Kenya's military incursion into Somalia is an understandable response to the threat that Somali terrorists and kidnappers pose to its security – and to its reputation as a peaceful tourist destination.
The Somali Islamist insurgency al-Shabaab is being blamed for the recent abductions of four Europeans in Kenya, including a disabled 66-year-old French woman with cancer, who died on Oct. 19 in Somalia.
Kenya's unprecedented intervention – which has resulted in the killing of 73 insurgents – has the blessing of Somalia's Western-backed government in Mogadishu. However, by sending troops into southern Somalia, Kenya risks becoming embroiled in its neighbour's messy civil war, and becoming even more of a target for Islamic terrorists.
The presence of another military actor in the region further complicates the humanitarian crisis and is certain to make the delivery of aid even more challenging. Tens of thousands of Somalis have died of starvation in the worst famine in 60 years, and the UN predicts that as many as 750,000 could starve to death in the coming months, even with the arrival of the October rains.
Two of those who were kidnapped this month were Spanish aid workers from the Dadaab refugee camp, in Kenya. The camp, home to 400,000 Somali refugees, is considered to be a recruiting ground for al-Shabaab.
David Morley, the president of UNICEF Canada, says the crisis underscores the need for a peace process in Somalia, and the difficulty of maintaining a refugee camp for two decades. Somali refugees cannot work or leave Dadaab; is it any wonder they are easy prey for the insurgency? “When you are stateless for life you have no stake in your own future,” says Mr. Morley, who has just returned from the region.
Other foreign interventions in Somalia have ended badly, including the two-year U.S. mission that ended in 1994. The Kenyans would be wise to conduct their operation swiftly, and get out. A political solution to the country's protracted conflict, and a resolution of the Somali refugee crisis, will pay greater dividends for Kenya in the long run than a sustained military intervention in Somalia.