are concerned that the Kenyan military operation may complicate efforts to provide humanitarian aid to Somali famine and drought victims.
In the past, the U.N. has put embargoes on dealing arms to Somalia or Eritrea and they have put sanctions on individuals who are supporting al-Shabab.
How strong is al-Shabab? Can Kenya win?
Asked by Jeremiah, Okello and Mad
Gabe: Over the past several months there was every indication that al-Shabab was actually losing political support in Somalia. The famine and drought hit hardest in al-Shabab-controlled areas, and the group became unpopular because it was preventing humanitarian aid from reaching those in need. There were also reports of internal divisions within the group that were tearing it apart.
That being said, al-Shabab actually gained a lot of support when it was fighting Ethiopian troops during the last decade. And now it’s using a similiar campaign of propaganda, saying that Kenyan troops are violating the sovereignty of Somalia and that al-Shabab is there to defend the country against these foreign invaders. If that propaganda works and al-Shabab gets the support that it had against Ethiopia then we could see a really prolonged conflict.
Your questions live:
How does Somalia feel about this? Do they support it, or are they treating it as an incursion?
Asked by Jessica
Somalia has given mixed reactions about the incursion. The first couple of days the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) didn’t even acknowledge that it was taking place, despite the fact that Kenya said it was working directly with TFG forces
Somalia’s Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali later came out in support of Kenya’s action, but the President, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, later said he was against it. A regional analyst told me Somali politicians are walking a thin line – while they agree on the need to confront al-Shabab, they are trying not to upset members of the parliament and the general public who are against anything that looks like an invasion of Somalia.
Now it’s your turn. What do you want to know about Kenya’s pursuit of al-Shabab in Somalia? Ask your questions by leaving a comment below, and Gabe will respond live.