Victory in the field of battle is determined by how much steel one side deploys, all other things being equal. But sometimes more important than steel - and the men to bear them - is the will to fight to the end. Kenya deployed soldiers to Somalia in 2011. They demonstrated a command for waging war that had been underestimated. Everyone joined the Kenya Defence Forces bandwagon soon thereafter. Victories in the various theatres came one after the other. And now a decision has to be made: should Kenya continue to deploy its forces in Somalia or should they come home?
Save for astute observers, analysts and ferrets of information, little is known about Kenya's deployments in Somalia, whether alone or as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). What is clear, however, is that despite the deployment of Kenya's forces in Somalia, the problems in Somalia keep spilling over into Kenya. Until the Mpeketoni Attacks, each terrorist attack on Kenyan soil was credited to al Shabaab, the militia Kenya sought to destroy by sending soldiers to Somalia. Their most audacious attack was on the Westgate Mall, a siege that lasted four days; its aftermath is still shrouded in mystery. If, as were had been assured till that September in 2013, al Shabaab had been vanquished, that t was on the run, that its sources of arms and finance had been compromised, how is it that i had the capacity to launch a sophisticated infiltration of our Capital, lay siege on a high value target for four days and have its operatives slip out of the noose of not just the police but of the army and intelligence officers - intelligence officers from Kenya, the USA, Israel and Great Britain? How?
Kenya's forces in Somalia were meant to forestall the crossing over of al Shabaab into Kenya to launch attacks. That plan seems to have come a cropper. Therefore, it is a legitimate line of enquiry to wonder whether KDF's continued deployment in Somalia is warranted. The silence emanating from the presidency is not reassuring. The Commander-in-Chief, the Defence Cabinet Secretary and the Chief of Defence Forces have not spoken to the balance sheet of Kenya's continued engagement in Somalia. How much national treasure has been expended in Somalia? How many servicemen and women have been deployed? How many have been killed or injured? Against what size of the enemy forces? How many of the enemy have been killed, injured or captured? How much territory does the enemy control? How much of the enemy's territory have we seized? How much of the enemy's materiel is under our control? Have we been received with open arms or are we being seen as an occupying force as the Western forces are viewed in Afghanistan, Iraq or Saudi Arabia? Simply refusing to answer these questions will not make them go away.
In the absence of credible official information, we make do with vicious rumours, rumours that sap the morale of our troops in the field and of the people back home. For example, no one has credibly explained away the rumours that KDF personnel have become the primary exporters of al Shabaab charcoal to the Gulf States and importers of contraband sugar into Kenya. One estimate has it that KDF personnel are responsible for the export of a million bags of charcoal to the Gulf in 2013 and that the reason that the National Intelligence Service is unable to "explain why there is contraband sugar in Kenya" is because much of it is smuggled into Kenya using KDF equipment and personnel.
If Kenya's mission in Somalia is going to be compromised because of our determinedly corrupt ways, is it not time that we re-evaluated what our goals in Somalia are? Or, indeed, whether we should continue with our deployment? Much of the good work KDF had done before September 2013 seems to have been rolled back. Immigration officers have become rubber-stamps for all manner of brigands. It is not just al Shabaab fighters that seem to stroll through our border entry points, but also West African drug dealers, Asian ivory smugglers and Ethiopian people-smugglers. The homeland is open to business, it seems, to all manner of security threats because we do not have the will, political or otherwise, to indict every corrupt public official for fear of political retribution. It is for this reason that many have no faith that Kenya's experiences in Somalia will never be interrogated in an open and responsible manner. All we will have will be al Shabaab atrocities on the homeland and rumours of charcoal-selling soldiers in Kismaayo.