Renewed fighting between Islamist insurgents and Ethiopian forces in Somalia is displacing hundreds in the capital city Mogadishu. More violence is feared after the October 29 resignation of Prime Minister of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) Ali Mohammed Gedi. The move, which came less than a year after TFG and Ethiopian forces ousted the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) from power, followed accusations that Gedi had failed to curb Islamist violence. More than 10 people were killed in the last week of fighting (Shabelle News Network, October 29).
The effects of the Somali chaos have been felt in Kenya, where Muslim leaders are expressing anger at the deportation of 19 Somali Islamist terror suspects, allegedly transferred to Ethiopia, Somalia and Guantanamo Bay early in 2007.
Somalia’s southern neighbor holds general elections on December 27, but Muslims are threatening to deny their votes to incumbent President Mwai Kibaki unless he brings the suspects back. Muslims accuse the administration of violating their rights in frequent anti-terrorism police sweeps and allege increased discrimination in the issuance of passports and identity cards since the 9/11 attacks on the United States (Daily Nation, October 21).
These factors, together with high unemployment rates among young Muslims and a growing influence by radical elements within and without Kenya, have caused many youths to become sympathetic to the Islamist cause in Somalia. At the height of the TFG and ICU battle for Mogadishu, some Kenyan youth—mainly from the coastal province and northern Kenya—were reported to have joined the ICU (East African Standard, November 4, 2006).
President Mwai Kibaki’s re-election campaign team is nervous about losing the Muslim vote, which has sided with the government since independence in 1963. On October 1, Kibaki asked Muslim leaders to furnish him with information on those deported before further negotiations. On October 16, Kibaki also appointed a special committee to address specific concerns raised by the Muslim community with regard to alleged harassment and application of the law on security issues (People’s Daily, October 17).
The government does not deny that there were deportees. Spokesman Alfred Mutua told the press on October 11 that those deported were not Kenyans, maintaining that local Muslims together with the government had scrutinized the names and identities of the deportees and determined they were not bona fide citizens.
On October 25, Kenyan Foreign Affairs Minister Raphael Tuju said that those deported were known combatants in Mogadishu and a danger to the security of the country. He warned that putting terrorist elements in Kenyan jails necessitates a double task of guarding the terrorists so that they do not escape as well as guarding every aircraft that flies in the country (Kenya Television Network, October 25).
Raila Odinga, a Kenyan opposition figure whom Muslims appear to support so far in the campaign, issued a public letter giving the names of those allegedly deported to the three different countries, while promising to protect Muslims against harassment. According to Odinga, 11 suspects were deported to Mogadishu, three to Baidoa, four to Ethiopia and one to the American prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
At the moment Odinga is riding high on a wave of Muslim support, but should he win the election, granting the Muslim community its wishes may be another matter, given the general (but unproven) belief that Kenyan Muslims are radicalizing fast.