Linda Nchi: Mogadishu terror attack is a reality check
There is a chilling joke in the Somali capital of Mogadishu that a Kenyan head fetches $3,000 (about Sh300,000).
The import of this unpleasant taunt is Kenyans are preferred targets of the Al-Shabaab militia group for abduction, torture and even murder.
For Kenyans living or working in Mogadishu, this realisation forever keeps them on the edge — cautious of the environment around them and suspicious of those in their company.
But this is not, in any way, to suggest heads of individuals from other nationalities are “less valuable”.
Actually everyone is at great risk, only that the scary joke revolves around Kenyans because they constitute a larger population of foreigners in the war-raved country, perhaps because they share a long border.
Many of the Kenyans are usually on international duty or private engagement.
Ordinarily, non-locals are holed up in offices behind their desks while those in fieldwork proceed with their duties in full body armour.
But sometimes the terror gangs turn their rage on the local population and civil servants.
And last Saturday was one such unfortunate day after a massive truck bomb exploded in the worst attack the country has ever recorded.
On Saturday, the death toll stood at 358 with many more injured.
A bubbly young Kenyan woman, who served as director of the gender office in the Federal Government of Somalia’s Ministry of Planning, was among the unlucky victims.
She is the latest statistic of Kenyans caught up in Al-Shabaab attacks.
The badly burnt body of Ayanbadan Ina Mohamed was recovered from among debris in the pavements of Mogadishu following last week’s deadly blast, which has so far claimed lives of more than 300 people.
This is the deadliest bomb attack since 2007, which has also left scores of others are fighting for their lives.
Ayanbadan, or “Ayan” as she was known among friends and colleagues, was beautiful and cheerful.
Ayan, who was aged 28, recently graduated with a master’ degree in Development Studies from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.
Her first cousin Ahmed Mohamed, who is a consultant of an international agency in Mogadishu, told the Sunday Nation that Ayan first came to Somalia in 2012 to work in the Office of the Prime Minister before being transferred to the Ministry of Planning where she has been head of Gender Office for the last two years.
“Her charred remains were interred at a burial site in the Medina Hospital compound (in Mogadishu) alongside the body of unidentified Kenyan female friend in a mass grave,” Mohamed said of Ayan’s lonely and painful final journey.
The young lady hailed from Mandera County.
According to close friends, Ayan and her friend might be the only known Kenyans who perished in the latest blast in Somalia.
However, there are chances there could be more Kenyan casualties in Saturday’s deadly attack except that they are not easily identifiable.
Owing to decades of civil war since the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in 1991, Somalia has similarly suffered a collapse of institutions with education being one of the worst hit sectors.
The resultant low literacy levels has over the years attracted a substantial number of Kenyans — mostly ethnic Somalis — into securing high-profile and competitive jobs in the local government, international organisations, as well as community based organisations operating in the country.
In the process, some have even changed nationalities in order to access permanent jobs.
In such circumstances, it becomes complex to tell the true identity of such employees, especially if they are Kenyans from the Somali community.
Mohamed, for instance, singled out a female friend who died in the Saturday blast and who reportedly used to work at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the capital.
However, Mohamed advised us against classifying her as Kenyan, “because she was employed by the UN agency as a Somali citizen”.
By virtue of working as citizens of Somalia, the Kenyans who opted for this path live and go about their operations as locals.
This also means they reside in unprotected areas within Mogadishu, a fact that exposes them to higher risks of the perpetual deadly attacks.
Efforts to get a comment from Kenya’s ambassador to Somalia, Maj General (Rtd) Lucas Kyonze Tumbo, on the number of Kenyan casualties in the latest blast, were unsuccessful.
However, an officer at the embassy confided that official records indicated so far there was no Kenyan casualty.
“There are a number of Kenyans living and working in this city.
“Except for those working with international organisations and or those on occasional official government engagements, whose records we keep, it is difficult to tell the number of those who get into daily harm including death,” the officer, who declined to be named, said.
Besides the high Kenyan civilian population in Somalia, the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) is among other those from the region in the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) peacekeeping operations.
Local militia groups largely view the presence of foreigners as intrusive and oppressive.
In the case of Kenya — which neighbours Somalia — the scenario exposes them to vicious attacks within and back home.
Kenya has indeed suffered lethal attacks from the Al-Shabaab terror gang more than any other nation in the region, since the Kenyan forces under the Mwai Kibaki administration stormed Somalia in pursuit of Al-Shabaab militants in a military operation dubbed “Linda Nchi”.
The operation, which kicked off exactly six years ago on October 2011, has registered mixed fortunes for Kenya and partners — Amisom and the UN.
This is not entirely odd, considering that staging war against non-state actors like Al-Shabaab or Al-Qaeda militia groups can prove a very elusive and costly affair.
America’s solo move to respond to humanitarian needs of a starving population as well as restore peace turned tragic in 1993 when bodies of its subdued soldiers were dragged along the streets of Mogadishu.
President Bill Clinton immediately suspended the operations.
Back in Kenya, Al-Shabaab has staged several sporadic attacks with the most devastating ones being on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi on September 2013 where 69 shoppers were killed and at Garissa University College on April 2015, where the attackers laid a siege at the institution killing over 148 students.
But it is the horrific events of January 15, 2016 that remain a shocker to date.
The terror gang overran the KDF base in El Adde, Somalia, and is thought to have massacred at least 100 soldiers in Kenya’s worst military loss in history.
A similar attack was carried out in January this year at Kolbiyow and to date the number of casualties is unknown.
The attacks notwithstanding, the Kenyan government has vowed to keep its forces in Somalia.
Following the recent blast in Mogadishu, for instance, Kenya provided a helping hand, airlifting some victims to Nairobi for specialised treatment.
“We are expecting a total of 31 patients from Somalia. We condemn this terror attack in the harshest possible terms and Kenya will continue to help with the stabilisation of Somalia,” Defence Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo assured.
That residents of Nairobi’s Eastleigh estate volunteered to donate blood for the Mogadishu victims, further demonstrates the close links and resolve by the people of these two nations to fight terrorism.
In the meantime, Ayan and fellow casualties remain part of the growing statistics of the endless battle.