Post-Independence Low Intensity Conflict In Kenya
SUBJECT AREA History
Title: Post-Independence Low Intensity Conflict In Kenya
Author: Major H. K. Biwott (Robb), Student, United States Marine Corps.
Background: Between 1963 and 1979 Kenya was faced with a
serious armed conflict with the people of Somali origin living in
the North Eastern province. The focus of the conflict was secession
to Somalia. With the support of Somali government, the ideology
spread into NFD, a Somali predominant region in Kenya, The Somalis
in Ogaden and the Haud in Ethiopia initiated the whole campaign by
forming an irredentist movement during the pre-colonial era. The
primary purpose for this movement was to fight for a unified
Somalia comprising of all the Somali speaking people in the Horn of
British colonialists attempted to resolve the matter by
appointing an independent Commission of Inquiry to carry out a
referendum exercise to verify the desire of the Somali community in
the Northern Frontier District. Although the Commission established
that the interest of the Somali people was to secede, the Kenyatta
government refused to allow them to secede. Consequently, an armed
insurrection erupted. In response, the Kenyan government deployed
troops to counter the secessionist irredentists liberators.
Having fought a successful and an intense battle with the
Somali irredentist, the original problem remains unsettled. The
Somali government has not renounced their claim on the Kenyas' NFD.
The secession ideology is still unresolved to date.
Recommendation: The Kenya government and the Somalia
Government should be made to resolve the issue by first and
foremost, Somalia renouncing her territorial claims of NFD, and by
signing a treaty in the United Nations ratifying the agreement.
Both nations should pledge to honor the existing boundaries and to
live in peace. These resolutions must be endorsed and ratified by
the Organization Of African Unity.
Thesis: Although Kenya battled the pro-Somali insurgent
irredentists who fought to liberate the Northern Frontier District
and annex it to Somalia, the predicament is still unresolved. For
the insurgency to be defeated, a multifaceted approach was needed:
adaptation in the Kenyan Army's tactics, favorable operational
approach in the Kenya's political and economic handling of the NFD,
while the reduction in outside support (by Somalia) also helped. A
coordinated military, political, and psychological campaign was
necessary to counter the insurgency. For the last decade peace has
continued to prevail in the region despite the continued deployment
of troops in the Northern Frontier Province. The matter requires a
lasting solution to avoid any future military confrontations.
II. The people.
IV. The Dispute.
1. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY.
5. THE COUNTRY AND THE PEOPLE.
6. THE POLITICAL OVERVIEW.
7. THE DISPUTE.
8. THE SKIRMISHES.
9. THE CONFLICT.
10.THE OGADEN WAR.
11 . LESSONS LEARNED.
15.LIST OF MAPS.
I. THE SOMALIA DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC - MAP.1
II. CLAN-FAMILIES DISTRIBUTION - MAP.2
III. THE HORN OF AFRICA - MAP. 3
IV. KENYA'S NORTHERN FRONTIER DISTRICT-
V. THE HORN OF AFRICA - 2 MAP. 5
This paper does not try to pre-empt war between Kenya and
Somalia. It does not either prophecy or conjecture a possible
reaction between the two nations. The doctrine, machinations,
and the conflict discussed in this paper are based on real
situations and people. Many may find shortcomings in some of
the phrases or actions decided during the skirmishes. However,
this bears a true reflection of events that took place in the
The center of focus is the dispute and the campaign
activity which began soon after Kenya attained her
independence. The scenario and units mentioned are in
consonance with actual occurrence. Finally, I wish to
apologize for any references which may appear humiliating and
sometimes annoying to a cross section of people who either
participated in the campaign or merely sympathized with the
This paper basically analyses and illustrates what
transpired, the reasons why, the cause, and the lessons
learned by the Kenya Defence Forces. The socio-political
premises were given alot of emphasis in this paper since they
provided for a primary platform for this conflict.
The final conclusion focuses on the overriding
circumstances under which such issues are common in the
continent of Africa and in particular, in the Horn of Africa.
It ends with a recommendation on the Kenya-Somalia dispute, a
dispute which dates back to the pre-independence era.
Following Kenya's independence from British colonial
rule on 12th December, 1963, the country faced a serious
armed conflict with the Somali community in the Northern Frontier
District which was getting support from the government of
neighboring Somalia. The estimated Somali community of 250,000, who
had migrated into the region between 1894 and 1912 was fighting to
secede from Kenya to form part of greater Somalia.
Throughout the period between 1963 and 1967 there were serious
armed skirmishes which translated into massive loss of life on both
sides. The Kenya government suffered serious set backs due to the
lack of local support and adequate intelligence network. Another
drawback was the encountering of a two-pronged attack by the
Somalis in Ogaden, Ethiopia, and those from Somalia who had formed
a strong irredentists force to fight for an homogeneous Somali
Over the period, the central government of Somalia offered the
irredentist moral and material support in both North Eastern Kenya
and South Eastern Ethiopia. Further external support was received
from some former colonialists and Arab sympathizers.
Following these developments, Kenya government contemplated
introducing military forces in the Northern Frontier District to
combat the envisioned protracted guerrilla campaign by the Somali
irredentist. In June, 1963, military posts were established in the
towns of Mandera, Garissa, and Wajir. Outposts were subsequently
also organized at Buna, Gurar, Moyale, and Malka-Mari. To date,
military detachments and outposts are still in these towns to
ensure that peace prevails in the region.
