Remember the construction of a 700-kilometre concrete wall along the Kenya-Somalia border aimed at restoring peace in the region and keeping at bay the Al-Shabaab militia group?
Now the new Defence Cabinet Secretary, Aden Bare Duale, describes the move as archaic and plots to roll out a modern, sophisticated and comprehensive security system.
The notion of the wall was mooted following a series of bloody attacks in Kenya by the Somalia-based militia group, including the deadly attack on Garissa University on April 2, 2015 that claimed 148 lives.
Complete with security cameras, a heavy mesh and razor wires running, the wall was aimed at limiting the movement of armed militants across the porous border.
In an interview with The Weekly Review, Duale also addresses the long-standing Kenya-Uganda dispute of Migingo Island, described rather hilariously by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni as “a senseless battle over some rocky grounds in Lake Victoria”.
In the interview, Duale also responds to the delicate issues of Kenya Defence Force’s (KDF’s) latest deployment to eastern Congo, the mission in Somalia, and the tasks ahead at the Defence Headquarters.
Let us start with your appointment. Why do you think the President picked you for the Defence slot? Do you have any background or understanding in this area?
I have no idea why he picked on me as only he can talk about my suitability. However, I will take the heavy responsibility bestowed on me by the President to perform my duty with the diligence and satisfaction that is required.
And except for having an early brush with the military fraternity at high school, that is Moi Forces Academy, where I did my Form Five and Six, and being a son in-law of an army general, I have no military background.
Nonetheless, I am very much at home with the military fraternity and I will try to make a difference during my tenure as Defence CS.
Kenyan Somalis as well as those in Somalia, Ethiopia and in other parts of the Horn of Africa regard you as an influential political leader in the region. How will you balance their expectations with those of your countrymen and women?
It is true that I am a prominent leader among the Somali and Muslim communities in Kenya and the Horn of Africa.
This notwithstanding, I am first a Kenyan, and Somali next. I have been a legislator for three terms and had just won my forth term and having been the first and longest-serving Leader of Majority in the National Assembly, I now want to make a mark and impact in government.
I need to add value to my government.
And do you think you will be conflicted with clan politics?
This is a rather irritating, if not unfair, question that keeps being directed at me. I am not the first Kenyan from a community that transcends our borders to be appointed to the Defence docket.
Or are we suggesting that the Maasai, Luo, Bukusu, Kuria, among others, should never hold this portfolio? In any case, I am not the first Somali to hold the Defence or security docket.
Others before me like the Senator Yusuf Haji, did their bit and I don’t think they underperformed or compromised our country’s security.
As you settle down into office, there have been concerns among Kenyans over the “militarisation of government services”. Should we expect an extension of the same by this government?
It was wrong for the former President (Uhuru Kenyatta) to have given military personnel civilian authority, and the question of efficiency by KDF as the excuse for doing so should not arise here. Whether or not my officers can do a better job, that role must be played by the right institutions and personnel as envisaged by the Constitution.
Devolution is particularly important and a critical phase of our Constitution, and that is why we maintain that notion of NMS (Nairobi Metropolitan Service), headed by a military officer, was a big mistake. Even the notion of transferring the Kenya Meat Commission docket to the military was inappropriate and we are right now in the process of reversing all that.
I can assure you that going forward, the Commander-in-Chief of the KDF will revise any such previous mistakes.
Separately, what are your thoughts on the long-standing controversy surrounding the ownership of Migingo Island in Lake Victoria?
This is under consideration under our watch, not just of my ministry but three others – Interior, Foreign Affairs and Lands.
Consultations on this matter are being handled at the highest level of both governments of Kenya and Uganda.
What about our fishermen, who are perpetually harassed and arrested by Ugandan authorities?
The arrests of our fishing communities as well as the Migingo issue are the result of a dispute over territorial waters.
This is of major importance to us and we are looking at it with a view to addressing both concerns. We will first strive to resolve the border dispute, courtesy of the inter-ministerial team.
In light of what a Ugandan army general recently said on social media, are you willing to take advantage of the situation – now that you are in charge – to demonstrate to the neighbours that we are a force in the region?
We enjoy good relations with Uganda and we regard President Yoweri Museveni as an elderly statesman and a good friend of our country and President.
That aside, this matter has already been addressed at the very highest level of government, with President Museveni offering apologies to his counterpart.
Needless to add, there is no doubt that our military posture in the region is first class and this is a fact known to all.
Talking about regional standing, last Friday, President William Ruto deployed more than 900 military personnel to tackle armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. What is the persuasion behind this move?
To begin with, this is not entirely the President’s or our country’s decision. The move follows a resolution by the head of states in the East African Community, after the DRC was formally admitted to the regional body in March this year.
