War profiteering: The US should pressure the Kenyan military


The following editorial appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Monday, Nov. 16:

The East African state of Kenya has had a long and painful relationship with the Somali rebel group al-Shabab. A new report says the Kenyan army is having a profitable commercial relationship with it.

Kenya has in principle been fighting al-Shabab in Somalia for years, with some 4,000 troops stationed there now. The rebels have struck back in Kenya several times, including a 2013 assault on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, that killed 67 and an attack this year at Garissa University College that killed 147.

The United States provided Kenya with $141 million in military aid between 2010 and 2014 for its Somalia effort, including $38 million last year and a pledge in May to raise it to $100 million this year. Kenyan troops in Somalia fight alongside forces from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Uganda in an African Union group of about 22,000. They also receive U.S. air and drone support from Djibouti and Ethiopia in their combat with the Somali organization.

Journalists for Justice, a Nairobi-based watchdog group, reported last week that the Kenya Defense Forces have had a profitable relationship with al-Shabab since 2011 that includes trade in sugar and charcoal. Sugar worth $400 million a year is imported from a Somali port, then smuggled into Kenya. Charcoal worth $100 million a year is exported through to Persian Gulf states. Kenyan military leaders and al-Shabab split the proceeds.

Kenyan officials have denied the report. Yet this is not the first criticism of their forces profiteering in Somalia. Since 2013, the U.N. Monitoring Group for Somalia and Eritrea has faulted the military for breaching a charcoal export ban on Somalia imposed by the United Nations.

If American officials were aware of this relationship, then U.S. aid to Kenya’s military has been a waste. The aid should now be cut off, at least until the cozy dealings are ended. Kenyan government toleration of trade with the rebel group, in the face of those Kenyans who have died in al-Shabab attacks, is grossly irresponsible even in this country’s generally corrupt environment.

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