The Relationship between Aid and Security in Eastern Africa
In Africa, the United States (US) military since 9/11 has been involved in the provision of humanitarian and development assistance. This trend is being consolidated in the new US Command for Africa – AFRICOM – that advances a role for the US military in Africa’s development.
One of the models for the new command has been the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) which, since 2003, has been providing humanitarian and development assistance to “win hearts and minds” in Muslim communities in the Horn of Africa as part of a regional counterterrorism and stabilizations strategy.
Somalia is considered by the US and its regional allies to be a threat to their security, not least by offering a possible safe haven for terrorist organizations. Tactically, these military aid projects provide an entry point into communities that are potentially hostile to the US and its interests.
Since the late 1990s, Kenya’s large and thinly populated northeastern borderland area, long considered a security threat by the Kenyan state, has become a focus for US government efforts to counter terrorism, mitigate violent extremism, and promote stability and governance.
Like in North Eastern province, Kenyan security forces have also had a long-term presence in this border district. Manda Bay naval base was built in 1992 in response to the collapse of the Somali government and at the time when US Marines were leading the UN peacekeeping mission there.
Since the mid-1990s, the US military has had an active presence in Lamu, conducting joint training operations with the Kenyan military. The US Navy Seals have used Manda Bay as a staging post for counterterrorism operations and for training the Kenyan Navy.
As in North Eastern province, services and infrastructure are under-developed, even on Lamu Island, which is a popular tourist destination. Plans to establish a new commercial port in the Lamu archipelago is also generating concern, particularly among people on Lamu, because of the potential environmental, cultural, social, economic and political impact.
In Africa, the United States (US) military since 9/11 has been involved so much in the Provision of humanitarian and development assistance. The Pentagon controls over 20% of US assistance to Africa. This trend is being consolidated in the new US Command for Africa – AFRICOM – that advances a role for the US military in Africa’s development.
One of the models for the new command has been the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) which, since 2003, has been providing humanitarian and development assistance to “win hearts and minds” in Muslim communities in the Horn of Africa as part of a regional counterterrorism and stabilization strategy.
Somalia is considered by the US and its regional allies to be a threat to their security, not least by offering a possible safe haven for terrorist organizations. This extends to ethnic Somali and other Muslim communities in the neighboring countries of Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya. Unlike in Afghanistan and Iraq, CJTFHOA’s attempts to win hearts and minds in Kenya therefore occur in a non-kinetic environment where the US is not an active combatant.
“Winning hearts and minds” is an amorphous concept, but in the case of CJTF-HOA it appears to incorporate several overlapping objectives. Tactically, these military aid projects provide an entry point into communities that are potentially hostile to the US and its interests. They allow the military to build connections and networks and acquire knowledge about the population; connections and information which may then be used to augment intelligence, to influence local leadership, or to facilitate a military intervention,should the need arise.
The idea that, by delivering aid, the US military can change people’s perceptions about the United States is premised on very simplistic assumptions. It is naive to assume that a project or series of small projects are sufficient to change people’s perceptions, convictions, and values, regardless of the historical and contemporary local, regional,and global sociopolitical and economic context.
Attitudes are however influenced by a multitude of factors beyond the scope of aid Projects. They include the relationship between the target population and the Kenyan state, their self-perception as Muslims, local leadership, the media, and, more importantly, their perception of the impact of US foreign policy, both globally and in Somalia. Acceptance of aid does not automatically translate into acceptance of the policies or beliefs of the entity providing the assistance.
The US military has been providing humanitarian and development assistance in the North Eastern and Coast provinces of Kenya since 2003. US military Civil Affairs (CA) teams and engineering units have similarly been operating in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and the Comoros.
Most operate in locations that are remote, far from centers of high population density, away from formal government services, and among communities that are predominantly Muslim. These areas are considered strategic because they are perceived to be vulnerable to violent extremism and potential sources of political instability.
The creation of CJTF-HOA was prompted by concerns about Somalia, and the Horn of Africa more generally, becoming a haven for Islamic militants fleeing Afghanistan and Iraq and a focus for Al Qaeda operations. The US military campaign in northern Kenya to win hearts and minds through the delivery of humanitarian and development aid is part of a broader counterterrorism and counterinsurgency strategy in territories and among populations that are considered a security risk to the US government and allied African states.
There is no history of secessionism among the coastal Swahili Muslims. But, like Somalis in the northeast, they have a shared sense of marginalization and grievances against the state, which they trace to European colonialism and earlier and to Kenya’s post-colonial dispensation.
In Lamu district, a particular focus for these grievances has been the pressure on land from settlement schemes, military bases, and tourism. Historically, Lamu town owed some of its wealth to the export of grain produced on the mainland.Under the British colonial authority, the coastal area was administered as a protectorate with coastal lands protected as Crown Land.
In the early 1970s, the government expropriated land to settle Kikuyus in agricultural schemes, the largest being Mpeketoni. The settlers were given title deeds by the government, when Minister of Finance and Economic Planning at the time was Kenya’s current President Mwai Kibaki.
