AFRICOM yet to rise to occassion

by Scott A Morgan

Even though it does not have a forward deployment base or a permanent location, the unfolding pirates saga in Somalia is an interesting way for AFRICOM to begin.

The Pentagon’s African Command or AFRICOM got off to a shaky start. Most African countries declined to host it soon after it was inaugurated by President George W. Bush to secure US interests in Africa. AFRICOM is the newest military command of the United States.

As efforts to restore a functioning government in Somalia continue to flounder, there has been an increase in piracy in one of the world’s busiest shipping regions. The United States, among other nations, has deployed both naval and Special Forces to the region in an effort to curtail criminal and terrorist activity.

The vessel that was recently seized has intelligence specialists concerned not only about the cargo but where the cargo was eventually headed to. After all this is one of the most violent regions in the whole world, The MV Faina is a container ship of Ukrainian registry captured within the last two weeks. Part of its cargo was 33 T-72 main battle tanks.

Now a guessing game has begun. The pirates have demanded over $20 million in ransom. There are reports that the tanks were headed to Mombasa, Kenya. The Kenyan Government has stated they purchased the armor from Russia. There have been reports that the Government of South Sudan (GOSS) had acquired the weapons. US intelligence believes that this is an effort to go around the arms embargo against Sudan.

Let us look at these three scenarios: First of all, the Sudanese Government. This would not be the first time the Russian Federation has attempted to break sanctions against Sudan. As a matter of fact the Russians have supported Sudan in the UN on more than one occasion. so this is plausible but, if it were so, the armor could have been unloaded at Port Sudan.

What about the claims of the Kenyan Government? Well the armor was headed to a Kenyan port. This could give the claims some form of legitimacy. There are still concerns regarding abuse in the Mt. Elgon region to the west of the country but, on the whole, peace and stability are increasing in Kenya.  Unless the armor is meant to defend the northern border with Somalia and/or Ethiopia.

This brings us to the Government of Southern Sudan. This is an autonomous region of Sudan that fought a long protracted insurgency against Khartoum. There is still a level of distrust towards Khartoum to this very day. Also in recent weeks there have been clashes with the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) which is a Ugandan militia. The LRA was to have signed a Peace Deal with the Ugandan government after Southern Sudan negotiated a peace accord. When it came time to the signing ceremony, the LRA did not show.

With the armor being seized by pirates its possible that the tanks could end up being used in Somalia unless either ransom is paid or the vessel is liberated by naval elements that have surrounded the ship at this time.

The Author publishes Confused Eagle on the Internet. It can be found at


Tank scandal blows government credibility

The credibility of Kenya is being torn to shreds as evidence emerges linking the government with arms trafficking in the Great Lakes region.

It began two weeks ago when a Ukrainian cargo ship carrying 33 Russian made T-72 tanks was hijacked by Somali pirates on its way to the Kenyan port of Mombasa. Initially, it was reported that the tanks and heavy artillery were destined for Southern Sudan.

Kenya’s government claimed the deadly cargo, saying it had bought it for the military. However, the pirates denied the assertions saying that the ship’s documents showed the owner of the cargo as the government of South Sudan. Southern Sudan military commanders and diplomats strenuously denied knowledge of the cargo.

Strangely enough, the United States Navy, which is surrounding the captured ship, has said that the tanks were going to Southern Sudan.

Kenyan officials had, in the meantime, produced documents proving that they ordered the weapons from Ukraine in a ‘government – government’ deal. Soon after, the Nation newspaper of Kenya published aerial photographs of a previous consignment of tanks being ferried to Southern Sudan on a train. This week, the BBC released documents proving the weapons did infact belong to Southern Sudan.

An official from a sailor’s union at the Mombasa port, who gave reporters details of previous weapon consignments to Southern Sudan, was last week arrested by Kenyan police and charged with possessing marijuana. He is currently awaiting trial.

Regardless of the truth, this saga makes Kenya’s government stink like a corpse. Denials, production of evidence and counter-evidence have created the impression that the government is confused. Neither President Mwai Kibaki nor Prime Minister Raila Odinga have spoken on the tanks.

If the tanks and ammunition really belong to Kenya, it shows a perverse sense of priorities. It means the government is spending billions of shillings on weapons while people displaced by political and ethnic clashes languish in desperation.

After the formation of the giant cabinet back in April, President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila launched an international appeal for Kshs31 billion (US$431 million) to assist in reconstructing homes, government facilities and businesses destroyed in the clashes. Obviously, Kenya’s leaders would rather buy guns than build schools, homes and hospitals.

If the tanks do not belong to Kenya’s military, as is widely believed, then Kenya is violating a United Nations arms embargo on Sudan. That would put Kenya in the pariah status of states accused of supplying weapons for killing and maiming defenceless civilians. With Southern Sudan in dire need of development assistance, the world must be wondering why Kenyan authorities are sending weapons there.

Its also scandalous that an arms shipment of this magnitude – regardless of ownership – did not have a Kenya Navy escort. The Somali coast is notorious for piracy and this year has seen pirate attacks double over last year’s count. The sea around Somalia is patrolled by NATO navies whose presence is tenuous at best. Piracy is a threat to Kenya’s shipping and military analysts are wondering why the Kenyan Navy is out of action.

Kenya traditionally purchases arms from the Western bloc (NATO). If it is confirmed that the T-72 consignment belongs to Kenya, the purchase would mark a radical departure from previous trends. At the moment, Kenya is also buying second-hand jet fighters from the Kingdom of Jordan. At least that’s one consignment whose destination is not in doubt.

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.

