Archive | October, 2013

Terrorism: Not Kenya’s war alone!

1 Oct

The Westgate Mall attack by Al Shabbab on 21 September has renewed debates about the fight against terrorism in Africa. For quite some time, it seemed the war against terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and the Westerners (Americans, Europeans and Israelis etc.) was a phenomenon that would only be seen on CNN occurring in the backyards of these Western states. This has changed dramatically over the years with the emergence of terror groups based in Africa such as the Somali based Al Shabbab and Nigeria based Boko Haram. The motive however for all these groups remains the same – a search and quest for political power by means of terror and invoking Islamic fundamentalism. No matter the reasons given for attacking Kenya by these terrorist groups, this war/struggle is more about gaining political power in Somalia and Kenya than claiming religious space/freedoms or anything of that sort. This makes this war on terror “not Kenya’s war alone” as every other country is now under threat from Hobbesians seeking to position the axis of evil over the rest of the world. A number of issues have to be put into perspective to understand the matrix of terrorism in Africa.

The first ever biggest terrorist attacks on East Africa happened when Al Qaeda linked terrorists bombed the US Embassy in Nairobi and carried out similar attacks in Tanzania. The way these attacks were generally perceived by Africans was that the attackers were after the Americans and it was the duty of the Americans “the foreigners” to make sure they did not continue to endanger Africans through their acts of war in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and so on. Most people hoped the terror attacks would go away. Biggest mistake! The terrorist attackers are here to stay in Africa. Clearly the Western world has garrisoned its borders making it almost next to impenetrable by terrorists. The terrorists’ best bet now lies in attacking Western establishments and citizens in more vulnerable countries. In this regard, Africa becomes the best theater for these heinous criminals. Kenya hosts a huge expatriate population from the Western countries and that the terrorists would want to attack these people is everyone’s guess. So, whether Kenya is involved in Somalia or not, the chance of terrorists attacking the country is very high. This point supports my argument that this war against terror cannot be Kenya’s war alone.

It would be mistaken for any African country especially those well to do economically that terrorists will not attack their countries. For starters, these terrorists groups need safe havens to invest their funds and generate more. Countries like South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania with seemingly stable economies and huge populations of Muslims offer very good safe havens for the terrorists. First, it is easy to launder money in such states due to corrupt state officials out to make quick money. Secondly, it is also very easy for the terrorists to hide behind their religion and plead religious persecution when they are caught by security officials in these African countries. Most of the terrorist groups have managed to evade arrest by blending with “civilians” very well in the communities they live. It is no coincidence that Samantha Lethwaite commonly known as the “white widow” managed to acquire fake South African travel documents and IDs and lived without security officials detecting her. It is not rocket science as well to note that there are more Al Shabbab elements living in South Africa having fled Somalia through Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Zambia. As South Africa presses and squeezes these people, it cannot be ruled out that these elements might start setting up bases in Southern African countries with lax and not so sophisticated security systems. Thus, as much as Kenya can be accused of meddling in the Somalia war, this cannot be Kenya’s war alone. There are other countries that are contributing by commission or omission in the support of these terrorist groups.

The dangers of having unstable neighbors cannot be overemphasized here. Kenya has largely borne the brunt of having to look after its neighbors fleeing wars from Sudan, Somalia and even far – away places as the DRC. It is a well – known fact that Al Shabbab has largely been recruiting from refugee camps on the borders with Kenya. The Kenya Defense forces has had to intervene to stabilize Somalia and destabilize the Al Shabbab elements who have caused untold suffering in Somalia and caused huge distortions in Kenya’s economy from piracy money and all forms of criminality. Kenya has paid dearly for this with reprisal attacks on its border areas with Somalia and now with the Westgate Mall attack. The war has come home for Kenya and it is no longer about the Fundamentalists following the Americans, Europeans or Israelis anymore. All the same, this cannot be Kenya’s war alone! By taking the fray into Somalia the Kenyan Government and its Defense Forces have played a huge role in averting large scale disasters that could have gone unchecked emanating from the notorious training camps in Somalia. There is no doubt that a lot of intelligence has been gathered about terrorist networks in Somalia and the world over and Western countries have to show gratitude to the Kenyan government and people for this sacrifice by assisting them in securing Kenya and East Africa.

