The murder of eight people in the Eastleigh province of Nairobi, capital of Kenya, is the latest in a series of deadly attacks against innocent civilians in the East African city. Following a grenade attack in the same district last month, a roadside bomb detonated during rush hour causing severe damage to businesses and road traffic in addition to the fatalities it caused.
Kenya has, in general, been vulnerable to terrorist attacks of this nature in the past few months. The perpetrators? Most likely the Somali Al-Qaeda supporters Al-Shabab. Al-Shabab has been forced out of most of Somalia by African Union (AU) peacekeeping forces, which includes a Kenyan majority. These latest attacks are not only an expression of Al-Shabab’s rage at being evicted from their Mogadishu bases by Kenyan troops but also evidence that the group is withdrawing across the Kenyan border to regroup from their setbacks. Approximately 11.2% of the Kenyan population is Muslim and those practicing Islam tend to live in the northeastern provinces that border Somalia. The possibility of Al-Shabab sympathisers living in these areas cannot be discounted, although it is likely to be a minority given the untold misery they have caused across the border.
Of course, Nairobi is some way from the Somali border which leads to another supposition. Al-Shabab, or Islamic militants linked to them, are targeting the Kenyan capital as a means of destabilising the country, focusing the Kenyan government’s attention on internal affairs and attempting to divert security forces away from Somalia. The fact that several of these attacks have targeted Somali-owned shops and businesses attests to the role of Al-Shabab.
These threats cannot be taken lightly. After years of agitation and warnings, Islamist rebels overran two-thirds of Mali earlier this year whilst AU and UN troops did nothing. Now the multinational bodies hope to launch a military force to eject the rebels even though the latter have now attained a foothold for themselves in the north of the country. Similar warnings were not heeded in Chad, the Central African Republic and parts of Sudan where national sovereignty has been breached by Islamic militant groups who use their acquired territorial strongholds as bases from which to launch terror attacks across international borders.
The other country to mention is Nigeria, where the Boko Haram terrorist group has caused untold misery with its bombings of Christian churches, police stations and town squares. In all these cases the AU has either not responded, been too slow to respond or been unable to raise a suitable counter-insurgency force. There has also been a tangible lack of support for the AU from the UN or Western states whose geopolitical strategic interests are at stake.
Whilst the Western world has been rightly pleased with its advances in destroying terrorist cells in the Middle East, notably much of Al-Qaeda’s leadership, terrorism is a globalised phenomenon. Al-Qaeda has consciously sought affiliates in Africa, whose relevance to Western states is often subjugated to other continents. The reality now is that in a great many African countries, Islamic insurgents or terrorists are present and they continue to encroach upon sovereign territories, the owners of which are too weak to respond.
Unless a new international outlook is adopted, in which Africa is prioritised in a way it never has been, then the Middle East will no longer be the continent most associated with terrorism. The African Union needs help and the West must respond.
For a more positive outlook on Nairobi’s future see: http://blograju.com/2012/12/06/silicon-savannah/