Nairobi’s Incursion into Somalia:A Realist’s Perspective.


AMISOM Forces in Kismayo

One year,is how long it has been since Kenya’s military operation against the Al-Shabaab,aptly

codenamed”Operation Linda Nchi” was launched.That realism,deriving its fundamentals from

power and sovereignty best elucidates the invasion by the Kenya Defence Forces of the Al-Shabaab militia

group in Somalia,a country embedded in what was seemingly becoming unending state of anarchy,is

irrefutable,is true at least according to me.

.Proponents of The Doctrine of raison d’etat (reason of state). i.e. realists,have statism as the first basic

tenet of realism.Jackson and Sorensen reckon the state is considered to be essential for the good life of its

citizens:without  a state to guarantee the means and conditions of security and to promote welfare,human life is

bound to be perpetually pathetic.The state is therefore a protector of its territory and the populace’.So,the threat

to national security, which saw many a state providing huge budgetary allocations to the military,especially in

the 1970s,and even today is the casus belli in Kenya’s incursion into Somalia.This,corroborated by a spate of

abductions of foreign tourists from deep inside Kenyan territory by the Al Shabaab.Baldwin,notes that while

states remain sovereign,their actions and attainment of their goals are conditioned by other actors’ (states)

behavior and their expectations and perceptions about this.

For a structural realist like Waltz,the structure of the international system which is defined by anarchy and the

distribution of power across units (states) is what influences foreign policy decisions and since the state is the

principal actor in international politics,states subsequently ought to have foreign policies,in itself a self-help

measure that seeks to perpetuate their survival in the international realm (an anarchical one)Craig writes:’realists

differ in their personal views about foreign policy and military strategy,so it’s not surprising that some have

favored confrontational policies and the use of force.In general, however,realists are likely to counsel prudence

and caution,because realism emphasizes a sense of limits and the importance of being aware of one’s

adversary as well as one’s own power.’Theirs-Kenya,has been the policy of non-intervention in the internal affairs

of sovereign states,even where national security was at risk as evidenced with attacks from deadly militias from

Ethiopia(Oromo Liberation Front),South Sudan(Toposa tribesmen) and Merille warriors(Ethiopia).However, this

benign government approach might be a thing of the past because as Williams suggests,’foreign policy takes

precedence over domestic policy because it concerns issues on which the survival of the state depends’.This

depicted by the presence of the Kenya Defence Forces in Jamhuuriyadda Somaaliya-Somalia,since war in itself is a tool of foreign policy.

Chapter VIII,article 51 of the United Nations Charter of 1945,legally underpins Nairobi’s incursion into Somalia.It

states,and I paraphrase;in the present charter,nothing shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective

self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations.Kenya was therefore obligated

to go after the Al-Shabaab since it is mandated to protect individuals within its territory.Moreover,security

intelligence reports had it that a planned terror attack on Kenyan soil was foiled in 2010.Structural realist

Kenneth Waltz argues that the anarchical structure of the international system,comprises functionally similar

sovereign states which face the same challenges posed by this anarchical environment and hence makes

states to have a set of common interests,in this case,security.That gives a shot in the arm of

Uganda,Tanzania,Rwanda,Burundi and Ethiopia’s support for Kenya’s incursion into Somalia.However,with

regards to relative gains as advanced by Joseph Grieco’s  modern realism,these IGAD(Intergovernmental Authority on Development) states could have as well withdrawn their support for Nairobi.

But with Al-Shabaab gone,the security of Kenya and the region at large would have been assured,the region

would  get rid of the disgrace of producing the highest number of pirates in the world,foreign terrorists,the largest

conduit for narcotics and hosting the largest refugee camp in the world-Dadaab.Apparently,Somalia has

untapped reserves of vast natural resources:uranium,iron ore,tin,gypsum,bauxite,copper,salt,natural gas and

due to its proximity to the oil-rich Gulf Arab states,it’s also believed to have substantial unexploited oil

reserves.Of Africa’s cumulative proven reserves of 600 million barrels,Somalia alone  is estimated to hold

reserves of around 4million barrels.It shouldn’t therefore be lost to us, of what comes with a stable Somalia to its

neighbors.This very fact only seeks to underscore a core assumption of neo-realists,that ‘states are rational

actors,selecting strategies to maximize benefits and minimize losses’.

The most prominent and conspicuous grounds for Nairobi’s incursion into Somalia,as per realism,is

survival.That in an anarchical environment,there can be no assurance of the state’s survival and as realists

rightfully assume that all states wish to perpetuate their survival,at the nerve-center of states’ national interests

therefore,survival ought to be the domineering factor.The promotion of national interest,just like the pursuit of

power as subscribers to The Doctrine of raison d’etat have it;is an iron law of necessity.It is against this

backdrop that Kenya sought to ‘weed out’ Al-Shabaab.