It is a decision that was arrived at when the former President was at the helm of power and it was arrived at with a view to resolving the crisis in the DRC.
Besides Kenya, which is deploying one battalion, the mission also involves Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi with two battalions each, South Sudan with one, while Tanzania has given the commitment to join the mission at a later date.
What is the overall purpose of this engagement by the regional forces?
The objective of the mission is clear – to implement the head of states’ decision of restoring peace in eastern Congo, open up humanitarian corridors so that the vulnerable and marginalised groups can be attended to as well as to give the political process a lifeline.
What is in it for us as a country, Bwana CS?
We are happy to participate because of various reasons, including the fact that we are investing in peace in the region, from which we stand to gain immensely.
Don’t forget that Kenya is particularly viewed as a neutral arbiter in this case because we are the only nation that does not share a border with the DRC.
Ours is accordingly a trusted and professional army and we hope to build on this factor as well as our experience to have our forces integrated in the peace-keeping missions across the world. This provides a good capacity-building and information sharing opportunity.
Don’t you think that by getting directly involved, Kenya risks being caught up in existing hostilities with Uganda and Rwanda?
We are alive to the fact that we could be dragged into ongoing proxy wars involving other regional nations.
But we have engaged accordingly, right from home, where we secured approval from Parliament in accordance to Article 240 (8) of our laws, to the head of our military up to the presidential level, just to ensure everything is smooth and safe, and that we do not get caught up in the local hostilities. Before setting foot in the DRC, we also ensured we got endorsement from all the relevant bodies, right from the regional community, the AU as well as the UN Security Council.
For how long are we in the DRC, or are we likely to end up the Somalia way where we entered the country in 2011 hoping to conclude a security operation soonest but to this day we are still stuck in the country?
I know the situation in the DRC is bound to be even more complex compared with Somalia, where the Al-Shabaab militia is the target group. In the DRC, however, we are confronting more than 150 militias.
Nonetheless we do not plan to stay in Goma, where KDF is stationed, for more than a year. We are also alive to the realities regarding financial and other related costs of this mission.
In Somalia’s case, are there new plans by the government over KDF’s presence in the country?
We have no new calendar for our soldiers in Somalia, given that the KDF troops are operating under ATMIS (African Union’s Transition Mission in Somalia) alongside other TCCs (Troop Contributing Countries).
We will be in that country to restore peace and shall exit from Mogadishu once this is achieved.
However, there is a drawdown in place already for the exit plan, starting with TCCs which have more troops, such as Uganda. But since the entry of KDF in Somalia, the Al-Shabaab militia has yet to be subdued Our engagement is based on national security and we believe we have registered some achievements as the cases of attacks have scaled down.
The presence of KDF and other forces has also helped to professionalise the SNA (Somali National Army), and build their capacity in dealing with the threat of militia groups.
Which reminds me… what became of the concrete wall the government was building along the Kenya and Somalia border?
I have no idea about its progress or how long the wall stretches. But I will have to visit Mandera soon to assess the situation.
In this day and era, are you still convinced that this physical boundary is the apt solution to security enforcement?
This is obviously an archaic programme. We are now working on a better and sophisticated approach with the Federal Government of Somalia, with the help of other development partners in creating a robust border security, also aimed at opening up safe border passage points at Kiunga, Liboi and Mandera.
We have put the relevant infrastructure on our part and are only waiting for Somalia to do their part. This is going to be an interdepartmental approach involving various ministries of Defence, Interior and Foreign Affairs. In the end, the programme will ensure we have a more comprehensive security approach.
Separately, you are perceived to be a great supporter of former Somalia President, Mohamed Farmaajo. How does this sit with the reality that now you will be working with his main rival, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, in your official dealings with Somalia?
While it is true that at a personal level Farmaajo is a friend, I do not support individual leaders, but rather I always work with the government of the day.
I am also known to President Hassan. He has demonstrated to us the goodwill to work with the government of President William Ruto and we have accordingly embraced him. As a government, we do not interfere with internal affairs of other countries. We only deal with them based on mutual interest and good neighbourliness.
What should we expect from your dealings with Somalia?
We will support President Hassan and the people of Somalia to bring about peace in their country and in the region, just like we will in DRC, Ethiopia and within EAC and IGAD.
And finally, what are your specific goals for the KDF
I want to focus on enhancing the welfare of our servicemen and women through better healthcare, accommodation and training, and also ensure they access the most appropriate modern facilities and weapons – hardware and software.
I will also create a regional posture and presence of our forces. We brag of a peace-keeping history in the region and we will want to keep it that way.