As Kenyan troops continue their advance inside southern Somalia in a bid to push Islamist rebels back from the shared border, Kenya's country’s foreign affairs and defence ministers flew to Mogadishu for meetings with the transitional government.
Up to now Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has denied that there are any Kenyan soldiers in Somali territory but this line is proving hard to hold with Kenya openly stating that it has begun operations in the war-torn country.
The reason for the denial is sound enough: Experience shows that nothing has the power to unite Somalis like a common outsider enemy.
The United States discovered this in the early 1990s and so did Ethiopia after its 2006 invasion. The TFG does not want to be seen as a weak administration (which it is) supporting foreign intervention in its own land (which it does).
Al Shabaab, Somalia’s Taliban-like insurgent group with links to Al Qaeda, has tried to curry popular support by appealing to Somalis’ nationalism, calling for Muslims to rise up against the foreign, Christian invaders from Kenya. The same arguments worked well after Ethiopia’s invasion but this time the Shabaab is losing popularity and the famine-stricken population is losing the appetite for more war to add to the 20 years it has already suffered.
The visit to Mogadishu by Kenya’s foreign minister Moses Wetangula and defence minister Yusuf Haji was greeted by a suicide bombing that struck close to a foreign ministry building and killed a handful of passers-by.
The attack itself was inept but demonstrated the willingness of Shabaab fighters to blow themselves up in the service of the insurgency. That will worry the Kenyan ministers after a Shabaab spokesman yesterday threatened suicide attacks in Kenya if the foreign troops were not pulled out.
Far from pulling out, Kenya is pushing on. After advancing through small towns in truck and tanks and with air support but facing little resistance it seems a confrontation is set for Afmadow, a town roughly half way between the border town of Dhobley and the Shabaab stronghold of Kismayo.