Africa News blog
African business, politics and lifestyle
By Aaron Maasho
Ethiopia did it five years ago, the Americans a while back. Now Kenya has rolled tanks and troops across its arid frontier into lawless Somalia, in another campaign to stamp out a rag-tag militia of Islamist rebels that has stoked terror throughout the region with threats of strikes.
The catalyst for Nairobi’s incursion was a series of kidnappings by Somali gunmen on its soil. A Frenchwoman was bundled off to Somalia from northern Kenya, while a British woman and two female aid workers from Spain, abducted from a refugee camp inside Kenya, are also being held across the border.
The incidents caused concern over their impact on the country’s vital tourism industry, with Kenya’s forecast 100 billion shillings or revenue this year expected to falter. The likes of Britain and the United States have already issued warnings against travel to some parts of the country.
Kenyans have so far responded with bravado towards their government’s operation against the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group. Local channels regularly show high approval ratings for the campaign, some as high as 98 percent.
Have the Islamists started to go too far in Somalia?
The reaction among ordinary Somalis to an al-Shabaab car bomb attack on African Union peacemakers last week may be instructive.
The attack was billed as an act of revenge against America for a commando raid carried out a few days earlier by U.S. troops, who killed one of the most wanted al Qaeda men in Africa.
As Somalia goes up in flames again , fingers are being pointed at Eritrea for its alleged role in fuelling the conflict. East African regional body IGAD and the continent-wide African Union have both called for sanctions on Eritrea – including a no-fly zone and blockade of its ports – for allegedly supplying arms and equipment to Al Shabaab and other militant Islamist insurgents fighting Somalia’s interim government.The accusations have been around for years, and have surfaced in U.N. reports on breaches of a weapons embargo for Somalia. Asmara says its arch-enemy Ethiopia is driving the accusations, helped by CIA agents in the region, and denies it has given any material aid despite its antipathy towards President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed’s government.Asmara says the government, formed in January during a U.N.-brokered process in Djibouti, is an illegitimate administration imposed by foreign powers. It challenges its critics to produce hard evidence, and says the accusations are particularly hypocritical given Ethiopia’s recent armed intervention in Somalia.Analysts say the spat plays into the wider, unfinished conflict in the region between Ethiopia and Eritrea. They fought a border war between 1998-2000 – just a few years after Eritrea won its independence from Ethiopia – and their armies still face each other, while the governments spit enmity between them. So who is right? How can the rest of the world know the truth? What should Eritrea and Ethiopia both do to further peace in Somalia?