The resettlement schemes altered the ethnic composition of the area, with some claims that Kikuyu now make up 50% of the population of the district. Some Swahilis believe this was a deliberate attempt to destroy their economic power, which adds to the narrative of marginalization in Kenya. The words of a religious leaders reflect a common sentiment on Lamu:
In one particularly violent incident at Wagalla airstrip in Wajir in 1984, up to 300 men of the Degodia clan were killed by the Kenyan army.The incident is regularly invoked as an example of the repressive nature of the Kenyan state.
In colonial times we had access to our land and could minimize our poverty, but Kenyatta gave the land to his people. In the 1980s, people were also moved off Manda Island to make way for a planned military base.
Current government-backed plans to develop another 400,000 hectares for agriculture in the Tana delta will further affect the area and the Orma in particular.Coastal Swahilis are not unique in their experience of oppression and discrimination;
Other coastal peoples, such as the Pokomo and Giriama have historically faced discrimination, including from the elite Swahilis. For coastal Swahilis, however, the grievances over land tenure contribute to a deeper sense of loss of political status and wealth felt by them in post independence Kenya. In 1990, government action to clamp down on the Islamic Party of Kenya led to unrest in Lamu, during which the market was burned down.
The Arab Swahilis of the northern coast have not made the same kinds of gains in national politics as Kenyan Somalis. The latter represent a more unified, predominantly Muslim, voting bloc, than coastal peoples, who are more divided and include mixed faith communities.
Furthermore, the familial, cultural, and economic links between the Arab-Swahili-speaking Muslims of the coast and the Persian Gulf is a distinguishing feature of this area and the sense of marginalization has fostered instead an attitude among some that looks to the Gulf and Middle East for ideas and religious leadership.
Since terrorists attacked the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998, Kenya,Somalia, and the Horn of Africa, and East Africa more generally, have been a focus for international efforts to combat terrorism.
The priority given to the region by Al Qaeda was subsequently underlined by the incidents in Kikambala and Mombasa in 2002. A resurgence of the war in Somalia since Ethiopia intervened militarily in 2006 to overthrow the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) has drawn Kenya deeper into the prosecution of the “Global War on Terror (GWOT).”
The collapse of the Somali and Ethiopian governments and the dissolution of both armies in the same year left the region awash with weapons, so that, in the early 1990s, militia and criminal gangs were often better armed than the police. The influx of reer Somali into Kenya has created tensions between the incomers and the indigenes and has politicized clanism among Kenyan Somalis.
Since the late 1990s, militant Islamists have gradually established a presence on the Somali side of the border and are increasingly seen to pose a threat to Kenyan sovereignty. Proximity to Somalia means that Lamu district has also not gone unscathed by the Somali civil war.
The border town of Kiunga was briefly overrun by forces of the Somali warlord General Mohamed Hersi “Morgan” in the 1990s. As noted, the district has also been a conduit for cross-border smuggling and some instances of robbery on the mainland are also blamed on the availability of light weapons from Somalia. Since 2001, security in the Kenya-Somali borderlands has deteriorated dramatically, as Somalia has emerged as a theater in the GWOT.
The overthrow of the ICU by Ethiopia in 2006, the pursuit of its leadership to the Kenyan border, US C-130 airstrikes against terrorists thought to be harboring with the ICU, the rendition of people fleeing Somalia, 97 and the Ethiopian army’s occupation of Mogadishu have caused a major crisis in the northeastern borderlands. The intensification of the war has led to an increase in the flow of Somali refugees into Kenya and a two-way flow of weapons.
In 2007 and 2008, there were reports of Kenyan Somalis joining the insurgency against Ethiopia in Somalia. In 2009, the rhetoric escalated between the Kenyan government and the Somali Islamist movement Al Shabaab.
Following several border incidents, including the kidnappings of nuns and Kenyan aid workers by gunmen from Somalia, the Kenyan media and government called for a more robust response from the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and raised the specter of Kenyan military.
Since 9/11, an increasing proportion of US foreign aid has been channelled through the US military. What distinguishes the humanitarian and development activities of CJTF-HOA in Kenya’s North Eastern and Coast provinces (and elsewhere in the Horn of Africa) is that they are implemented in a non-kinetic environment, where the US is not militarily engaged, with the exception of occasional Special Forces operations in Somalia itself.
These “hearts and minds” projects in Muslim communities are part of a regional counterterrorism and stabilization strategy, but they also reflect the growing engagement by the US military in the provision of humanitarian and development assistance, a trend that is being advanced in the newly-established US Command for Africa—AFRICOM.
In assessing the CJTF-HOA hearts and minds activities, it is useful to distinguish between their tactical and strategic impact. From a US military perspective, the hearts and minds activities have, tactically, helped the US military to establish a limited presence in a region and among populations that have historically been considered a threat by the Kenyan state and a current risk to the US government.
An argument has been made that the US should increase its foreign aid to coastal Kenya, to earn goodwill and increase the legitimacy of the Kenyan government and “to increase the price terrorists need to pay to buy local assistance and acquiescence.
However, the words of a “moderate” influential religious leader in Lamu underline the fact that aid alone cannot buy influence: The projects are useful, but winning the hearts of the people has not been achieved.