Generally I blog about sport and the issues surrounding it, but with Kenya being in the news alot recently I thought it would be a good one off place to put down a few thoughts.
Kenya has long been an African success story, a place that’s been relatively stable, peaceful and prosperous despite being in a neighbourhood rocked by major disasters for decades. There has been endless civil war in Somalia, genocide in Rwanda and famine in Ethiopia. Yet these calamities have, by and large, not spilled over to Kenya, which has been the crossroads of East Africa, serving as a business, transportation and tourist hub.
“Kenya is full of Western interests and if Al-Qaida wants to target America, which is obviously its reason for being, Kenya is the place to be,” Bronwyn Burton of the Atlantic Council commented.
“They would much rather be operating in Nairobi, where they can hurt more people and they can make more progress in their jihad than they could ever hope to accomplish in Mogadishu,” Burton says.
Kenya has always been one of the most outward-looking African countries with its wide-ranging links to the U.S., Europe, the Middle East and Asia. International companies and aid groups operating in Africa are likely to have a base in Nairobi. Western countries maintain large embassies in Nairobi. And the country swarms with well-heeled Western tourists headed on safaris to Kenya’s spectacular game parks.
For these reasons, Kenya depends heavily on its reputation as an island of stability. And that reputation can be easily damaged by terrorist attacks, which can instantly drive away potential visitors.
Counter terrorism experts have been sounding warnings about Kenya’s vulnerabilities for years. The country shares a long, unguarded border with Somalia, which smugglers use to ferry weapons and other contraband. Kenya has absorbed many Somalis, with a large concentration in the “Little Mogadishu” neighbourhood of Nairobi – and some parts of this Somali diaspora support Al-Shabab.
Kenya has rarely intervened militarily with its troubled neighbours. But two years ago, Kenya sent troops into Somalia in an attempt to break down the chaos there. The Kenyan forces went after Al-Shabab and took territory held by the Islamist militia, including the southern Somali port city of Kismayo. In response, Al-Shabab warned it would target Kenya. The group made good on that threat with the strike on the Westgate Mall, a place frequented by well-off Kenyans and many foreigners living in Kenya.
“We went as a nation into Somalia to help stabilize the country and most importantly to fight terror that had been unleashed on Kenya and the world,” said Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. For Kenyatta, the Nairobi mall attack was personal — his nephew and the nephew’s fiancée were killed.
The U.S. has been working with Kenya to develop its anti-terrorism efforts. But in general, Kenya’s security forces, and the police in particular, are seen as poorly trained and widely corrupt. It will be very interesting to see what lessons are learnt from this tragic set of events.