The Al Shabbab group has been looking for attention and it has regained it through the Westgate Mall attack. The Kenyan government has responded well to this attack by diplomatically averting the calling of names and pointing fingers. The easiest for many a Kenyan would have been to accuse Somalis for the attack. This would have caused immense bloodletting in Kenya, with so many innocent Somalis being attacked as sympathizers of Al Shabbab. President Kenyatta has shown leadership and desisted from calling names or pointing fingers at the Somalis. There has been very careful treading in the identification of the terrorists and not wanting to identify them as Americans, British or Somali. But it is quite clear and evident that the tugs of war are there for everyone to see, The Foreign Affairs Minister of Kenya, Amina Mohammed has stated clearly that the terrorists were not just Somalis. This alone in my opinion was a genuine call and plea from the Kenyan government to the international community that they have the intelligence and that this cannot be their war alone. That the Israelis managed to acquire intelligence about the attacks well before the Kenyans did is commendable. How the Kenyan security reacted could be judged to have been be unprofessional, but in all fairness the Kenyan government has done a lot and should be commended for holding fort against Al Shabbab. Those who have been to Somalia or work there will attest to the levels of brutality meted out to Somalis by this group.

The other question that begs answers is of the funding networks. It is mind bogging to try to understand how and why terrorist groups continue to operate with such impunity and abundance. Rather than focus on the jihadists who are willing to die because they have been promised eternity and “70 virgins apiece” as a bonus when they die, what is needed now is to unmask the elements who provide the economic muscle and guidance to these desperate young men and women who are allegedly brainwashed into believing that terrorizing innocent civilians in the name of Islam is the best way to resolve conflict or acquire political power.

The Kenyan government because of desperation for economic resources will want to pretend that all is well. But the security situation is not well and that applies for the rest of East Africa and even Southern Africa. Reports have now started streaming in mentioning how Al Shabbab is being funded from rhino and elephant poaching activities in Southern African game parks. The Kenyan government will argue that there is no need to blame each other or point fingers. However, it is quite true that the levels of corruption in the country are so high that the terrorists have for a long time been able to dodge security and immigration checks without being detected through its porous borders with Somalia. The same applies for Tanzania, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and other countries which are being used as transit points by Al Shabaab and Al Qaeda.

The Kenyan government has been crying foul over the issuance of travel advisories by the American and British governments. Rather than see this as a blow to their economic activities, the Kenyan government should see this as a point of further negotiations with these countries on security cooperation. There is no doubt that the war against terrorism is not Kenya’s alone and therefore if the Western countries perceive Kenya to be under threat then they must do something to assist in curbing the carnage inflicted by the terrorists on their citizens residing in Kenya. Rather than see the travel advisories as an attack on the Kenyan government by the Western countries, the Kenyans must now start all the hard questions about their immigration policies, corruption in the police force, weapons and gun policies, and their relations with Somalis in and out of Kenya and so on and seek to tighten these to avert terrorist attacks. The persistent lies and misinformation that has been the trademark of the government since the fire at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on 7 August are uncalled for. The Kenyan government needs to assure Kenyans and the rest of the world that they are in control. They can do this by admitting that they were beaten to it by the Al Shabbab and Al Qaeda cells this time around. What Kenyan and the rest of the world want to hear now is how, why and who carried out these attacks and the measures that will be taken to avert such in future. Ole Lenku’s shenanigans will not hold water, because this is not Kenya’s war alone. The struggle against terrorists will have to be fought by Kenyans and the rest of the world in unison.

The Westgate attacks no matter how devastating should be a rallying call to the international community to ensure that they put more resources into rebuilding Somalia through education and livelihoods programs for its desperate citizens. Somali youths need to be lifted out of the misery they currently face to avert more recruitments by Al Shabaab. More importantly, the Westgate Mall attack serves to point out that the war against terrorism in Kenya cannot be Kenya’s war alone and the world needs to stand with Kenya because “#WEAREONE”.

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