Horn of Africa opinion piece – As Kenya goes into Somalia, Afwerki sneaks off to Khartoum

No sooner had Kenya upped the ante in the Horn of Africa, by sending troops, navy and airforce units into Somalia to pursue the radial Islamist Al Shabab militias, a known Al Qaida affiliate organization, did Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki get into a plane to Khartoum, to spend three days holed up with ICC wanted regime leader Bashir. Few details emerged from the capital of Sudan other than that matters of mutual interest and bilateral issues were discussed and for a whole three days.
Afwerkis Eritrea, a country which has by all accounts been turned into a concentration camp for much of its own population, has played a murky role in the past in the conflict in Somalia and allegations have never stopped about overt and covert support for Somali militant groups. Along its own borders with neighbouring Ethiopia, a country committed to fighting extremism in Somalia and supporting the return of a fully functional federal government, Eritrea is in a cold war situation over border disputes since the guns fell silent, not recognizing the outcome of the UNs mediation panel but mindful of the saying a friend of my enemy is a friend of mine continuing to needle Ethiopia through their alleged Somali proxies and other groups Afwerki has long been rumoured to support against his perceived arch enemy.
Kenyas intervention in Somalia, long thought impossible, shuffled the cards afresh for the supporters of the militias, which are sworn to introduce a militant Islamic regime, with similar common political ground visible too in Eritrea and the Sudan. The militant stronghold of Kismayu is now in the cross hairs of the Kenyan military, and inspite of a brief spat by Somalias federal president, who denounced the illegal occupation, the rest of the government in Mogadishu was swift in reassuring the Kenyans that the hot pursuit of militants was still sanctioned and welcome, while their own troops were also advancing on Kismayu.
The pressure on the militias is now on, cutting their supply routes from the sea and on land as UAVs, aka drones, based in Ethiopia, are now a formidable source of intelligence as well as a capable strike force to take out targets as soon as they have been identified.
It is therefore thought that Afwerki and Bashir were strategizing, probably with other allies on site, how best to support their people THEIR meaning in a warped sense of loyalty the Islamic hardliners, terrorists and militias in Somalia, and avoid them being overrun and driven into the ocean at the expense of keeping a festering conflict alive which has provided a breeding and training ground for terrorists of all denominations.
This week will a crucial road link, funded by the government of Qatar, be officially opened between Sudan and Eritrea, which will make deliveries easier and facilitate the movement of equipment, supplies and even personnel, should as many fear the Somali conflict spill over into a wider regional battle for superiority, fought between Islamic hardline regimes and the more Western oriented TFG in Mogadishu and the African Union AMISOM mission supported by mainly Uganda and Burundi. Neighbouring Djibouti, an important strategic base for not just the global anti piracy coalition but also a springboard for an array of Western and Japanese military contingents, is considered a natural ally to those fighting to bring order back to Somalia, and while the breakaway regions of Puntland and Somaliland continue to unsuccessfully demand recognition as separate countries with the promise of stability and reliability, the international community has not given into such demands as their main aim is to bring peace and stability back to a united Somalia under one federal government, though not ruling out a more pronounced federal system of administration, aimed to placate the breakaway factions.
Political analysts are now trying to read the proverbial tea leaves and are hoping to put one and one together, drawing also from Khartoums recent belligerence against not just against the newly independent Republic of South Sudan but also the brutal military campaigns in Southern territories wishing to follow RoSS into independence like South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Abyei. There a referendum on this territorys future has been delayed and obstructed by Bashirs regime while unleashing ethnic cleansing on the region.
The scenario is now unfolding, pitching the TFG in Mogadishu, its protector force from Uganda and Burundi and now the Kenyan military against the militants and their godfathers, with Ethiopia and Djibouti as well as the Republic of South Sudan presently looking on with sympathy but not yet in an active state of participation, keenly watched by Eritrea and the regime in Khartoum. The latter two are under intense internal pressure too and conventional wisdom has it that given a potential internal revolt against Bashir and with Afwerki isolated in the region and facing an internal rebellion also, they might well externalize their problems in a foreign adventure, which could light up a fire across the entire region.
Time will tell how this plays out but all eyes are now turning to the newly emerging scenarios and potentially added interventions in this highly volatile part of the Horn of Africa.