THE COUNTRY AND THE PEOPLE OF SOMALI ORIGIN
Somalia is a nation which embraces an homogeneous society
with one religion, one common cultural heritage, and one language.
The Somali people were founded from two cousins of the prophet
Mohamed: Samaale and Sab. The family of Samaale became nomads while
the family of Sab became settled farmers. The Somalis have a very
strong background of family clanism segmented further into lineages
which form their basic dialectical identity. The Somali-speaking
people are divided into six clan families comprising 75% of the
Somalis coming from the offsprings of Samaale. These are the Darod,
Hawiye, Isaaq, and Dir. The offsprings of Sab are the Digil and
Rahanweyn which form the other 20% of the Somalis. The remaining 5%
are the non-Somali speaking people. The Somali speaking people
inhabit three nations within the Horn of Africa: Djibouti, North
Eastern Kenya, and South Eastern Ethiopia (Haud/Ogaden). ( Ref:
outline of Somali genealogy map 1.)
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Somalia was founded by a unification of two pre-colonial
territories: the former British Somaliland in the North and the
former Italian Somaliland in the South. Both attained independence
almost at the same time on July 1st, 1960. That same year, the two
formed a merger to create what is currently known as the Somali
Republic, which later changed to the Somali Democratic Republic.
However, the immediate post-independent era witnessed internal
socio-political instability centered on two main issues: the
amalgamation of the two former colonial territories and the support
of the irredentist conflict activities in North Eastern Kenya and
South Eastern Ethiopia.
After an excruciating political campaign between the
political aspirants from former British Somalia and the former
Italian Somalia in July 1960, Mr Aden Abdulla Osman
became the first president and Dr Abdirashid Ali Shermarke
became the first prime minister. During the next general
elections of 1964, Mr Abdirazak Haji Hussein became the second
Prime Minister while Mr Aden Abdulla Osman continued to be the
president. Mr A.H Hussein was considered by his contemporary
political opponent, Dr Abdirashid Ali Shermarke, as favouring
Ethiopian and Kenyas' legitimate sovereignty over Somali occupied
areas. Despite many internal rivalries, President Aden Abdulla
Osman appointed Mr Hussein the Prime Minister and he remained in
office until the 1967 general elections.
The general election of 1967 changed the political line.
Mr Abdirashid Ali Shermarke was elected the president and Mr
Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal became the Prime Minister. Mr Egal was a
moderate personality while believing in Pan-Somalism, desired to
improve relations with other surrounding African countries. He
preferred directing the nations energies to combating socio-
economic evils instead of confrontations with neighboring
countries. Although he favoured good relationship with Kenya and
Ethhiopia, he did not acknowledge Somalia's territorial claims. He
however, created an atmosphere where the matters could be
negotiated peacefully. This notwithstanding, Prime Minister Mohamed
Egal's administration was seen by his opponents as a corrupt regime
riddled with complex nepotism. Eventually, Somali political
intellectuals and members of the Armed forces became greatly
disgruntled with the trend of Egal's administration.
During the early stages of Somalia's independence,
the military were deliberately denied political participation.
Military pre-occupation with the Kenya-Ethiopian border activities
contributed to preventing military involvement in politics.
However, the military were increasingly dissatisfied with the
deteriorating situation, particularly the lack of progress in
solving the Pan-Somali issue. On the October 15th, 1969, hardly two
years after the general election, Dr Abdirashid Ali Shermarke was
assassinated by his personal body guard over his alleged
mistreatment of the assailants' small relatives.
However, it was perceived by the world community as a covert scheme
by the military to pave way for a premeditated coup
attempt, motivated by their dissatisfaction with the government.
Coincidentally, Mr Mohammed Egal was out of the country when the
President was assassinated. On his return, he arranged for the
selection of another candidate for the Presidency, a member from
the Darod clan-family. Mr Egal was from the Isaaq clan while the
Late president was from the Darod clan, therefore, the replacement
was by a fellow clansman of the slain president.
Once again, this selection displeased a portion of the Armed
Forces and civilian critics, who desired a more radical leader.
Consequently, during the morning of October 21st, 1969, Army units
took positions in Mogadishu and rounded up all senior political
leaders and other influential individuals. The Police had no
option, but to reluctantly collaborate with the Army. The civilian
government was immediately toppled, replaced with the Supreme
Revolutionary Council (SRC), and Major General Mohammed Siad Barre,
commander of the Somalia National Army was immediately installed as
The fundamental goals of the new military junta were: to
end tribalism, nepotism, corruption, and misrule; the honoring of
existing treaties, and full support of the national liberation
movements seeking Somali unification. Henceforth, the name of the
Somali Republic was changed to the Somali Democratic Republic (SDR).
Observers believed that the Soviet Union, who was then a very close
ally of Somalia, had masterminded the coup in order to enhance her
regional strategic interests in the area.
