Government in circles over captured tanks

With Somali pirates holding at ransom 33 powerful tanks and world powers staring helplessly, Kenya’s government is running around in circles amidst controversy over the true destination of the weapons.

Last Thursday, Somali pirates seized a ship carrying more than 30 military tanks. Initial reports indicated the tanks were ordered by the government of Southern Sudan. Later on, Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua confirmed that the tanks were heading to Kenya.

“The cargo in the ship includes military hardware such as tanks and an assortment of spare parts for use by different branches of the Kenyan military,” Mutua said.

The pirates from the Somali district of Puntland denied Kenya’s claims, citing documents within the ship pointing to the ultimate destination of the cargo as South Sudan. The United States, which has a warship actively monitoring the hijacked vessel, has announced that the deadly cargo was headed for South Sudan.

What makes the saga intriguing is that Sudan is under a United Nations arms embargo; hence the government of South Sudan has categorically denied ownership of the arms shipment. Over the years, Kenya has been a close ally of the South Sudanese, right from the days of guerrilla conflict between the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement and the Khartoum government.

Press interviews with Kenyan military personnel shows that the Army neither ordered the tanks nor was it aware of an incoming shipment. On the other hand, it has been reported that Kenyan authorities are in possession of documents confirming ownership of the captured weaponry.

Amidst this potentially explosive situation (no pun intended), Kenya’s political leadership is still immersed in its never-ending game of retrogressive ethnic politics. Hardly a word has been heard from President Mwai Kibaki. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Raila Odinga is engaged in maneuvering within the ODM party in readiness for the 2012 presidential elections.

Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka has drawn the ire of many by insinuating that he was an ‘acting’ commander in chief while President Kibaki was attending the UN Heads of State summit in New York.

It has been rumored that the tanks are indeed for the Kenyan military but were ordered without the knowledge of army chiefs by politically-connected persons. Military contracts tend to be highly lucrative due to secrecy in procurement.

In spite of having suffered the side-effects of Somalia’s lawlessness in the past 17 years, Kenya has taken a complete back seat in the search for stability in the Horn of Africa. The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) crafted in Nairobi in 2004 was a patchwork of warlords with no interest in creating a peaceful society. TFG President Abdullahi Yussuf is the warlord for Puntland, where piracy activities are centered.

Problems in Somalia worsened in December 2006, when the United States decided to overthrow the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC). By mid 2006, the UIC had succeeded in creating a functional government in Somalia for the first time since clan warfare wrecked the country in 1991.

During the short-lived reign of the UIC, piracy in the Indian Ocean almost ceased but with its overthrow, piracy has grown faster than before.

Typical of its lack of foresight, the Kenyan government provided logistical support and intelligence that enabled the US and Ethiopia to remove the Islamists from power.

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