Careful where you tread

Things do not seem to be going to plan for Kenya, which went to war for the first time in its history in mid-October. Within three weeks of invading neighbouring Somalia, the country's untested army had crashed a helicopter, torpedoed a fishing boat and bombed a refugee camp. The rainy season has turned tracks into quagmires, slowing the progress of 20,000 soldiers as they attempt to reach the port town of Kismayo, leaving them vulnerable to ambush.

The invasion followed a series of abductions of foreigners from Kenyan resorts and refugee camps which the government blamed on the militant Islamist al-Shabaab, the group that has been fighting a UN-backed administration in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, since 2007. Kenya claimed that its troops were in "hot pursuit" of al-Shabaab kidnappers, but a plan to create a buffer zone against Somalia's chaos - a self-governing state called Jubaland - has been in the works since 2009.

Whatever the underlying motives, the war is proving hugely popular with the Kenyan media. Jingoistic headlines splashed across newspapers and television shows have drowned out dissenting voices. But, rather than make Kenyans and their guests safer, it has precipitated a series of grenade attacks on civilians in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, and elsewhere.

Al-Shabaab leaders in Somalia continue to exhort their followers to exact bloody revenge, and the kind of co-ordinated suicide bombing that killed 76 people in Uganda in July last year is now likely. "It is not a question of if, but when," warns Rashid Abdi at the International Crisis Group.

In Nairobi, people are fearful: shopping malls have cancelled events, bars and nightclubs are less busy than usual, and the streets are patrolled by soldiers. Yet there is also widespread support for the government's action: a sense that something had to be done about Somalia. "You cannot just let people hit you and hit you and never hit back," said Benedict Karanja, a taxi driver whose evening custom has dropped off in recent weeks.

Under pressure

Inside Somalia, the conflict risks strengthening al-Shabaab at a time when it is relatively weak. The persistent famine has diminished both its support and the number of potential recruits. Under pressure from government and African Union forces, it withdrew from Mogadishu in August, losing a valuable source of protection money and taxes.

Perhaps mindful of history - nothing unites Somalis like a foreign invader - Kenya has enlisted allies such as the Ras Kamboni militia, led by Ahmed Madobe. Shortly before the invasion, I visited Madobe's headquarters at Dhobley, a roughhouse border town in southern Somalia. Ras Kamboni looked much like any other Somali militia except for their box-fresh fatigues and new AK-47 rifles, which an intelligence officer, Abdikadir Bashir, said came from Kenya. "We were militias before; now we are a government," he said, rather hopefully.

The US denies supporting the invasion but in recent months its drone strikes have become more frequent and less deniable, handing al-Shabaab a potential rallying cry for Muslims to defend Somalia against Christian invaders. It was Ethiopia's US-backed invasion in 2006 that helped transform al-Shabaab into a powerful force. Another foreign invasion may be exactly what the group needs.

This article first appeared in the 21 November 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The myth of the Fourth Reich

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Ankara bombs: Turkey is being torn apart by bad leaders and bad neighbours

This is the worst terror attack in Turkey’s history. In just a few months, hundreds of civilians, Turkish security personnel and PKK members have been killed.

It had already been a deadly summer of political instability in Turkey. And now this. Another massacre – this time at the hand of twin bomb attacks on a peace rally in Ankara, which have killed at least 97 people.

It is the worst terror attack in Turkey’s history. In just a few months, hundreds of civilians, Turkish security personnel and PKK members have been killed. Barely a single day passes in Turkey without some incident of lethal political violence.

Freedom from fear is the very basic principle of human security, which should be protected by any state that wants a true sense of legitimacy over its population and territory. In Turkey, that freedom is under enormous pressure from all sorts of internal and external forces.

Stirred up

There are plenty of competing explanations for the political violence engulfing the country, but none can seriously overlook the impact of Turkey’s bad political leadership.

The terrible, violent summer reflects nothing so much as an elite’s greed for power and willingness to treat civilians as dispensable. This has become particularly apparent since Turkey’s inconclusive June 7 election, and the way various political parties and leaders did all they could to prevent the formation of a viable coalition government.

Ultimately, the power game is simple enough. At the elections hastily called for November, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP party needs to garner only a few per cent more than it did in June to win the majority it needs for Erdogan to bolster his powers and make himself the country’s executive president.

To that end, pro-government media has been in overdrive throughout the summer, deliberately fuelling an environment of division, paranoia and mistrust in hopes of winning votes out of pure fear.

All the while, southeast Turkey has endured dreadful violence. Some towns – Cizre, for instance, which was under seige for days – have suddenly found themselves on the front line of renewed fighting between the security forces and the PKK.

The demise of the peace process is not just a failure of diplomacy – it signals that the armed conflict is still hugely politically and financially lucrative to Turkey’s political and military leaders. And the violence they’re profiting from is rapidly corroding social life and human security across the country.

The war next door

But the political instability caused by Turkey’s leaders has been greatly exacerbated by its neighbours, especially the continuing civil war in Syria and its deadly ramifications – an influx of jihadist fighters, a massive refugee crisis, and spiralling military interventions.

Since the end of the Cold War, global security has never been so seriously threatened as it is by today’s situation in Syria, which is now host to a head-to-head clash between the interests of Russia, the Assad regime and Iran on the one hand and the US, the EU, their Arab allies, and NATO on the other.

All sides claim to be fighting against the Islamic State and other Islamist extremists, but it’s clear that what’s really at stake is a lot more than just the fate of the jihadists or the political future of Syria. Already there’s an ominous spat underway over Russian planes' incursion into Turkish airspace; NATO has already raised the prospect of sending troops to Turkey as a defensive gesture.

And while it was always inevitable that the Syrian disaster would affect its northern neighbour to some degree, Turkey’s continuing internal political instability is proving something of an Achilles heel. By deliberately forcing their country into a period of chaotic and violent turmoil, Turkey’s leaders have made it more susceptible than ever to the Syrian conflict and the mighty geopolitical currents swirling around it.

And yet they press on with their cynical political ploys – seemingly unmoved by the cost to their people, and unaware that they could just be becoming pawns in a much bigger game.

The Conversation

Alpaslan Ozerdem is a Chair in Peace-Building and Co-Director of the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.