The horrors of the Westgate mall attacks raise the question as to why Kenya should have born the brunt of this vicious outrage.
The 21 September terrorist attack on Nairobi’s up-market shopping centre, Westgate, was despicable, cowardly and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. Many shoppers – locals, tourists and expatriates, were hit with a reality which is seemingly rooting itself in Africa – a continent which has had its fair share of challenges already.
Now regarded as a continent on the rise, Africa has suffered from the imported terror of slavery, colonialism, apartheid, neo-colonialism and a vicious East versus West Cold War, fought using the continent’s land and proxy leaders – mainly dictators – but as servants for Washington and Moscow.
Yet while the continent is emerging from these ills in various forms and at different paces, as seen in the sluggish but real political reforms – taking place with minimal military coups, “regular” elections, leaders (read dictators) donning Western suits and constitutionalism (although fully changeable) – there are signs that God might, at last, be resident on the continent, with now regular discoveries in oil, minerals and a sudden realisation about how fertile and untapped the cradle of humanity is.
But typical of our leaders, most of whom revere the foreign rather than the local, after Somalia was broken and later abandoned by the US in the early 1990s, the country was left to struggle. Post-9/11, not only did major terrorism visit the US on home soil but US interests and allies abroad were increasingly targeted – the 1998 bombings at the Dar es Salaam and Nairobi embassies being a case in point.
When US intelligence and strategists saw a likely threat from the residue of their expedition in Mogadishu, they sought – as usual – fronts to do their bidding. So in came Uganda and Burundi in the name of the African Union. As long as their soldiers built careers, CVs and above all, got paid away from their national exchequers to the happiness of their commanders-in-chief “allies” of the US, it was just fine.
That was until Kenya started getting hit by al-Shabab, targeting tourism, the country’s image and its economy generally. When Kenya responded by entering Somalia (the most legitimate of all interventions), there came the backlash – but it was too late. Why did countries bordering Somalia not see it as their duty to help stabilise the country much earlier and demand that those who had soiled it a decade ago help clear up the mess?
So while Kenyans mourn their dead, clear the debris and ask tough questions of their politicians and security services, the rest of Africa must, too, ponder the question: how long shall the continent keep fighting other people’s wars?
When Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni claimed that: “Africa must not allow terrorists to exist on the continent”, it reveals in whose hands African lives thrive.
Former US president George Bush said, “If you throw bombs at people, you are a terrorist, if you hijack an aircraft, you are a terrorist, if you hold people hostage, you are a terrorist, if you keep a terrorist, you are a terrorist…”
Indeed, I would suggest, if you support a terrorist, you are a terrorist. Museveni’s own methods of capturing state power were no different, nor have the conditions that he claimed he was “fighting” against gotten any better today.
While condemning the recent terror attack in Kenya, Africans across the political divide must build consensus and demand of their leaders that conditions that enable the emergence of the likes of the Boko Haram terror group in Nigeria, or al-Shabab in Somalia, are mitigated, and that the root causes of conflicts and violence on the continent – imported or otherwise – are checked. We cannot afford to let that happen again.