Kenya: KDF's Soft Power Winning Hearts and Minds in Somalia

13 October 2021

Amina Mohamed Noor, 32, was recovering from a snake bite at Dhobley Level II Hospital when the Nation visited on Tuesday morning.

Her left leg was swollen and bore red marks near the ankle, where she was bitten a few days ago.

The hospital receives an average of two snake bite cases daily, but has to rely on Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) for anti-venom doses. Troops serving under the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) supply medical aid to dispensaries and hospitals in Dhobley and Kismayu.

"There's another victim in the male wards. His case is serious since he delayed at home, causing the venom to spread upstream, leading to general weakness in his body," said Mr Hussein Abdullahi, the officer in charge of the hospital.

In the last two years, KDF soldiers have increased their civil-military cooperation (Cimic) with Somali residents by drilling boreholes, donating food, learning material, medical supplies and seedlings.

They also provide business tools, such as milk ATMs, and engage in sports with local clubs to inspire locals and keep Al-Shabaab militants at bay.

"This is a purely asymmetrical warfare that keeps on mutating and bringing about new challenges, which informs our change in strategy and operations," said Brigadier Jeff Nyagah, the Amisom Kenya commander in Sector II.

KDF seeks to maintain a cordial working relationship with locals as a means of gathering intelligence against Al-Shabaab. They also want to shape the local culture so that Somalis, inherently herders and nomadic people, can adopt other means of survival, such as mixed farming.

"We are professionals and we believe we have come here to support the Somali people not as their masters, but so that they can have sustainable peace and security. They appreciate what we do for them through Cimic activities, quick impact projects and engagement with key leaders like Imams and the local administration to win this war," said Brig. Nyagah.

Women and children often bear the brunt of African conflicts and are also the key stakeholders in reconciliation. Amisom's Female Engagement Team (FET) is leading Cimic activities in Dhobley, where they have donated food and business tools to women.

Captain Getrude Auma Abiyo heads the FET 10th Kenyan contingent and coordinates logistical movements of personnel and supplies in and out of the mission area and other bases.

They have had engagements with local women groups and security officers to sensitise them on the Covid-19 pandemic, tree planting and health. The FET has conducted training on midwifery to promote maternal care in the villages and sensitise women on sexual and gender-based violence.

"If we win the hearts and minds of the women, then we will be able to win the hearts and minds of the youth. It is just the use of soft power in the peace process," said Capt. Auma.

Senior Sergeant Godfrey Adawo, who's in charge of a demonstration farm in Dhobley, where locals are trained on modern agricultural methods, said the use of soft power has had a positive impact on the people.

The population that had been indoctrinated by Al-Shabaab militia realises that it can engage in social economic activities that do not revolve around terrorism for survival.

"Terrorism is no longer won by guns only; whenever we offer them alternative means of survival, we take them away from the militants," said Snr Sgt Adawo.

KDF troops have also constructed a police station in Dhobley town to ensure law and order. Previously, local police operated from a tree.

On Tuesday, the station's Occurrence Book showed that three Al-Shabaab spies had been arrested and detained, awaiting transfer to Jubaland for further investigations.

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