Category Archives: Security

Africa and the ‘War on Terror’: Back to the Future.


The epicentre of the US-led ‘war on terror’ could be shifting to Africa; what with the steady augmentation in counter-terrorism training and funding, US military presence predictably in a bid to bolster counter-terrorism operations, over and above an increase in US-designated terrorist organizations and their activities . France too apparently, has set out to ‘fight terrorism’ in the Sahel.A point is made, validly at that, of the transnational if not global nature of terrorism. Terrorism herein should be understood as ‘the use of violence by sub-state groups to inspire fear, by attacking civilians and/or symbolic targets, for purposes such as drawing widespread attention to a grievance, provoking a severe response, or wearing down their opponent’s moral resolve, to effect political change’. It should be noted that this post lays emphasis on terrorism as an existential threat. Terrorism as an imminent threat receives a mention en passant but would be addressed in depth  in a later post.

The continued terrorist attacks by the Shabaab in Nairobi and other parts of the country  since Kenya’s incursion into Somalia indisputably calls for some hard questions . Moreover, it proves the inefficiency of the bureaucratic model of  the delivery of intelligence information and supports the calls for the National Intelligence Service to be empowered to hit targets after the intelligence collection process. The  existential threat that the group poses  has had the UN Department of Safety and Security in Kenya for instance publish a booklet for its personnel in the country-a guide on ‘’How to Prepare for and Respond to a Terrorist Attack’. This goes to show the level of the threat that is terrorism, not just in Kenya but in a number of what pundits have labelled as ‘front line states’ in the so-called war on terror in Africa.

The continent’s supposed front line states war on terror, markedly bears the hallmarks of US Cold War epoch strategies. It would be vital to take into account that regardless of the remarkable differences between the Cold War and the ‘’War on Terror’’, certain parallels could be drawn. Just like the epicentre of the Cold War shifted from Southeast Asia to (southern) Africa, so is the war on terror, in light of the aforementioned developments, moving from the Middle East to Africa. After ISIS/ISIL happened,  this could be viewed in different  light. That said, it still is significant that the emergence of a number of African countries as “front line states” in the so-called war on terror  has arguably  underpinned the continent’s ”strategic relevance” . This was most recently underscored by Obama’s call on Congress to support a $5-billion Counter-terrorism Partnerships Fund  which will enable the US to ‘’facilitate partner countries on the front lines’’.

U.S. Marine Sergeant explains weapons handling tactics to a group of the Uganda People's Defence Force (UPDF) soldiers during ongoing counter-terrorism combat engineering training, March 2012.

A U.S. Marine Sergeant explains weapons-handling tactics to a group of the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) soldiers during an ongoing counter-terrorism combat engineering training in March 2012. Photo Credit: US Africa Command (

The most conspicuous tactic in regard to back to the future point in the war on terror is the increasing use of proxies by the US. Kenya’s and Uganda’s  involvement  in Somalia, however much in the spirit of Pax Africana isn’t entirely the respective two countries’ war. The war on terror it seems is rapidly Americanizing Pax Africana. In his speech  to graduating cadets recently at West Point, Obama notes that “for the foreseeable future, the most direct threat to America at home and abroad remains terrorism.” That “we have to develop a strategy that matches this diffuse threat; one that expands our reach without sending forces that stretch our military too thin, or stirs up local resentments.” “We need partners to fight terrorists alongside us,” said he.

Kagwanja has it that America’s blanket definition of terrorism within Africa has led to counter-terrorism being one of the weakest links of Africa’s peace and security agenda. In reference to the definition problem, nowhere is this evident than the use of the terms ‘insurgency’ and ‘terrorism’ interchangeably knowingly or unknowingly to refer to the same situation within the discourse of terrorism. Noteworthy, is that terrorism differs from criminal violence in its level of political legitimacy. Of course the immediate victims of terrorism can hardly see any legitimacy of terror unleashed to send a message to a target audience beyond them. Nonetheless, the fundamental nature of war- the use of violence in the pursuit of political ends is unassailable, regardless of its changed subjective characteristics (tactics, means, and theatre).