Secret tank deal shows poor priorities

A secret tank deal by Kenya’s Army would have gone unnoticed if Somali pirates hadn’t hijacked a Ukrainian ship ferrying the 33 tanks to the port of Mombasa.

diesel, benzene and kerosene.

The Russian built T-72 tank can run on three types of fuel: diesel, benzene and kerosene.

Its not clear when the Department of Defence placed an order for T-72 tanks from Russia. The Army has not explained how much it spent on the equipment, neither has it explained the role of the 33 tanks in Kenya’s security strategy.

Apart from tanks, Somali pirates found tons of ammunition and auxiliary equipment within the ship, which they have threatened to offload for use in their country’s civil war. The pirates are demanding US$35 million in ransom before they release the vessel and its cargo.

Typical of most African governments, Kenya’s leaders are spending billions of dollars on security while ordinary people die of hunger, disease and poor shelter. Kenya ranks at the bottom of international social and economic indicators.

A growing population is putting pressure on neglected infrastructure. Public hospitals lack drugs as thousands of Kenyans perish each year on a road network broken to the point of tatters. Kenyan cities are going without fresh water due to lack of investment in water production.

The capital city of Nairobi is getting less water today than it was receiving a decade ago after a colonial era dam collapsed at Sasumua. The port city of Mombasa gets water from a supply system built by the British when the town’s population was less than a third of current figures.

Lack of investment in electricity production has made Kenya’s electricity tariffs the highest in Africa. Industries suffer from constant power blackouts which have undermined economic growth, leading to massive losses and job cuts.

Agricultural production in Kenya is far below demand. The country is producing less coffee, maize, tea, wheat, millet and everything else compared to twenty years ago. Sugar milling companies in Western Kenya, stuck with 19th century technology, are creaking out low quality sugar in significantly less quantities than when Kenya was a British colony.

Amidst all these, the Kenyan government has seen it fit to invest billions of shillings in military equipment. As stated earlier, if it wasn’t for Somali pirates, majority of Kenyans would never have known that tanks were about to get imported into the country. But, lack of priority in government procurement appears to be the norm these days.

Its been announced that Kenya will spend about $23 million in the purchase of second-hand fighter jets from the Kingdom of Jordan. The F-5 fighter that the Kenyan Airforce is so fond of went out of production in 1989, meaning that the jets Kenya is buying are at least 19 years old. Kenya will also pay Jordan to train its pilots in using the junk aircraft.

Meanwhile, other branches of the security forces are on a shopping bonanza. Regular and Administration police have enhanced their recruitment drives to boost numbers. They are receiving modern equipment, weapons, 4-wheel drive trucks, uniforms and riot gear. Considering the conduct of police during the post-election violence, its obvious that this enhanced expenditure is not for the benefit of ordinary men and women.

The Kenya Police has just finished rehabilitating giant Russian-built helicopters fitted with night-vision equipment, gun detectors and communications technology. The helicopters will carry a team of quick response officers assisted by highly trained dogs.

Just this week, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights – a government body – blamed police for the execution of 500 Kikuyu youth and the disappearance of scores of others. According to survivors, the dead and the disappeared were all abducted by people identifying themselves as police officers. A man whose dramatic arrest in Nairobi was shown on the front page of the Daily Nation, was later found dead in the city mortuary.

For most Kenyans, the acquisition of helicopters, night vision equipment and vicious dogs can only portend doom as far as personal freedoms are concerned.

By purchasing bigger weapons to arm a greater number of police and soldiers, the Kenyan government is treading a path set by authorities in situations of high wealth inequality. Kenya is among the top three most unequal societies on earth.

On one hand there is an extremely wealthy minority whose standard of living can comfortably secure them a place among the world’s rich and famous. On the opposite extreme is a majority of people without access to adequate food, housing, health care and education. These are people whose future is so bleak that the only options are crime, prostitution, alcoholism and violence.

Amidst this depressing scenario, authorities seek to preserve the status quo by unleashing greater surveillance of the disadvantaged majority. The objective is to make life safer and easier for the rich minority.

The fruits of economic growth are used to buy guns instead of building roads. Public funds are used to buy tanks instead of medicines for government hospitals. In an unequal society, the government will find it better to employ soldiers and police rather than employing doctors and teachers. Instead of facilitating constructive engagement between the rich and the poor, the system is designed to keep them apart.

Such trends have happened elsewhere and Kenya is blindly going down the same path. Unfortunately, that particular path usually ends up in self-destruction, for the human spirit cannot tolerate oppression forever.

Kenyan tanks captured by Somali pirates

In the latest embarrassment for Kenya’s government, 33 newly-ordered tanks have been captured by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean.

Kenya Army soldiers with a US Army instructor. Picture by the US Army.

Kenya Army soldiers with a US Army instructor. Picture by the US Army.

According to the Daily Nation, Somali pirates on Thursday afternoon seized a ship carrying more than 30 military tanks in a dramatic hijacking that sent ripples in the maritime industry.

The BBC reports Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua as confirming 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,” he said.

A Russian Navy vessel is heading to the region and the US says it is monitoring developments in the area.

The crisis in Somalia is back in the limelight as Somali pirates hijack dozens of ships, thereby threatening shipping routes in the Indian Ocean. Meanwhile, Islamic insurgents have intensified attacks against a US backed government and now control Somalia’s port city of Kismayu. It is feared that renewed fighting will disrupt food supplies to millions of Somalis currently living in camps and ravaged by natural disasters.

Incidentally, most of the pirate gangs are based in the region of Puntland, controlled by militiamen loyal to Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf. Recently, though, pirate activities have spread to the south of the country as violence rages.

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.