The following is the first part of an interview with Kenyan Foreign Minister Bonaya Godana, held on 23 April 1999, on various regional issues.
Somalia and Al Ittihad:
QUESTION: There was a recent killing of a US aid worker in Somalia, in Ras Kamboni, by a Somali fundamentalist group, Al Ittihad. Armed groups of Al Ittihad have since been driven across the border into Kenya. There is speculation that Al Ittihad is moving between southern Somalia and Kenya's
North Eastern Province. To what extent is Al Ittihad a problem in Kenya?
ANSWER: We are definitely aware of the reports. We are not taking anything for granted. But we do not think, so far, the kind of information we have warrants any enhanced public reactions. I can only say ... we are aware of the presence of Al Ittihad in Somalia. We don't think so far there is something which would justify an alarmist reaction on our part.
QUESTION: Ethiopia has made incursions into Somalia specifically because of concerns about Al Ittihad on the border area. On a regional level, how do you see that sort of action against a country that does not have a government?
ANSWER: I don't think we've really studied the precise nature of the Ethiopian incursion, we've only picked up things from the media - of course it is not for the first time. But I think one needs to look at the different postures of Nairobi and Addis Ababa towards this Somali problem in the light of the special circumstances and the historical context of the two
countries. Since the end of the Shifta war, the insurgency [in Kenya's North Eastern Province] in the 1960's, there has been no official insurgency or operation against Kenya from Somalia whether by a legitimate government or by an organised group. Criminal banditry, economic banditry, may be there, but no official declaration of engagement or operation against Kenya from across the border. Whereas for Ethiopia the situation
is different. The fact is, not only did the two countries go to war over the Ogaden, but they have given support to each other's guerrilla movements - which resulted ultimately in the collapse of the Somali regime. And one may feel there was a contribution in the reverse, also, in the collapse of Ethiopia's Mengistu regime. But even more recently, it's a fact, we know, that Ogaden Somalis have been somewhat active even after the putting in place of a new order in Ethiopia. Al Ittihad seems to be a
continuation of that tradition of some kind of publicly, self-confessed, continuing operation against Ethiopia. And so Ethiopia is reacting against what it regards as a Somali-based, organised, military against its territory. I think you can understand the difference of the reactions in those terms.
The IGAD role
QUESTION: Moving on to IGAD [Inter-Governmental Authority on Development] there have been complaints that each member is hostage to his own country's agenda in the region. For example, warring Ethiopia and Eritrea are so directly involved in Somalia, it undermines the IGAD role in peace talks. What do you think?
ANSWER: Without doubt, definitely, the fact that IGAD member states are in a war and on bad terms undermines the capacity of the organisation to respond to an already existing problem, such as Somalia. Attention is diverted elsewhere, there is no doubt about it. This has been a most unfortunate development and it has definitely weakened the attention of
IGAD, and the members, to a Somali solution. Djibouti and Kenya are the only two countries that have had no diplomatic row with one or other of the IGAD member states in recent times. And Ethiopia which has been given the responsibility of leading the IGAD peace talks in Somalia is now concentrating on the war with Eritrea and correspondingly with actions along its border with Somalia, because there are suspicions that both Asmara and Addis have their own client groups, if I may say so.
Definitely, we have to acknowledge the weakening of IGAD is there - we wish these problems between IGAD members did not exist, and then we would expect more attention to the Somali problem. But even under these very difficult circumstances, IGAD has kept the Somali question alive, and I think it is a significant coincidence that IGAD sent out an appeal to the
European Union to release funds under the Lome arrangement, earmarked for Somalia, which had been held up falsely for use to alleviate suffering in areas in Somalia where some semblance of normality had returned, such as Somaliland and Puntland. The reasoning of IGAD presidents at the summit is that this should also offer encouragement to other Somali groups in the middle and south of the country to move to establish peaceful mini-states, as it were. Hopefully, this bottom-up process could lead to lots of small states, de facto states, emerging in Somalia, establishing law and order, for non-military purposes from that EU portfolio for the construction of bridges, restoration of veterinary care, opening of schools and so on.
Hopefully, we feel if this is done in other parts as has been done in Puntland and Somaliland the result will be to attract others, to encourage others to pursue that sort of restoration of order at the local level. It has had some success, unfortunately not as much as we hoped. We know the warlords in Mogadishu said they were going to do as Somaliland and Puntland has done, and the south, they were also going to do this. So far,
success has somewhat eluded them. But the fact this approach has already spread further from Somaliland where it started itself does give support to the idea.
QUESTION: With Kenya's strong position in terms of regional dialogue, it has been under pressure by donors to take a more assertive role in the Sudanese talks. Why the apparent reluctance?
ANSWER: We are taking a leading role, no question about it. But this is a very intractable problem - and we don't want to make assumptions which will be blown by the wind when there are obstacles on the ground.
QUESTION: You mean talks tend to go nowhere?
ANSWER: No. Well put it this way - we've not swallowed our words: while we've not said there is no hope, we have no option other than to have hope and keep the talks alive. But so far we've been concerned to keep the process of negotiation itself alive. Maybe we have shied from risking complete
breakdown by taking postures of aggressive arm-twisting, as some have called it. I don't think that has been necessary. We are disappointed that the last talks did not take place here as plan. We heard the explanation from Khartoum from their side. They have insisted they are still committed to talks and are just asking for postponement. We know they have their own
domestic problems - explanations for the postponement on the domestic scene are somewhat different from the explanations that we got officially from Khartoum. That again may be understandable: they do have a domestic constituency that they have to carry along. But if they have said they are still committed and they are looking for the possibility for talks in
three or so weeks, well we have no option at this point but to see how we can assemble the parties concerned again and hope the message gets clear that you cannot be expected to keep on disappointing the talks.
Will Nairobi host DRC talks?
QUESTION: There has also been some speculation that Nairobi might be hosting DRC talks in the next couple of months. Can you confirm that?
ANSWER: It's possible, yes. Nairobi is a possible venue for a proposed national debate between all Congolese groups - government, rebels, non-rebellious opposition groups external and internal, churches, all religious groups - who could be conceived as legitimate stakeholders. We've made it clear ...
Nairobi's available, we want to see an end to the problem. But at this stage it's not an idea of some kind of mediation, it's getting all Congolese stakeholders to a place where they all feel free, safe, neutral.
QUESTION: There has been no quiet, behind-the-scenes mediation on Kenya's part?
ANSWER: Obviously to come to this very idea there must have been lots of consultations. The very fact that Kabila has said look, on a neutral ground we can meet all Congolese groups, rebels and others, we think is something positive. Nothing has concretised yet in terms of a definite commitment to talks by a certain date. Ideas have been proposed, maybe even timeframes are being hoped for, but it's not safe enough to say publicly that talks will take place.
[ENDS Pt 1]