Somali’s instability had  increasingly become a  source of threat to Kenya’s economy(a GDP of $33.62billion as

at 2011),which it-Kenya,pegs its survival as a state on.A string of  foreign tourist kidnappings is what it took to

shake the multi- billion Kenyan tourism industry to the core,the third largest after the  horticultural and tea

industries respectively.This saw massive cancellations of hotel bookings by tourists and issuance of travel

advisories by major Western governments to their citizens,which needless to say not only hurt the Kenyan

economy but also dented its image internationally.Investors might have been scared off by the state of

insecurity following those kidnappings since security is the currency potential investors cherish.For Kenya,an

illicit parallel trade network worth millions of dollars thrives between Nairobi’s Eastleigh estate  and

Mogadishu.Nairobi hopes that a legitimate government stability in Somalia will help formalize this parallel

economic system.(The East African)The influx of refugees, (623,100 according to UNHCR 2012-2013 planning

figures) from Somalia continue to ”burden” Kenya in that refugees compete with host communities for  the

scarce natural resources,in effect,greatly affecting the semi-arid ecosystem.It was therefore prudent for

Kenya,driven by the need to perpetuate its existence and survive against all these thorns in the flesh of  its

economy to invade the Al-Shabaab.

The principle of action in an anarchical environment is self-help.Thus the onus is on individual states to ensure

their survival.It is with this in mind that Nairobi marshalled its troops and went after the Al-Shabaab.Written in

1625 by Hugo Grotius(the father of international law),De Jure Belli ac Pacis Libri Tres (On the Law of War and

Peace) spoke of a society of sovereign states and rooted it firmly in law.This brought with it the universal

principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other sovereign states and the respect for territorial

integrity.But this principle intended to enhance global co-existence  is suspended by realists outside domestic

politics,arguing that powerful states are able to overturn the principle of non-intervention on the grounds of

”national security”,as the U.S.A did in Iraq and continues to do in the Arabian Peninsula via drone attacks.The

existence of of moral  universal principles in geopolitics is what realists don’t buy,in fact,some would say,if need

be,that they consider it as insignificant as zebra crossings in the streets of Nairobi.Instead,they abide by the

concept of  dual morality,which effectively justifies Kenya’s disregard of Somalia’s sovereignty.As G.Stern

claims, international strife cannot be prevented by legal or moral rules. Jackson and Sorensen point out as well

that human society and morality is confined to the state and does not extend into international relations.Kenya

would not have sacrificed its national interests on the altar of universal moral principles.It is utterly unacceptable

to a realist that Kenya  suffocates its quest for security in the name of respecting other states’ sovereignty.

Power as end in itself-Morgenthau,and the view by Mearsheimer,an offensive realist,that the anarchical system

of international relations necessitates states to augment their relative power position using military

capability,and the fact that Kenya’s military  is  superior in the East and Central African region is what compels

me to argue sensationally,that Kenya could as well be after regaining its hegemonic tentacles in Eastern

Africa.Firstly by setting the pace,so to speak,on how it conducts geopolitical relations with other states in future

and secondly by annexing the fertile Juba land which had  sought to secede from Somalia, to create a buffer


In lieu of  Kenya maximizing its relative power,from a defensive realist’s point of view,Kenya’s merely seeking

that power to maximize its security.To them,security and not power maximization is what emerges top  in a

state’s list of priority.But because one state’s quest for security is another’s source of insecurity,a security

dilemma is created.In Kenya’s case it could have been inflated by the possible trickle effect emanating from the

fact that a militia group in an infamous ”failed” state was getting weapons from hijacked ships.This prompted

Kenya’s incursion  into Somalia if only to guarantee its security,in what pundits rightfully link to the global war

on terror,since Al-Shabaab itself joined Al-Qaeda in February 2012,which ‘immediately after 9/11 was depicted

as the center of a global nexus of terrorism connected to almost all terrorist groups’,Al-Qaeda being responsible

for the 1998 bomb last in Nairobi.

A comical  look at what’s still to be done in Somalia. 


Much still has to be done in Somalia;the Al-Shabaab still control large parts of the rural areas and clan-ism is

rife.At the end of the day,states often feel no more secure than before they embark on enhancing their own

security.This realist fact,very evident with Nairobi beefing up its homeland security amidst ”Operation Linda

Nchi”,hence anchors the invasion of the  Shabaab by the KDF on realism.
Survival:the primary objective of all states is survival;this is the supreme national interest to which all political leaders must adhere

Security dilemma:arises when military preparations of one state create an unresolvable uncertainty in the mind of another as to whether those preparations for defensive purposes only or whether they are for offensive purposes.

Dual morality: one moral standard for individual citizens living inside the state and a different standard for the state in its external relations with other states.

Statism:the idea of the state as the legitimate representative of the collective will of the populace.

Self-help:the principle of action in an anarchical system where there is no global government.

Anarchy: (in this case)no overarching central authority in international politics.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s