The Kenya-Somalia dispute has not been about land, but rather
about unification of all Somalis within Somali Republic and the
neighboring countries. The present disputed frontier, the Northern
Frontier District, (Ref: Map-5 & 6) was an historical accident
dating back to Britain's treaty with Italy which partitioned the
Sudan and East Africa from Ethiopia and placed the Somalia plateau
into British and Italian zones of influence for administrative
In 1909, the Somalis' Westward migration had reached the Tana
River and had driven the Boran Galla out of Wajir, as well as many
other small tribes in the area. In 1912, Wajir was occupied by the
British constabulary, but had to be hastily evacuated four years
later after 80 people were killed in a surprise attack by Somalis
against Lt Elliot's constabulary at Serenli in the upper Juba.
However, the Northern Frontier District came under effective
British administration for the first time when Moyale and Wajir
were garrisoned by regular British troops in 1919.
The Somalis' westward movement was interrupted by
the British colonial administration between 1895 and 1912. In 1920
Lord Milner concluded a convention to Italy handing over the strip
on the Juba which by then formed part of Kenyan territory. (Ref Map
5). According to Lord Milner's opinion, it was administratively
uneconomical to retain the Juba section. However, prior to
implementation, there was a legal requirement for the British
Parliament to ratify the treaty allowing the Jubaland region to
become part of the Italian colony. However, it was not until the
29th of June, 1925 when the treaty was finally ratified. Kenya
still claims that Britain was morally wrong to have ceded Jubaland.
Perhaps this is why the British did not want to support again the
Somali campaign demanding the secession of NFD to Somalia, since
this move could have created tension. The British justified their
handing over of Jubaland to Italian colonialist by maintaining that
this was the only way to keep Somalia together as a single society
and to allow Somalis full utilization of their traditional grazing
The emergence of the dispute between Kenya and Somalia was
further triggered by the achievement of independence by both
countries. This came about when the Somali community in Kenya
publicly opted to become part of the Somalia Republic. One of the
first Prime Ministers of Somalia, Dr Abdirashid Ali Shermarke once
made a sentimental statement about the dispute:
"Our misfortunes do not stem from the
unproductiveness of the soil, nor from a lack of
mineral wealth. These limitations on our material well-
being were accepted and compensated for by our
forefathers from whom we inherited, among other thing,
a spiritual and cultural prosperity of inestimable
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the teaching of Islam on the one hand and lyric
poetry on the other. . . .NO! Our misfortune is that our
neighboring countries, with whom like the rest of
Africa, we seek to promote constructive and harmonious
relations, are not our neighbors. Our neighbors are our
Somali kinsmen whose citizenship has been falsified by
indiscriminate boundary "arrangements". They have to
move across artificial frontiers to their pasture
lands. They occupy the same terrain and pursue the same
pastoral economy as ourselves. We speak the same
language. We share the same creed, the same culture,
and the same traditions. How can we regard our brothers
as foreigners?" (Ref: Map 2)
GREATER SOMALIA PHENOMENA
The greater Somali phenomena emerged in the year 1956,
when the Somali Trust Territory moved closer to possible
unification. This move alarmed Ethiopia which feared the emergence
of greater Somali authoritative influence in the Horn of Africa.
Meanwhile, the British government expressed no objection to the
two Somali territories uniting to form one nation. In response, the
Ethiopian regime expressed its dissent and stepped up anti-British
propaganda campaign in the press and over the radio. The central
focus of concern for Ethiopia was the Somali settlements within
their territory, Ogaden and the Haud, and the possibility of
forfeiting all the territory occupied and used for grazing by the
By that time, the greater Somali idea had begun to
attract international interest. The United States supported the
British position. This encouraged the Ethiopian Emperor to seek
support from the Soviet Union. The greater Somalia concept had
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developed deep roots and later in July, 1960 the two Somalia
territories were united into one Republic. To thwart any
speculations by the Ethiopian regime, the British clarified her
position regarding the greater Somalia phenomena by reiterating
that it was not going to support any claim affecting the integrity
of French Somaliland, North Eastern Kenya or Ogaden and the
Haud in Ethiopia. Any existing dispute was to be left to the parties
concerned to resolve.
When Jubaland was transferred to Italian Somaliland in
1925, North Eastern Kenya remained as a province of Kenya.
It stretched from Lake Turkana (Rudolf) down to the South of
Kolbio (Ref: Map 5). Within the then NFD were six districts
Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Isiolo, Marsabit, and sub-district of
Moyale. Presently, the two districts of Marsabit and Isiolo are in
the Eastern Province while the rest of the districts are in the
North Eastern Province. Although the two districts of Marsabit and
Isiolo were predominantly occupied by the Boran-Galla tribes, there
were small percentages of Somali immigrants in the area.
Until 1963, when Kenya attained her independence, the North
Eastern region had been isolated from the rest of Kenya by the
British colonialist laws passed in 1902 and in 1934 which
restricted the movement of all persons entering or leaving the
district. Following the achievement of independence by both Kenya
and Somalia, Kenya found it appropriate to encourage participation
in the political arena by the Kenyan Somalis. As a result,
political parties were formed such as the North Eastern Peoples
Progressive Party (NPPP) and others.
