By William Church

Director, Great Lakes Centre for Strategic Studies


Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda may suffer significant collateral damage from the United States War on Terrorism in the Horn of Africa. The Somalia conflict and the US War on Terrorism have increased the flow of weapons into Kenya and Uganda, spawned a regional polio epidemic, destabilized the relationship between Kenya and Somalia, increased tension within Kenya’s Muslim community, and created the possibility of an expanded regional conflict.

While the United Nations Security Council remains transfixed on pushing United Nations peacekeepers into Darfur, Ethiopia and Eritrea have extended their conflict by proxy in Somalia. Ethiopia, in an effort to support Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) against the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), pushed into Somalia to retake the town of Bur Haquba near Baidoa. This sparked calls by the ICU for a Jihad against Ethiopia. To support Ethiopia, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer at week’s end then accused Eritrea of supporting the ICU.

The US accusation against Eritrea is not unexpected. According to a wide range of sources, the United States has been supporting the anti-ICU warlords of the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-terrorism (ARPCT) with between $100,000 and $150,000 a month. In addition, there have been other reports of direct military equipment support through Select Armor, a Private Military Company (PMC) based in Virginia.

The US government’s military backing also extends to direct weapons shipments and loans to its proxy, Ethiopia. It has shipped nearly $19 million in weapons in 2005 and 2006, and it is scheduled to ship an estimated $10 million in weapons in 2007, which includes sales by USA-based PMCs.

Regardless of significant US military support to anti-ICU forces, the ICU consolidated their control over much of southern Somalia this week after they took the key port city of Kismayo, near the Kenya border. This recent push by the ICU has increased the Somalia refugee flow into northeast Kenya, which adds to the risk of destabilizing Kenya.

The primary risks to Kenya are also shared by the entire region; however, it is Kenya that will first feel the impact with the shock waves spreading from there. According to UNHCR sources, an estimated 80,000 Somali refugees will flood into Kenya by the end of this year, at a rate of 1,000 refugees a day.

The immediate challenge to Kenya and the region comes in two forms. First, many of the refugees crossing the border are armed because of the necessity created by a decade of war, and second, there is an increased risk of disease as Somali refugees stream into Kenya.

Weapons Trading Route
Both risks are compounded by an East African reality: Somali’s comprise a large percentage of the trans-regional transport drivers and have a history of unfettered cross border movement.  Kenya, and the region, has been suffering from this reality for years. The Eastleigh neighborhood of Nairobi has been known as a wide-open weapons market for years, and Somalia has been the source of those weapons.

Intelligence sources interviewed by the Great Lakes Centre for Strategic Studies (GLCSS) expressed concern that the task of disarming the refugees will not be accomplished by the United Nations. In a previous analysis of regional tribal violence (See GLCSS Weekly News and Analysis 4 August 2006), GLCSS determined in some areas weapons have become currency and have replaced livestock as a measure of wealth.

GLCSS sources stressed that it will be highly probable that the Somali refugees will take advantage of the decade old weapons trade from Somalia and convert their weapons into cash rather than have them confiscated by refugee officials. This will be compounded by a recent ICU statement that announced an active disarmament program to close the thriving weapons bazaars of Mogadishu. GLCSS believes the large influx of refugees will be used as essential cover to move many of these weapons into Kenya for eventual resale to the western part of the region.

The primary risk is a reversal of the disarmament effort of the tribes in northwest Kenya and Uganda.  The Pokot and Karamajong tribes have escalated their cattle rustling violence from spears and bows and arrows to AK-47 in the last few years and have altered their traditional activities with a portion of their income coming from buying and selling weapons as they follow their migration pattern across Uganda.

A secondary risk will be trans-region distribution of weapons and ammunition. GLCSS has documented numerous examples of low-level distribution of ammunition and weapons, which fit this pattern. (See GLCSS Weekly News and Analysis 14 April 2006 for a description of ammunition crossing from Ishasha, Uganda into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and GLCSS Weekly News and Analysis 24 March 2006 for a description of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) breaking open new boxes of ammunition with Arabic inscriptions in Yei district South Sudan).

In both incidences, the ADF (Allied Democratic Forces) and the LRA trace their original military support of weapons and ammunitions supply from this overland route from the Horn or East African nations. Although their support today is no longer state sponsored, the primary trade routes still exist and will be the conduit for the current rush of weapons and ammunition.

Polio Outbreak
Dr. John Orange, a World Health Organization (WHO) Disease Surveillance Coordinator, is tracking a growing outbreak of polio in the region, which originated among the Somali refugees. In the last five months, the number of polio cases has grown from 21 to 30 in the Somali refugee camps, and there has been a similar acceleration in the DRC and as far west as Nigeria.

“Importation of the virus,” Dr. Orange said, “is likely since Kenya has transport links to the affected countries.”

Kenya, which last reported a case of polio in 1984, reported their first case this week. According to WHO, unless efforts are immediately started this could lead to a substantial epidemic.

