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Cablegate: Ambassador's Trip to Garissa Elicits Candid

VZCZCXRO7338
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHNR #2790/01 3511112
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 161112Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY NAIROBI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7940
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHDR/AMEMBASSY DAR ES SALAAM PRIORITY 6252
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 3023
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS PRIORITY 2916
RHMFIUU/CJTF HOA PRIORITY
RUZEFAA/CDR USAFRICOM STUTTGART GE PRIORITY
RUZEFAA/HQ USAFRICOM STUTTGART GE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 NAIROBI 002790

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PTER KISL KDEM SOCI PHUM KE SO ET
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR'S TRIP TO GARISSA ELICITS CANDID
FEEDBACK FROM KENYAN SOMALI COMMUNITY

REF: NAIROBI 2655

-------
Summary
-------

1. The Ambassador recently travelled to Garissa, the
provincial center of Kenya's predominantly Muslim North
Eastern Province, to talk to the community about a range of
issues. Feedback from the (mostly) Kenyan Somali community
was generally positive toward the United States. There was
great appreciation for the support the United States is
providing to the area. Feedback was also candid: women,
youth, religious, and other community leaders expressed
concern over the deterioriating security situation in Somalia
and what they termed problematic U.S. support for Ethiopia
and alleged opposition to Islamic forms of government and
Islamic groups with grassroots support. Development and
governance issues also loomed large on Garissa residents'
radar screen: interlocutors felt squeezed by the influx of
Somali refugees and neglected by their own government in
terms of development fund distribution and the lack of
attention by their own elected representatives. Youth
expressed frustration at a lack of employment prospects and
political marginalization. End Summary.

2. On November 19, after a visit to Dadaab refugee camp
(reftel), the Ambassador traveled south to Garissa, the
provincial center of Kenya's predominantly Muslim North
Eastern Province, to meet with women, youth, religious, and
other community leaders.

-----------------------------------
Somalia's Instability A Key Concern
-----------------------------------

3. Security was the primary concern for many.
Representatives from nearly every group mentioned the
deteriorating security situation in Somalia and worried about
the detrimental effect it is having on northeastern Kenya.
Given the reality of a porous and poorly controlled border,
interlocutors emphasized that there will not be security in
Kenya until there is peace in Somalia, and that the increased
influx of Somali refugees is a serious strain on local
resources. Participants did not support the Kenyan
government policy that officially (but ineffectively) closed
the Kenya/Somali border in January 2007, but rather argued
that support for both refugees and host communities must be
improved.

4. Interlocutors expressed the belief that the presence of
Ethiopian troops in Somalia acts as a hindrance to
peacemaking efforts and that a comprehensive peace accord
will be difficult if not impossible to achieve while they are
present. Ethiopians are viewed through the lens of historic
grievances and are seen as having their own agenda that runs
contrary to Somali national interests. Women leaders
criticized the peace process for not including women and
youth. (Note: Their criticism was voiced before the November
26 unity government agreement to allot 75 seats in the
transitional Somali parliament to civil society and business
representatives. End Note.)

5. Religious leaders cautioned that Western countries would
have to re-evaluate their "hostility" to moderate Islamic
regimes if they wanted to encourage an effective peace
process in Somalia. The leaders credited the Islamic Courts
Union with creating a semblance of order in Somalia and said
their overthrow (that started in late 2006) had been a
mistake. The imposition of Sharia law will not necessarily
lead to an intolerant regime, they said, and radicalism will
only increase if non-credible leaders continue to run the
government in Mogadishu. While interlocutors appreciated the
Ambassador's remarks regarding engagement with the Alliance
for the Re-liberation of Somalia, several interlocutors
expressed the belief that al Shabaab should be dealt with
directly, as they are now in a position of power and enjoy
the support of the local population. The Ambassador
disagreed that al Shabaab enjoyed any real grassroots support
and cited the recent killings of aid workers as an example of
al Shabaab's rule by terror rather than consent. He also
emphasized that the current policy of non-engagement with
extremist elements is not up for discussion.

