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African press review 31 October 2011

4 min

Battle looms between Kenyan troops and al Shebab and could lead to proxy wars in Kenya and there are threats to dissolve Uganda's parliament.

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The Daily Nation in Nairobi reports that Kenyan troops were on Sunday preparing for their long-awaited onslaught on the key town of Afmadow in Somalia. The attack has been delayed by heavy rain, which left several routes impassable.

Al Shebab, the Somali group the military is hunting, is reported to have massed fighters around the town.

The military sees Afmadow as a critical launch-pad for an attack on Kismayu, the headquarters of Al-Shabaab.

Meanwhile, Somalia’s Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali has flown to Nairobi for talks with government officials over the security operation against al Shebab.

Rwanda and South Africa on Sunday vowed to support Kenya’s offensive.

Speaking at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in the Australian city of Perth, President Paul Kagame and President Jacob Zuma affirmed their support for military action, saying the group's cross-border criminal activities violated recognised international protocols.

The two presidents urged the international community to show more commitment in the fight against terrorism and religious extremists.

Regional newspaper The East African carries a front-page piece headlined "Why capturing Kismayu could trigger proxy wars for Kenya".

According to diplomats, government officials and intelligence sources in the region, a clear picture has started emerging of a war that has been in the making over the past five years. The conflict could dramatically reorganise the Somali state, and just possibly bring about the peace that has proved so elusive over the past two decades, says The East African.

According to these sources, Kenya’s military offensive is timely, coming as it has when al Shebab are at their weakest and at a time when there is convergence of opinion in the wider east African region about what to do about the crisis in Somalia.

Kenya’s military ambition is to create a buffer zone along its eastern border.

However, says the regional daily, the major cause of concern among diplomats, military and intelligence experts is starting to turn from taking over the port of Kismayu to the question of how to manage victory.

With the African Union's peace-keeping force, Amisom, increasing pressure in the capital, Mogadishu, and the Kenya Defence Force continuing its onslaught in the south, experts told The East African that the capability of al Shebab to continue fighting on multiple battlefronts will face a significant challenge.

The problem is not getting rid of the militia, according to a source within Amisom. But once the city of Kismayu falls, who will control it? There is a major potential for conflict between Kenya and Ethiopia or Eritrea says the African Union source.

This potential conflict is symbolised by two men who, experts say, are being fronted as potential leaders of Jubaland, the new semi-autonomous state Kenya wants to help establish.

One of the men is former Somali Defence minister, Mohamed Gandi, who is said to be favoured by the bosses of Kenya’s National Security Intelligence Service as well as by the French.

Ethiopians are wary of Gandi because his clan, the Ogadeni, harbour territorial ambitions of one day creating a super-state carved out of southern Somalia, southern Ethiopia and a huge chunk of Kenya’s North-Eastern Province.

Then there is Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed Islam, known as Madobe, who is the leader of the Ras Kamboni Movement allied with the Transitional Federal Goverment.

Madobe is favoured by the Kenya military establishment because he comes to the table as a commander with troops, while Gandi is a politician with good business connections.

The Daily Monitor in Uganda reports that Zambia’s President Michael Sata has threatened to dissolve the newly elected parliament and call fresh general elections if opposition MPs continue shooting down government motions.

This was after opposition MPs voted against the new government’s nominees to sit on the Public Accounts Committee.

President Sata, barely a month in office, says the parliamentarians’ action was the “first vote of no confidence” in his government. “I am waiting for the second vote of no confidence and once I get the second vote of no confidence, I will invoke the constitution,” warned President Sata. Zambia currently has a hung parliament, with neither of the two major political parties having an absolute majority.

In South Africa, The Sowetan reports that Cope, the Congress of the People, wants its members to join the Democratic Alliance following the DA's election last week of its first black parliamentary leader, Lindiwe Mazibuko.

The Sowetan was reliably informed by insiders in both Cope and the DA that Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota has decided to call for increased cooperation with the DA, along with other opposition parties.

DA federal chairman James Selfe said he was not aware of any bid by Cope to take out DA membership.

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