The political parties campaigned vigorously for secession,
instead of joining hands with pro-Kenyan independence
parties such as Kenya African National Union (KANU) and Kenya
African Democratic Union (KADU). Following the continuing political
pro-secessionist campaign, Britain found it necessary to establish
an independent Commission to carry out a form of referendum to
verify the desire of the people of the North Eastern region. The
Commission composed of Mr G C M Onyiuke of Nigeria and Major
General M P Borget, CBE, DSO, CD, of Canada started work on the
22nd of October, 1962. Meanwhile, pro-secessionist political party
campaigning was picking up. A three point memorandum was prepared
for the Commission with the following points: one, secession from
Kenya forthwith; two, establishment of a legislative assembly, and
three, independence and re-unification with the Somali Republic by
an act of union.
The commission was faced with two fundamental opinions from
the Somali community in NFD, representing those who wanted to
remain part of Kenya and those who were in favour of secession and
the subsequent re-unification of NFD with the Somali Republic.
Among the people of NFD were three distinct racial groups with
conflicting opinions: the Somalis were who in favour of secession,
the riverine tribes who favoured to be part and parcel of Kenya,
and the Galla (Oromo) people who had mixed opinions. However, Wajir
and Mandera, which were predominantly Somali occupied areas, were
unanimously in favour of secession and union with Somalia. The
Somalis at Moyale, Isiolo, and Marsabit, together with Muslim
Boran, were also in favour of the union with Somalia.
The non-Somali speaking people of the North, namely: the
Rendille and the El Molo were in favour of secession while the non-
Muslim Boran and Gabbra were against secession. Their preference
was to remain part of Kenya. Incidentally, people from Moyale
township, Isiolo township, and a small element of people from
Garissa township had mixed feelings about seceding to Somalia.
Following its investigation, the Commission concluded that the
majority of the people of NFD favoured secession. This was based on
the overall wishes of the predominant Somali-occupied districts of
Mandera, Wajir, and Garissa. At this juncture, the most intriguing
point noted by the Commissioners was that those Somalis wishing to
secede required a limited, but continuous British rule while they
prepared their own government in order to join Somalia as an
established government body.
The new dimension of "forming a government body" was
precipitated by the fact that both Kenya and Somalia had attained
Self government as a step toward independence during the referendum
period. It was further exacerbated by the emergence of political
parties in the region which appeared to enjoy a competitive
atmosphere with other emerging parties.
Finally, the Commission resolved that five out of
six districts favoured the secession by a majority vote.
These were Garissa, Wajir, Mandera, Moyale, and Isiolo. The
percentage in favour was calculated at well over 80% of the total
population in the NFD.
DEFENCE PACT WITH ETHIOPIA
Having realized the expansionist ideological development
of the Somalis in the region, Kenya and Ethiopia signed
a Defence Pact in 1969. Both nations shared a common enemy,
the Republic of Somalia.
The purpose of the pact was to enhance a joint military effort
in the region in the event of Somalia's attempt to invade any of
the two nations. To date the pact is still in existence.
Consequent to the escalation of the tension between
Kenya and Somalia over NFD, the Kenya government mobilized her
forces in readiness for the envisaged skirmishes. Kenya had only
three infantry battalions (The 3rd Bn, the 5th Bn and the 1st Bn)
and one Support Regiment. In addition, there were also three
companies of para-military forces. Both the military and the
para-military forces were mobilized. The expectation of the
Somali regime was that upon the announcement of the constitution,
the Kenyan government would not include the NFD in its
The Kenya Regional Boundaries Commission which had been
formed in 1963 to verify and ratify regional boundaries had
included the NFD as part of Kenya forming the seventh province.
This matter was earlier discussed and agreed to at Lancaster
House in London by both Kenya and the British Colonialists
Office, prior to handing over self government to Kenya on the 1st
of June, 1963. The creation of the seventh province, under the
patronage of Kenya's new constitution was aimed at giving the
Somali people from the region greater freedom in the management
of their social and cultural affairs.
Kenya attained her independence on 12 December, 1963 with
the bilateral understanding that the matter would be resolved
amicably between the affected parties. Incidentally, no major
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decisions were effected other than a few insignificant Inter-
ministerial meetings, which yielded no permanent solution.
Eventually, it was left in suspense and to this day no explicit
solution has been mutually concluded by the affected parties. The
Kenyatta regime maintained that NFD was part of Kenya by all
legitimate rights and no further debate was encouraged.
Having deployed Forces in all four corners of the district
namely: Mandera, Garissa, Wajir, and Moyale, detachments were
further deployed at Malka-Mari, Bute, Buna, and Gurar. Their main
responsibility was to safeguard the Kenyan borders, maintain
peace and order, and thwart any effort by the militant
irredentist Somalis to incite the Kenyan Somalis to secede.
The campaign was divided into three distinct phases:
Phase I. 1963 - 1967. The main activity in this phase was
consistent with lethal skirmishes which inflicted serious
casualties and damage to the Kenyan troops in the region.
