Kenya gets tough on Somalia
Let's hope Kenya is starting to flex some muscle on Somalia.
Today the Kenyan government slapped sanctions on Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf, accusing him of being an obstacle to peace. They imposed a travel ban on him and his family and froze his assets in Kenya - a potentially significant rap because Yusuf, like many Somali politicians, is believed to have extensive property and business investments in Kenya.
Kenyan officials and Western diplomats have grudgingly supported Yusuf's interim government as perhaps Somalia's best chance at a normal government, but it's become difficult to argue that the elderly president isn't an impediment to peace. While Islamist militias gobble up territory and pirates wreak havoc offshore, Yusuf spent this week trying to fire his rival, Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein - a blatantly illegal move under Somalia's charter - and appointing a new one over the objections of the rest of the country.
Kenya's foreign minister, Moses Wetangula, told reporters that Kenya still recognized Hussein as the premier: "The region and international community should act in unison to collectively condemn all spoilers to the Somali peace process," he said of Yusuf.
We've heard talk like this before, but it's rare that Kenya - the undisputed political and economic heavyweight in the region - follows through on promises of tough action, especially against the head of a neighboring state, however dysfunctional. I wonder what the last straw was. Pirates have pushed Somalia back onto the news pages, and maybe Kenya sees a chance to look helpful.
Kenya is starting to show encouraging leadership on Somalia. Last week it agreed to prosecute pirates captured by British military forces, eliminating a legal hurdle that made foreign navies in the region reluctant to take pirates aboard their ships. Yesterday the Kenyan military said it would step up air and naval patrols along its coastline to deter pirates.
Many Kenyans have long looked at the catastrophe next door wished their own government would do more to stop it. These moves could be a start.
UPDATE: So it looks like the wires overshot this one. Kenyan media reports today that Wetangula only "threatened" to impose sanctions, so we're basically back where we started yesterday, which is pretty much nowhere.