Negative Political Impact on Kenya and Region
The Executive Director of South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies (ISS), Jakkie Ciliers, sounded an accurate warning of the impact of the US War on Terrorism in the article Africa, Root Causes and the War on Terror (ISS Africa Security Review Vol. 15 no. 3).

“The potential impact upon the region is catastrophic, and may, if not checked open the Horn as the latest battleground between the US and Islam with disastrous consequences for its peoples, regional stability and the consolidation of African development, peace and security.”

Kenya’s Muslims are estimated at ten percent of the population, concentrated in the Northeast and the Coastal regions. In near past, Al Qaeda and Muslim related violence has been manifested in Kenya in a bombing of the US Embassy, attacks on the Norfolk and Paradise Hotels, and the razing of a Mombasa police station by a group loyal to Sheikh Khalid Balala of the unrecognized Islamic Party of Kenya (IPK).

Somalia and the US War on Terrorism have impacted Kenya. There has been the generalized concern that the ICU had an unstated goal of creating a Pan-Somalia state to include the growing Somali population in northeastern Kenya; however, this has been denied by the ICU.

The ICU denial has been supported by the Muslim political parties in Kenya. According to the Farah Moalim Mohammed of the Ford-People Party, the ICU has worked at assuring Kenya that there is no territorial design on Kenya.

This situation has been compounded because of the role of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the African Union in the Somalia conflict. Kenya’s President Kibaki, as head of IGAD, has supported positioning a peacekeeping force in Somalia to assist the TFG; however, based on current domestic pressure there are rumors that Kibaki is reconsidering that position.

Domestically, Kenya’s Muslims are concerned about the direction of the Kibaki government. In 2003, Kenya formed a special counter-terrorism unit and Muslims claim that it is targeted at the Muslim population. Recently, Nairobi saw Muslim demonstrations after Friday prayers to protest the arrest of a Muslim who went to a police station to report that he witnessed the recent grenade attack on a police roadblock in Westlands.

This month the government called for Imams to refrain from mixing politics with Friday services. On the other hand, Sheik Mohammed Dor of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (CIPIK) has recently claimed that recent comments by US President George Bush suggesting that Kenya is “unstable” was an attempt to scuttle East Africa Community relationships.

The United States continues to extend its anti-terrorism campaign by active support of the Kenyan government. It has dropped its self-imposed embargo on Kenya and has accelerated its military weapons support of Kenya from only $300,000 in 2005 to nearly $8 million this year and allowed PMCs to deliver nearly $4 million in weapons in 2005.

In order to combat piracy off the Kenya and Somalia coast, the US has delivered six coastal patrol boats to Kenya.  The three-million-dollar-anti-terrorism project will focus its efforts on reducing the rampant piracy in the region. Other US efforts include a recent meeting of the Coastal District Commissioners where they were instructed on identifying terrorist activity. Kenya is also upgrading its intelligence reporting capabilities with a focus on terrorist activity.

Regional Impact: the Hezbollah Factor
The Hezbollah factor—referring to the social organization and support of Hezbollah political party in Lebanon—may have the greatest regional impact. Central and East Africa are making significant economic and governance improvements but the underlining risk factors remain challenging.

The ICU in Somalia typifies the Hezbollah Factor in Africa and will produce the largest challenge to the US War on Terrorism’s one bomb fits all strategy. ISS’ Jakkie Ciliers describes the ICU as, “an established and accepted presence in local communities, with a demonstrated social welfare policy.”

Ciliers also suggests that Abdullai Yusuf’s TFG had become just another warlord in a long list of previous warlords.

“General Muhammad Farah Aidead (Yusuf’s TFG ally) proceeded to divide and ruin Mogadishu, displacing 100,000s as they seized fertile lands, demolished infrastructure…So in the eyes of the beleaguered inhabitants of Mogadishu, the US aligned itself with what could only be described as a group of terrorist against the only system, The Islamic Courts, that had brought a degree of relief to instability, exploitation, and brutality.”

Ciliers points out that IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Network reported the same views.

“Ultimately, the perceived role of the US provided a popular focus for resentment and served to strengthen the Islamic Courts’ position.”

Interviews with regional intelligence sources describe steady growth in the region of Arab/Muslim influence through commerce and traditional charity and educational structures. This activity has been centered in Tanzania in the past with the Africa Muslim Agency and the CIFA Development Group. In Kenya, al-Haramain Islamic provided religious schools and social programs for the Somali-dominated Daadab refugee camp in Kenya.

In addition, there has been an increase in academic scholarships to countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan because of reduced funding from traditionally, moderate countries like Egypt.

