By KEVIN J KELLEY AND AGGREY MUTAMBO
NAIROBI - Kenya’s move to have the Al Shabaab militants blacklisted by United Nations as a terrorist group could curtail relief efforts in Somalia, rights activists warn.
The group of former top US State Department officials, joined humanitarian figures on Wednesday in urging the United States to block Kenya's bid at the UN Security Council.
The 16 signatories of letters to the Trump administration, Cabinet members and leading members of Congress warned that the Kenyan proposal could cripple life-saving relief efforts in Somalia.
“We are deeply concerned by a Kenyan government proposal to include al-Shabaab in the separate UN sanctions regime applicable to al-Qaeda, ISIL and their affiliates, which does not provide the same type of exemption for humanitarian assistance,” the critics wrote.
They noted that al-Shabaab is already included in a different UN sanctions programme that provides an exemption for humanitarian aid.
“The proposal would put the lives of hundreds of thousands at risk without discernible impact on the challenge posed by al-Shabaab,” said Eric Schwartz, the head of the Refugees International NGO and one of the signers of the letter.
The group includes former US Ambassador to Kenya Mark Bellamy, former Undersecretary of State Thomas R Pickering and former USAID Administrator J. Brian Atwood.
Kenya's proposal will not be approved if even one member of the 15-nation UN Security Council formally objects to it.
Signalling its misgivings, the US has already placed a temporary hold on the Kenyan initiative which expires on August 29. But opponents of the proposed Shabaab listing are urging the US to block the move altogether.
Kenya launched a diplomatic offensive at the UN last week, with Foreign Affairs PS Macharia Kamau saying that the addition of al-Shabaab to the al-Qaeda/ISIL sanctions category would focus “global efforts in tackling the group.”
“It has caused serious havoc, not just on Kenya but the region and the world in general,” Mr Kamau added after meeting a delegation of United Arab Emirates officials in Nairobi. “It is important that all global efforts now come together to combat this.”
Among the signers of the appeal to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and USAid administrator Mark Green are Obama-era diplomats, NGO leaders and former US ambassador to Kenya Mark Bellamy.
The letter points out that the existing set of UN sanctions on Somalia includes “a carefully administered (and US-initiated) Security Council exemption [that] has facilitated delivery of humanitarian assistance to civilians in dire need."
Kenya's proposal would jeopardise that what has proven to be an effective and vital process, the signers said.
Officially, under the UN, terrorism is seen as a global threat but only Al-Qaeda and ISIL are listed are terror groups.
Previous bids to have the Somalia-based Islamic insurgency listed was opposed by the US and the UK over fears Nairobi would want to be delisted as a participant in the Somalia-Eritrea sanctions regime.
Kenya’s troops are part of the 22,000-strong African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) forces.
Amisom was established in 2007 and includes troops from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda deployed in south and central Somalia.