Along with these skirmishes was the intensification of
indoctrination and incitement of the Somalis against
the local Kenyan security forces. The Shifta fighters
operated in small groups of 20 to 100, divided into pockets
and raiding squads of 15 to 45. They engaged in ambushes,
mining activity, and destruction of equipment using
bazookas. After a vigorous joint effort by the Kenyan
military and the para-military forces, the Somali
Irredentist (Shifta) fighters were defeated. The shifta's
inherent problems, which contributed to Kenya's success, was
their long lines of communication aggravated by their
inability to resupply their fighting forces with ammunition
and arms. They were forced to withdraw back to Somalia in
order to reorganize, replenish, and regroup with a view to
striking again. The forward operational bases of the
Irredentist were Dolo, lugh Gonana, Baydhabo, and Baidoa.
Since there were no indicators of total peace in the area,
the Kenyan forces remained in position awaiting the possible
re-launching of the irredentist activity.
Phase II. 1967-1977: During this period the situation
was partially calm. There were very few skirmishes. However,
the irredentists continued to inflict casualties and losses
on the Kenya security forces. The Kenyan Defence Forces
seized this opportunity to recruit, train, and refit their
forces, to include formulating counter strategies.
Phase III: (The Ogaden War) General Siad Barre's
regime decided on a multi_strategic technic. He approached
the liberation of the Somali people using the strategy of
first securing the Ogaden and the Haud in Ethiopia and then
to switch forces southward into NFD. Ethiopia was busy, at
the time, fighting the Eritrean and Tigrean secessionists in
Northern Ethiopia. It was therefore relatively easy for the
Somali liberation forces to march to Jijiga, Dire Dawa, and
Harar with little or no resistance.
During this phase, the irredentists mounted precise, lethal,
accurate, and damaging attacks. The strategy was to maintain
contact with the Kenyan Defence Forces while preparing a major
offensive. The main activity was centered on mining roads and
ambushing Kenyan convoys.
Throughout the period covering the three phases, a
number of Somali-speaking officers and men defected from Kenya
Defence Forces to Somalia in of support of the Irredentist
movement and ideology. Incidentally, in the late 1980s and early
1990s Kenya started experiencing the phenomenon of the same
officers and men who had defected earlier now coming back. Well
over three quarter of those who defected have returned so far. A
majority of the defecters were interrogated and released to their
villages to start up life again as good citizens of Kenya.
In the initial stages of the campaign, Kenya's young
government did not have the necessary infrastructure and manpower
to suppress the insurgency. They were not tactically prepared for
low intensity conflict. The command structure and particularly
the top military cadre was composed of the remnants of the
British officer corps, whose level of patriotism and commitment
to the conflict was below par. The immediate replacement of some
of the top command element improved the situation significantly.
The elderly and experienced platoon commanders who had
been elevated from warrant officer platoon commander
to fully-fledged officers led men into triumphant
battles against the scattered pro-secessionist fighting forces.
The major difficulties facing the Kenyan troops were centered on
lack of adequate and accurate intelligence, weather and terrain
constraints, and lack of adequate geographical knowledge about
the vast semi-arid NFD. The temperatures during the day were
sometimes unbearable and made it almost impossible to operate in.
During rainy seasons, road mobility almost brought road
transportation to a complete stand still. The unavailability of
updated maps, as well as the partial inability to read and
interpret them, added to the existing difficulties. Lack of local
support, insofar as intelligence and the lack of understanding of
the insurgents tactics, made the entire operation untenable and
excruciating. Kenyan forces experienced their hardest time ever
since the end of the Second World War.
The Somalis irredentist (Shifta) were more shrewd in
their tactics and approach throughout the period. They had the
advantage of local support from the people and the ability to
adapt to the environment. They had sufficient geographical
knowledge about the area and did not experience any problems with
the climate, since they all grew up in the same climatic areas.
Their convoy discipline and procedures were scrupulous
and impeccable. Convoys of logistic camels would move in tactical
waves. Wave number one would be composed of scouts, followed by
the deception party of a well armed squad,
then a small element as an early warning squad moving in column
of route, and finally the main body followed with armed guards on
the flanks. The basic composition of the convoys would be either
exclusively logistics or both logistics and families.
Any engagement would be met ferociously with the beating of
tins by the families while the main fighting elements were either
engaging from the rear or enveloping. All these activities were
concurrent and were intended to confuse the Kenyan forces into
committing troops wrongly or forcing them into total disarray
while the main force was moving away from the scene as fast as
possible. During extremely difficult situations, they would use
the rear guard to engage the Kenyan forces while their main force
was disengaging from the main battle ground. They never engaged
in decisive battles, but instead preferred to hit hard, inflict
heavy casualties, and retreat into thick bushes. Their main focus
of effort was the capture of heavy weapons, and the destruction
of trucks, as well as amoured fighting vehicles, using mainly
The Movement of logistics and families was confined to
evenings, moonlit nights, and pre-dawn hours. Based on their
intelligence, they had learned the habits of the Kenyan fighting
forces. Kenyan forces confined operational activities to 8.00 A.M
through 5.00 P.M in the afternoon. The Kenyan troops never
operated at night other than conducting limited ambush activities
at specific areas reported to be the main irredentist routes.
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In most cases, the ambushes were laid near bore holes where they
would bring their camels to drink water at night. This created
enormous problems for the Kenyan troops because there was no
distinct difference between the Shiftas and the indigenous people
from the region. However, this problem was eventually overcome
through liaison and coordination with loyal administrative
personnel from the region.
