Deadly Tribal Fighting Erupts In Kenya caught my eye yesterday, but I hesitated to add this, because we are going to wade into the Horn of Africa. While not a part of the Horn proper, which is defined by geography, Kenya has a large Somali population, and it also shares the same climate driven food security problems. The nature of the trouble in Kenya is a conflict that has been with us for more than ten thousand years – how do farmers and herders share water and food in times of drought?
Drought is not uncommon in this already arid region, but 2011 was extreme, uprooting people from Somalia and pushing them into Ethiopia and Kenya.
The entire region is under stress, but pay attention to the speckled area. ‘Limited Humanitarian Access’. Remember Black Hawk Down?
You can move, adapt, or die when things change. When you’re in an arid land and drought hits there isn’t any adaptation – there simply isn’t enough water. You get moving or you die where you are.
Kenya’s dry northeast is ethnic Somali. The lines on the map are not as bad as the Caucasus, but there were western imperial adventures here, too. Kenya was a British holding, Somalia was French, and Ethiopia was held by Italy.
So the Darod tribe is in the dry northeast of Kenya, but aid workers can go there. They’re in Ethiopia, but their territory is deemed unsafe. Their portion of Somalia is safe. What in the world is going on here?
Somalia is a country, but that is just lines on a western map. The reality on the ground is a bit different. The largely Ishaak region of Somalialand in the northwest and mostly Darod Puntland in the northwest are not internationally recognized, but they are basically self governing. The south has been in and out of chaos and starvation for the last twenty years. I think this map is also a bit dated – UIC is the Union of Islamic Courts and the Provisional Government was ready to implode before Kenya invaded and backed them.
So what does this have to do with Kenya? I don’t typically reference blog posts, but Kenya, Reluctant Regional Power neatly summed up what I had been seeing in other places – 63% of Kenya’s GDP is the service industry, and that is dominated by tourism. They won’t tolerate any trouble in Somalia interfering with this.
As evidence of Kenya’s move towards becoming a true regional power, Kenyan forces were the first to respond against the menacing al Shabaab militants after a media frenzy erupted following high-profile kidnaps along its border with Somalia. The Kenyan Government was forced to act, worried about its reputation, its own security, and the damage such abductions might do to country’s lucrative tourism industry. Beneath these reasons, however, lies perhaps the truth: Kenya is striving to be a regional powerhouse, and in order to elevate its political standing, it decided to exercise its military might. Since October 2011, Kenya began a full-scale military operation to root out al Shabaab, not only within its borders, but in neighbouring Somalia as well. Somalia’s own army proved insufficient and inherently weak, and as such Kenyan forces felt obligated to intervene. Although since this time, Ethiopian troops as well as African Union soldiers have also entered into the fight, Kenya is clearly leading the operation.
Striking cross border to deal with a regional problem is one thing, but what happens when the conflict is domestic and driven by climate change? Not only is there the friction between farmers and herders along the Tana, but 615Mw of the countries total 1,142Mw comes from hydroelectric power. If local electric supplies stumble due to drought and the seemingly imminent European banking sector crash hobbles the usual supply of tourists, Kenya’s tenure as a regional power might be fairly short.