6. Over the years, Garissa has all but lost its

NAIROBI 00002790 002 OF 003


traditionalist, moderate Islamic voice to an increasing
number of Wahhabi clerics, as well as clerics from Somalia
and Ethiopia with nationalist agendas. While this trend has
not created a hotbed of extremism in Garissa, it has created
an environment amenable to inflammatory sermons, anti-U.S.
rhetoric, and the promotion of foreign agendas, including
potential recruitment by extremist groups like al Shabaab.
Local residents who are willing to talk privately about the
shift say that the new clerics have filled a vacuum left by
weak governance and the Kenyan government's inability to
deliver basic services and development.

-----------------------------
Development Help Insufficient
-----------------------------

7. Although Garissa's population is primarily ethnic Somali
and the region has always lagged behind other parts of Kenya
in terms of development, interlocutors said that they
self-identify as Kenyans first. One religious leader
emphasized that the safety and security of Kenya is the
community's number one priority. Women leaders discussed the
rift between "Somali" Somalis and Kenyan Somalis: Somalis see
themselves as superior and act as if they deserve our
resources, one woman leader said.

8. The bigger problem, other leaders said, was that
development resources coming to the North Eastern Province
are insufficient, poorly distributed, not in line with local
development priorities, and at times impossible to use
because of the poor security situation. Refugee influxes
from Somalia just make the situation worse: the refugees'
need for resources is eating away at grazing land, depleting
the underground water table, and creating serious sanitation
problems in Garissa, they said.

9. Interlocutors expressed their appreciation for the
projects sponsored by Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of
Africa (CJTF-HOA) civil affairs teams. Women leaders asked
that the United States provide even more direct assistance
like that provided by the civil affairs teams, since the
local community cannot trust the government to use aid money
appropriately.

----------------------
Youth Lack Jobs, Voice
----------------------

10. An assembly of youth group leaders expressed frustration
at high levels of youth unemployment and inadequate political
representation. Youth leaders wondered aloud why NGOs insist
on bringing in outside employees when qualified youth are
available in Garissa, and why local residents can have a
private meeting with the U.S. Ambassador but not be able to
call on their own member of parliament. Youth
representatives also explained that many youth hold negative
opinions about the United States because they perceive U.S.
policies to be anti-Muslim. However, the U.S. image has
improved, they said. Five years ago, you could not mention
the name of the United States in Garissa, but because of
military civic action and other projects, the negative
perception of the United States is changing positively day by
day. (Note: During the Ambassador's trip, he attended the
dedication ceremony of a kindergarten in Dadaab town recently
refurbished by CJTF-HOA Civil Affairs teams; the project was
intended to support a host community overwhelmed with the
influx of refugees. End Note.)

11. However, the United States still has image problems. One
youth leader pointed out that when the United States forced a
cutoff in the funding of Islamic nongovernmental
organizations such as al Haramayn, no funding was available
to continue the work underway. The seemingly inexplicable
funding cutoff fuels resentment. Other U.S.-supported
restrictions also limit donors' ability to fund religious
education, he said. In the end, such U.S. policies feed
local perceptions of the United States, not the provision of
a desk in a school (by a military civil affairs team),
another concluded.

-------
Comment
-------

12. The Ambassador successfully corrected a number of

NAIROBI 00002790 003 OF 003


misconceptions about U.S. policy in Somalia while explaining
the limits of U.S. development assistance. He encouraged
youth to develop a strategy for youth development and to hold
their political representatives accountable for delivering
results. He repeated these messages during two radio
interviews later in the evening, during which he took dozens
of call-ins. He challenged local members of parliament to
join him in a baraza (public meeting) with their
constituents. We learned later that this plea reached the
ears of at least one local member of parliament almost
immediately, but none have yet accepted the challenge.

13. The frustrations expressed by the youth highlight the
risk to Garissa's stability in the face of rising refugee
numbers and an increase in isolationist religious rhetoric.
We are currently working with FY 2007 1207 funding to help
productively harness the power and energy of Garissa's youth
and make them less vulnerable to co-optation by militant
organizations. End Comment.
RANNEBERGER

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