The high cost of keeping troops in an open-ended war is behind Kenya’s latest decision to put its forces in neighbouring Somalia under the command of the African Union.
People familiar with the thinking in Kenya’s top security apparatus said the slow pace at which the troops have been moving and the high cost of keeping them in the battlefield is the reason behind the big shift for which Nairobi is also seeking the UN’s backing.
Putting the troops under the African Union command means Treasury will not bear the full cost of the war, but will benefit from the pool of finances available to the peace-keeping mission.
Parliament on Wednesday backed the Cabinet’s Tuesday decision to accept the Africa Union (AU) and Intergovernmental Authority on Development’s (IGAD) request for Kenya “to integrate its forces with the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom)”.
Concern has been rising over Kenya’s ability to finance war in the year of election winning the latest change in strategy easy support.
Kenyan forces invaded Somalia in late October after Al Shabaab militants staged a series of abductions targeting tourists and aid workers in Lamu and Dadaab Refugee Camp.
It is estimated that Nairobi is spending at least Sh200 million per month on the war, a staggering amount especially in a year of record Sh236 billion budget deficit.
Financing the war has already forced a reorganisation of the 2011/2012 budget that allocated the Ministry of Defence Sh50.3 billion, a 10.25 per cent drop from the previous year’s budget.
Treasury, however, increased the ministry’s allocation by nearly Sh7 billion in the revised budget released in July.
Kenya is said to be planning to seek the United Nations Security Council ratification of its decision to become part of Amisom, making a clear signal that it intends to benefit from the pool of funds that the United States, China and EU has provided for the peace keeping operation in Somalia.
“It is a good move that should help reduce the strain that this war has exerted on our economy,” said KDF spokesperson Major Emmanuel Chirchir.
KDF and Treasury officials could not reveal the cost of the war so far or the size of the budget that has been set aside for it.
Support for the shift in Somalia war strategy was strong in Parliament where the matter was debated.
“It is only fair that the cost of this war is shared, especially at this time when we are facing economic challenges of our own,” said Mutito MP Mr Kiema Kilonzo.
The MPs, however, demanded that the government provides additional information on the process of integrating Kenyan forces into Amisom, including the command system, number of troops proposed, the financing of the operation and how the government planned to win the support of citizens.
Traditionally, Kenya does not release details of its military budget, making it difficult to know the cost of the war.
John Mutua, an analyst at the Institute of Economic Affairs, however said the full cost of the war is likely to be known when the Treasury tables supplementary budget estimates in Parliament early next year. “If integration is not made soon, then we should expect a budget line for the war,” he said.
Financial markets have been pregnant with anxiety that the government could raise its domestic borrowing needs to finance the war, pushing the interest rates higher at a time when inflation is at 19 per cent.
Andrew Franklin, a retired US marine who works in Nairobi as a financial consultant, has estimated that it costs taxpayers Sh7,000 to keep each soldier in the battlefield everyday, adding up to more than Sh200,000 a month.
The amount includes the cost of moving the troops, supplying them with food and water, communication and medical care.
Kenya is estimated to have 1,000 troops in Somalia and at the price of Sh7,000 per day for every soldier adds up to Sh210 million per month or a Sh1 billion every six months.
Kenya has indicated that its mission in Somalia will end when the troops reach Kismayu, the port city that has been the commercial stronghold of the Al-Shabaab -- the terrorist group with links to Al-Qaeda. Integrating with Amisom means Kenyan troops will operate under the command of the peace-keeping force, rather than as an independent entity.
The troops will also be bound by the United Nations peace-keeping rules that restrict use of force, a factor that is likely to affect pace of movement against the Al-Shabaab.
If Kenya chooses to donate its equipment to Amison, the peace-keeping force will gain a big multiplier against the terrorist group and give the force the numbers it needs to spread out of Mogadishu.
Integration also means the perception of a Kenya versus Al Shabaab duel will end in favour of an African offensive. Amisom has a shortage of more than 10,000 troops against a target of 20,000 set by the AU. All of the 9,700 troops currently in Somalia come from Burundi and Uganda.
Majority of AU members have failed to honour their promise to send troops in the war torn country that has had no government for more than two decades.
Kenya has been hesitant in joining Amisom mission partly because of concerns over possible heavy casualty in the hands of Al Shabaab's suicide bombings tactics.
Troops from United States and Ethiopia have suffered severe casualties in different times in the hands of various Somalia armed groups.
But the reservations appears to be easing have changed dramatically with Kenya’s incursion in the country, with Gabon, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tunisia, Swaziland, and Zambia expected to be sending in peacekeeping forces in the next few months.