GLCSS does not believe the primary danger in the region is the growth of active, home-grown terrorists. Instead, the immediate danger is the facilitation of networks that can be used by non-national terrorists. This threat will capitalize on the following risk factors of the region:

  • Increased corruption in Kenya creating social unrest
  • Increased drug trafficking network capitalizing on corruption and undermining state authority
  • Increased demographic pressure creating demand for schools and social services
  • Increased political instability exploited by financial groups and lack of international money laundering enforcement and access to raw materials

Kenya Corruption
The issue of corruption in Kenya is significant for a number of reasons. First, it is the front-line effort on the entry and transit of weapons, drugs, and general commodities into East Africa. A Kenya  failure increases the difficulty of enforcement efforts for the remainder of the region.  Second, it undermines the government and builds an opportunity for the Hezbollah-factor to take root.

GLCSS has reported extensively on this issue in GLCSS Weekly News and Analysis 7 April 2006 and GLCSS Weekly News and Analysis 16 June 2006. Both reports paint a picture of an increase in corruption and increased citizen concern. This was embodied in the Anglo Leasing corruption scandal.

Kenya specific studies showed that the number of reported corruption cases had increased by 300 percent during the first months of 2006. The Kenya branch of Transparency International reported that Kenyans reported that in 50 percent of their transactions with the government they encountered corruption. This is up from 34 percent the previous year.

In a more direct measurement, some 46 percent of Kenyans said they paid a bribe during the current year. This also showed an increase from the previous year.

Corruption shows up in other ways when a society has deteriorated to the breaking point. GLCSS has interviewed airline and security officials at Nairobo’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and discovered an alarming security trend. According to these sources, the airport has a rampant theft rate of passenger baggage and cargo without basic security procedures followed in the baggage transfer and holding areas.

Drug Trafficking Networks Used By Terrorist
According to Kenya’s Minister of Internal Security, John Michuki, Kenya has become a transfer point for illicit drugs entering the region and across the region, cocaine seizures increased 600 percent. GLCSS discussed the risk aspects of this drug traffic in GLCSS Weekly News and Analysis 14 July 2006.

Afghanistan is a prime example of the convergence of drug trafficking networks and regional terror organizations exploiting corrupt governments. This factor increases Kenya’s risk factor as an entry and transit point for trans-regional terrorists.

As in the ICU Somalia example, it adds to the Hezbollah-factor in a country’s search for stability and cooperation and it could cause conservative Muslim elements to shun dysfunctional governmental structures. This trend has been confirmed by the Dar es Salaam Anti-Narcotic police who report that “foreign drug barons are using Tanzania as a safe transit point to the Middle East.”

Demographic Pressure
Beyond the break down of security and government functions feeding the Hezbollah-factor, the failure of a state to provide basic health and educational services increases the risk of the creation of a state-within-a-state apparatus. GLCSS discussed this risk in GLCSS Weekly News and Analysis 22 September 2006 for Uganda, which has one of the highest fertility rates in the region.

Uganda’s 6.9 per woman fertility rate will place immediate pressure on health care systems followed by educational institutions. Uganda has a second highest percentage of Muslims at 16 percent, and this is only surpassed by Tanzania with Muslims at 35 percent of the general population.

There are consistent reports of Gulf Muslim charities in Uganda duplicating the strategy used in Tanzania. Regional security officials report an influx of cash to fund the development of mosques and Pakistani-style madrassas. Many of these organizations operate on a sub-governmental level and provide services without government regulation or supervision.

Political Influence and lack of Money Laundering controls
 Diplomats interviewed by GLCSS expressed concerns about Arab/Muslim trading networks providing an alternative political message for developing democracies. These sources cite Burundi as a ready example.

The Burundian political situation has been cast as Hutu opposition party conflicts and as traditional rivalries between the Hutu and Tutsi groups. This reached a peak last month with rumors of a coup attempt to topple the Nkurunziza government. (See GLCSS Weekly News and Analysis 1 September 2006)

Many local observers saw it as a clash between CDD-FDD president Hussein Radjabu, who is a Muslim, and President Nkurunziza fighting for control of the political party. Some international observers reported another view that centered on Radjabu’s Arab/Muslim connections and an alternative view of funding and support.

According to these diplomatic observers, Radjabu believes that the Arab/Muslim international community represents funding and business arrangements that are easier to manage than European-transparent methods. This view may only be a political theory since Burundi’s Muslim population is estimated at one percent of the total population, but it does coincide with the commercial realities of Burundi.

In other words, this is the Hezbollah-factor extending to the political structure and not the social structure. Regardless of the target, this type of state-on-top-of-a-state structure would allow Arab/Muslim networks easy access to the minerals of the DRC and the international banking systems of both countries.

At this stage, East Africa remains poised to continue its impressive economic growth and develop the institutions required to handle these risks. The affects of the Somalia conflict come on the heels of an economic system stretched by a prolonged drought and diminished hydro-electric capacity and increase the risk of instability in the region.


William Church is director of the Great Lakes Centre for Strategic Studies, a London-based think tank with offices in Central and East Africa. You may contact William Church at GLCSS trains African journalists, offers an on-site internship to foreign African studies students, and manages an exchange program with journalists from the United Kingdom, the United States and Europe.


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