The main weapons carried by these secessionist forces were
the AK 47 rifle, the G3 Heckler and Koch, the AK 47 machine gun,
and bazookas. Other weapons were old Second World War rifles such
as the Mark 3 and Mark 4. The bazookas were mainly used to
immobilize the trucks while the machine guns were used for fire
suppression. At later stages in the campaign, they began using
three-fused, high explosive anti-tank mines made in Italy. There
were two different types of mines, one with three fuses, and the
other with four fuses. These mines were mainly obtained from the
Italians sympathizing with secession and from the Arab world. The
Somali irredentist fighters also obtained assault weapons from
Arab nations and Eastern European countries such as Hungary,
Bulgaria, and the Soviet Union.
The mines devastated the Kenyan transport assets, thus
forcing them to change the mode of operation from mounted troops
to cross country-foot operations. This had a tremendous drawback
on the overall fighting effectiveness, the motivation, and in the
general morale of the troops. The shortage of vehicles and
breakdowns, exacerbated by bad weather conditions,
together with the anti-tank mine dilemma made it almost
impossible for operations to be conducted deep in enemy areas.
The Somali irredentists would never attack without adequate
intelligence. Initial effort was geared to the gathering of
sufficient intelligence from sympathetic locals at least one week
in advance. The same locals were also used to carry out a
disinformation activity aimed at misleading the Kenyan forces
regarding their intentions and their disposition. Sometimes they
would use their agents to lead Kenyan forces into a pre-planned
Occasionally, they planned raids in shopping centers to try
and obtain food for their troops. This development contributed to
another dimension of serious animosity between the secessionist
fighters and the local people who manifestly supported them.
Subsequently, support slowly shifted from total support of the
secessionist activity to supporting Kenyan troops. The
secessionist fighters would not break or steal from shops of
fellow Somalis but mainly the Boran and the Gurreh's shops. These
two communities were not considered as Somalis though the Gurrehs
spoke both languages, Boran and Somali.
THE OGADEN WAR
The changing of the guard in Somalia, after the
assassination of the Prime Minister, Dr Abdi Rashid Ali
Shermarke, saw Major General Siad Barre established in power.
This brought about a new dimensional approach to this regional
conflict. President Siad Barre adopted a more pragmatic approach
in contrast to the late Prime Minister who had been more flagrant
about supporting of the secessionist movement in both Ethiopia
and Kenya. Being a military professional, Gen Siad Barre decided
to approach the situation piece-meal. First and foremost, he made
friends with Kenya in an effort to paint a deceptive scenario
that there was no more secessionist ideology and that there would
be no more skirmishes. Essentially, this new image existed
practically only on paper. Limited, but lethal, skirmishes
continued with a serious impact on the Kenyan Defence Forces in
the NFD. Behind the scenes, President Siad Barre was planning a
strategy of forcefully securing the lost land and people in both
Kenya and Ethiopia, using military power. Thanks to his
increasingly close ties with the Soviet Union who enabled him
acquire substantial military arsernals.
In the meantime, Siad Barre regime continued to promote
insurgent movements in both Ethiopia and Kenya. He provided them
with both moral and material support. Following Ethiopian coup
which toppled Haile Selassie and brought Mengistus military
government to power, Somalia thought it an opportune time to
attempt to recover the lost territory as a phase towards total
recovery of all Somali inhabited territory. As a deception plan,
Siad Barre continued to seek a negotiated settlement of the
Ogaden and NFD disputes with the Mengistu and
Kenyatta regimes, while planning for a full scale offensive
operation to recover the territories. An organization calling
itself the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF) had already
been formed. Along with this organization was another smaller
organization calling itself Somali-Abo Liberation Front (SALF).
Using these two liberation fronts, Siad Barre found it easy to
launch an offensive into Ogaden. He infiltrated his army into the
WSLF militia front and initiated the war. Negotiations were only
being used to buy time as a deception to ensure the Mengistu
regime would not pre-empt the offensive plans underway.
The first objective was the vast open grazing land between
the town of Jijiga and the undemarcated Southern boundary
between Ethiopia and Somalia. The offensive was fast and easy
since the only resistance was from a small element of police and
military personnel. By August, 1977 Somalia National Army had
captured all the ground inhabited by Somali-speaking people in
Ethiopia. Gen Siad Barre's strategy was to initiate negotiations
from a captured ground.
Subsequent to the ongoing events, Mengistu appealed to
Moscow for military assistance in form of equipment and technical
manpower. The Soviets responded massively with the Cubans in
support. 11,000 Cubans and 1500 Soviet advisers arrived in
Ethiopia. In response, Gen. Siad Barre expelled all the Soviets
from Somalia and repealed the friendship treaty with the USSR in
retaliation for the support given to Mengistu's regime.
Early February, 1978 the Soviet advisers, together with
Ethiopian forces, launched a counteroffensive. A two-staged
counterattack was launched from East and North, bypassing the dug
in Somali forces at Jijiga and attacking from the rear and the
flank with one force supporting the attack while the heavy tank
and helicopter gunships provided the main thrust. The Somalis
lost the war miserably simply because they did not have any
support from any other nation soon after they were abandoned by
the Soviets. The war end on March 9, 1978 with Somalia suffering
an overwhelming loss of equipment and defeat.
