Do Amina a favour, forget about Dadaab for now

Kenya said on Wednesday it was delaying the closure of Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, which houses nearly 300,000 Somali refugees. Kenya, which holds that Islamist militants from neighbouring Somalia use the camp as a cover for their incursions into the country, has been under intense international pressure to give the residents more time to find new homes.

Human-rights and refugee-rights groups had slammed Kenya for the decision, arguing its unilateral decision violated international law.

For now, however, let’s accept the Kenya government is right to close Dadaab, and that there is therefore no legal — or moral — problem there.

The only issue is that it is bad politics and timing. President Uhuru Kenyatta recently threw Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed’s name in the ring to contest in the upcoming second attempt to elect a new chairperson of the African Union Commission to replace Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

One of Nkosazana’s more uncomfortable moments must have been in early 2015, during the bout of xenophobic violence against African immigrants in South Africa.

To make matters worse, many of the victims that time were Ethiopians, and there she was, sitting at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa.

Because she is a political leader in her own right back home, and is seen as one of the potential successors to her ex-husband President Jacob Zuma, it must have undermined her pan-African credentials.

In Kenya’s case, Ms Mohamed is a Kenyan-Somali. Currently one of Kenya’s biggest security concerns is stabilisation in Somalia, where its troops serve as part of the AU peacekeeping force Amisom.

Some commentators have argued that sending Somali refugees back home, when there aren’t sufficient preparations on the ground to take them back into society, only serves Al Shabaab’s interests. To make a living, some returning youth are likely to join the militant group.

Kenya would thus be undermining the cause of its mission in Somalia.

Strategically, if Ms Mohamed were to be elected AU chief, for Kenya that would be most beneficial in the area of Somalia, where Amisom is struggling in the face of donor financial aid cutbacks to its operations. She could dramatically change the standing of the mission by making it a more mainstream matter in the AU.

Right now, as the troop contributions indicate, the rest of Africa sees Somalia as a regional “tribal” problem for East and Horn of Africa.

In the same way, East and Southern Africa has largely treated Nigeria’s murderous Boko Haram jihadists as a West African headache.

But Mohamed would be undermined in her quest for the AU top job, and in any initiatives she would champion in Somalia were she to win the vote, if she arrived in Addis Ababa with the whiff of “Somali ethnic cleanser” coming off her jacket.

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By Charles Onyango-Obbo

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