Language let me say, is not a neutral transmitter of meaning and in this instance the language that is the ‘’war on terror’’ is clearly anything but.  This is why: with specific reference to politicians and other actors in world politics, language is critical because they have to legitimate their foreign policies to audiences at home and abroad. The choice of the term ‘’the war on terror’’ over ‘’counter-terrorism’’ it follows, would definitely have political implications. It is easier to delegitimize grievances, genuine or otherwise preposterous using the former simply because it is a ‘war’. The language that is the ‘’war on terror’’ erroneously presupposes that we can defeat terrorism per se through war.  If anything, observers reckon that ‘Americans are losing the war on terror’ .The military posture of the approach to counter-terrorism is bereft of the fact that terrorism is not a war situation but a tactic employed in times of (relative) peace instead.  This language clouds the real issues by delegitimizing grievances, from the onset. Moreover, the association of terrorism with war has its inadequacy in the sense that the former is asymmetric in nature and expressly constitutes a tactic.

It can hardly be belaboured that there is a hard-to-miss nexus (breeding ground) between terrorism and failed states-which Franklyne Ogbunwezeh describes as ‘’economic backwaters, social apologies and political ruins,’’ or those bearing failed states characteristics. The military option is a quick fix and inadequate response, some would say, to terrorism which in the case of a number of African states is compounded with the already existing instability. Furthermore, the unconventional nature of terrorism as a tactic makes it a ‘’multi-headed snake’’. A terrorist may be an extremist but an extremist is not a terrorist and neither are terrorists criminals to be flushed out from whatever hole/cave they’re in. Mamdani and Mbeki opine that ‘’unlike criminal violence, political violence has a constituency and is driven by issues, not just perpetrators.’’ Force is thus inadequate as a means to counter terrorism. Reportedly, since 2007, the ‘war on terror’ or the peace enforcement mission (as some would describe it) in Somalia for instance has of September 2013 incurred casualties almost equivalent to that of the UN peacekeeping missions since 1948-up to 3000. The statement by the UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson quoting these statistics was nevertheless retracted a day later. The figures on the number of troops sustained by AMISOM are conflicting. The long and short of it is that counter-terrorism has overly been militarized in a world in which states do not wield the monopoly of violence and therein, lies many an African state’s chance to redefine this ‘war’.

Instead, African states have taken to the established Bush narrative of  ‘waging war against terrorists’ as well as America’s  non-negotiation policy stance with terrorists. We have  got to ‘’politically address the issues in which terrorists “wrap themselves up,” without addressing the issues, there is no way of shifting the terrain of conflict from the military to the political, and drying up support for political terror,’’ contends  Mamdani.

Preventive measures have to be given attention as well. The emphasis ought to be on the eventual goal of development which is to eradicate what Amartya Sen calls the sources of development ‘unfreedom’ like poverty. For African states in the ‘front line’, the counter-terrorism strategies should underscore the non-military aspects. An unrelenting war should be waged on abject poverty- a bottom-top approach preferably, official corruption and de-radicalization programmes instituted. Moreover, the consequences of the US-led war on terrorism in many of these critical states should serve as a cue to redefine counter-terrorism strategies.  Not that a one-size-fits-all strategy is implausible. For the Horn of Africa in particular, Professor Kagwanja rightly proposes ‘’nothing short of a holistic and well-coordinated counter-terrorism policy that ties together poverty eradication, conflict resolution and peace-building strategies.’’

At the end of the day though, a pertinent question prompted by  Adekeye Adebajo  in John Davis’ 2007 Africa and the War on Terrorism remains: Will Washington be dismissive of its strategic partners when the war on terror ‘concludes’, à la Cold War?


The twin conceptions of Human Security.


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(a)Freedom from want

Original proponents.

Development economists,Mahbub ul Haq, Amartya Sen.

Main stimulus.

Dissatisfaction over orthodox growth-oriented development models; guns versus butter concerns.

Types of threats addressed.

Non-military and non-traditional security concerns:poverty, environmental degradation,disease etc.

Main policy goal.

Promoting human development, defined as ‘building human capabilities- the range of things that people can do, and what they can be… The most basic capabilities for human development are leading a long and healthy life, being educated and having adequate resources for a decent standard of leaving…[and] social and political participation in society’. These capabilities are undermined by poverty, disease and ill-health,illiteracy, discrimination, threat of violent conflict, and denial of political and civil liberties.

(b)Freedom from fear.

Original proponents.

Western governments (Canada,Norway).

Main stimulus.

End of the cold war; rise of complex emergencies;ethnic strife, state failure, humanitarian intervention.

Types of threats addressed.

Armed conflicts, violence against individuals.

Main policy goal.

Protecting people in conflict zones; reducing the human costs of conflict through a ban on landmines and child soldiers etc;protecting human rights; developing peace building mechanisms.

(Amitav Acharya;Chapter 29 in Globalization of World Politics)

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.