A third of the Somali army (over 8,000 men) had been lost in
the undeclared war. Three quarters of the Somalia's mechanized
and tank force had been lost in the war. Nearly a half of the
aircraft were destroyed or were non-operational due to lack of
spare parts after the severing of the relationship with the
Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the Western Somali Liberation Front
and Somali-Abo Liberation Front resumed their guerilla activities
in the region despite the disastrous loss of the Ogaden war. The
Ogaden war was to mark the beginning of a major offensive
campaign into Kenya to secure the NFD and the Somali speaking
people. Notably, there were other phases aimed at recovering the
land and the Somali speaking people in the Former French
Somaliland (Now Djibouti). However, this plan had to be abandoned
indefinitely following the Ogaden war disaster.
Ironically, Gen Siad Barre's initial strategy to use military
force secure the Haud and Ogaden during phase I, and then the NFD
as phase II became explicitly infeasible. The dramatic twist of
events which culminated in an awesome defeat of the Somali troops
left the Siad Barre regime in total disarray. The morale of the
troops plummeted especially with the massive losses. It would
take Somalia many years of recuperating before it could revisit
the issue again. The war had a serious negative impact on the
Somalia's socio-political and economic status.
The Kenyan Defence Forces learned several lessons
following the conflict with the Somali Irredentist fighters. The
following is an elaborated outline of the lessons learned:
- Knowledgeability: The Kenyan Forces did not have adequate
knowledge about the people they were fighting. They did not
understand the enemy's habits, culture, and traditions. They were
operating in a completely strange territory. Also, the Kenyan
Forces did not have adequate terrain and geographic information
about the area. They were fighting an enemy on its own terrain.
The need to have substantial socio-economic knowledge about the
enemy and the terrain is very important in any warfare and more
emphatically low imtensity conflict.
-Intelligence: Lack of local support made it extremely
difficult for the Kenyan Forces to operate in the area. There was
complete lack of intelligence on enemy activity, enemy order of
battle, and enemy disposition. Human intelligence proved counter
productive because most of the sources were compromised agents of
the enemy or double-dealing opportunist informers. They proved
totally unreliable. The Kenyan Defence Forces ended up developing
their own collection assets including employing the same agents
on disinformation activities intended to mislead and to enhance
deception. The need to have adequate intelligence about the enemy
prior to initiating any operational activity is of paramount
Tactics and Logistics: Low intensity conflict was a new form
of warfare to the Kenyan Forces. Therefore it was extremely
difficult in the initial stages for the Kenyan Forces to cope
with the situation. The terrain and weather constraints worsened
the situation. Logistic sustainability and survivability in an
area where road communication was rare, created another big
problem. The Kenyan Forces could not live off the land since the
local populace were hostile. There were no lines of communication
for resupply of the food to the jungle camps and worse still
there were no helicopters to heli-drop the supplies. The only
option was to use human and animal transport to carry ammunition
and food to the camps. Logistics is war and war is logistics.
Without logistics, tactics and strategy will have little impact
on the success of any operation. Above all is mobility. Without
mobility to facilitate transportation of logistics and manpower
resources in battle is futile.
Training: The troops were not exposed to low intensity
conflict warfare; therefore additional training was required to
get them to fight effectively in the jungle. There is always a
need to train hard on all types of warfare in peacetime to be
able to fight easily in times of war. The Kenyan military focus
of training at that time was conventional tactics mainly and very
little training on unconventional ones.
Strategy: There was no overriding strategy to counter the
low intensity conflict warfare since it was new to the Kenyan
Forces. The Kenyan approach was conventional while the insurgent
was unconventional using hit and run strategy. Attack
unexpectedly from uexpected direction and time; inflict heavy
casualty and diasppear into the thin air. Speed and accuracy is
the key factor in this circumstance. It is important to formulate
strategy prior to undertaking any complex maneuver such as low
intensity conflict. This can only be achieved by learning and
analyzing the enemy's habits and methodology of conducting
operations in order to formulate a counter strategy.
Late 1975 through to 1978/79, the situation in Kenya had
improved drastically. The level of skirmishes had diminished
considerably, though there were minor clashes with Somali
National Army logistic convoys withdrawing from the war front in
Following this trend, Kenyan troops remained in their respective
locations keeping watch as usual. Their intelligence techniques
which included interrogation to establish the shifta future plans
had improved with time. The resettlement of the local population
and control mechanisms had also achieved a great deal of success.
On the socio-economic and political dimension, Kenya
was developing rapidly, given the worthwhile leadership of
the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and the current President Daniel
Toroitich Arap Moi. The socio-economic infrastructure had greatly
improved in the NFD. Unlike the colonial era, the Somali
community in the region were enjoying equal treatment and
opportunities like everybody else everywhere in Kenya. The old
mentality of secession had diminished from the minds of the
Somali-speaking people of NFD. The government of Kenya had
carried out a carefully tailored psychological, social, and
economic pacification program focused on the daily human domestic
necessities and amenities such as food, hospitals, schools,
communications, and electricity.
By contrast, the socio-political and economic situation
in Somalia had taken a nose dive following the aftermath of the
Ogaden War. The Kenyan Somalis were enjoying the greatest
privileges compared to fellow Somalis in Somalia. It reached a
culminating point where they openly conceded that they were not
interested in seceding to join Somalia or becoming part of
Somalia whatsoever. They were politically, economically, and
sociologically enjoying the same status as everybody else unlike
during the past era when they were segregated and treated like
aliens. The issue regarding secession is now treated negatively
whenever it is discussed in public. Such discussions would not be
entertained by the majority of the Kenyan Somali people in the
country and particularly in the NFD.
The disintegration of the socio-political and economic
situation in Somalia added up to this positive demonstration.
Over the period between 1980 and 1990, there has been an isolated
element of armed bandits still existing in the area.
Additionally, there has also been a lot of hungry renegade Somali
army soldiers crossing into Kenya in search of greener pastures
for survival. This has required the Kenya government authorities
continue deploying troops in the area in order to insure
tranquility prevailed and that people are able to go about their
The improvement of fighting skills and abundant
sophisticated fighting resources has enabled the Kenyan Forces to
effectively combat the secessionists. On the other hand, lack of
local support has further made it extremely difficult for the
secessionist remnants to sustain or live off the land as was the
case in the early 1960 and 1970. These days, anybody in
possession of a weapon or acting strangely would be reported
swiftly to the administration or arrested and handed over to the
security forces by the loyal population.
The greater Somali concept of the unification of all Somalis
still exists. The five point star in the Somali national flag
representing the five Somali inhabited regions consisting of
former British Somaliland, the former Italian Somaliland, the
NFD, the Ogaden, and Djibouti has not been changed. Moreover,
Somalia has not publicly renounced her claim over the frontier in
the Horn of Africa. These frontiers constitute a total area of
374,200 square miles.
As provided in the United Nations charter,
Somalia is a distinct nation entitled to a separate existence and
to rights and duties similar to those of other nations in the
world. This statement presupposes that the idealogy of the
unification of the entire Somali community remains firm and
unresolved to date. The Colonial scramble to dominate and
influence in the Horn of Africa involved three countries namely
British, Italy and France. The aftermath of this scramble is what
we see presently as boundary disputes in the region. It is the
root cause of these problems.
African frontier problems such as this particular case are
a product inherited from colonial days. The colonialist
artificially demarcated frontiers without regard to tribal
alignments. They displayed no respect for ethnic, cultural and
socio-economic background of the indigenous people.
The future of this legend remains in the hands of our
leaders and the people of the land. The continuing peace in the
region will undoubtedly guarantee lasting socio-economic
development and stability. An Improved situation in Somalia will
further increase the assurance of peace since many have learned
from the past and would not endeavor to venture into unnecessary
warlike activities which would result in the massive loss of life
Lastly, the three countries namely, Kenya, Ethiopia, and
Djibouti, should strive to resolve this issue through arbitration
by both the Organization of African Unity and United Nation
1. Harold, Nelson D. Somalia, a country study: III. Series.
Washington D.C: American University. Government Printing Office,
1982. PP. 346. (Chap. 1, 2, and 4.)
2. Drysdale, John. The Somali Dispute. 64 University Place, New York 3,
N.Y., U.S.A. Frederick A Praeger, Inc., Publisher, 1964. Pall Mall
Press Ltd., London and Dunmow. 1964. PP.183. (P 33-39, P 122-129,
and P 40 - 44. [Maps: 1, 2, and 3])
3. Touval, Saadia. Somali Nationalism. International Politics and the
Drive for Unity in the Horn of Africa. Massachusetts: Harvard University
Press, 1963. II. American University (Washington D.C.) PP 214. (P. 16-25,
P. 109-112, P. 147-153, and P. 23-29 [ Clan Chart: 1])
I. SHIFTA. - The name referred to bandits or guerrilla fighters
by the Kenyan Defence Forces.
II. IRREDENTIST. - Ideological ehtno-centric vis a vis political
fighters who formed up in the HAUD and Ogaden in Ethiopia
and Northern Frontier District in Kenya in 1956. Their
purpose of fighting was for a unified Somali community in
the region. The ideology is still outstanding.
III. SOMALI. The race or The person or the people of Somalia or
Somali speaking people. It also means the language
spoken by the people of Somalia.
IV. SOMALIA. The Republic, the country or the Nation of the
V. NPPPP. Northern Province Peoples Progressive Party. One of
the first pro-secessionist parties to be formed in
the Northern Frontier Province.
VI. KANU. Kenya African National Union. The first indigenous
Kenyan political party.
VII. WSALF. Western Somali-Abo Liberation Front: An indigenous
irredentist fighting element.
VIII. WSLF. Western Somali Liberation Front: The main Irredentist
fighting component which spearheaded the Ogaden War.
IX. NFD. Northern Frontier District: All that portion of Kenya
stretching from Lake Rodolf/ Turkana through Isiolo to
South of Garissa. (Ref: Map 5)
X. KADU. Kenya African Democratic Union. The first political
party to be formed in Kenya along KANU. Later it was
dissolved when they formed a merger with KANU.
XI. The Haud. The Southern plateau region south of Hargeisa which
adjoins the Ogaden and Harar in Ethiopia. It covers an
approximate area of 25,000 square miles. It is mainly
occupied by the Somali people from early 17th century.
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