Kenya needs international support, not travel advisories

Our security forces deserve a special commendation for the professional manner they responded to the killings at the Westgate Mall in the Westlands area of Nairobi, arriving barely 15 minutes after the first shots were fired on Saturday.

Given the heavy traffic jams that clog the roads in Westlands, that response time was only equaled by the level of dedication they displayed as they searched for the terrorists floor by floor.

Tragically, the growing number of the victims includes some of these brave officers. As the country awaits the forensic investigation that David Kimaiyo, the Inspector General of Police promised, there are some quick conclusions that can be reached.

One, the attack was planned in such a way that the usually light security at the mall was quickly overwhelmed as they were both outnumbered and outgunned. Early reports indicated that the group of between 10 and 15 gunmen was armed with AK47s, 3G rifles, machine guns, grenades and bombs and wore ammunition belts. In the words of an eye witness: “I was near the entrance and all of a sudden people burst in to the shopping mall and started firing.”

Although the identity of individual attackers will take time to establish, Al-Shabaab’s claim that they were responsible for the Westgate bloodbath is credible because a similar attack was carried out at Mogadishu’s Bakata market at 11am, last Saturday.

The world has sadly come to recognize that synchronized attacks are a hallmark of al Qaeda to which the Somali-based al Shabaab is linked.

The real motivation for the attack was also not quite clear by the time of going to press although the youthful but deadly terrorists described the attack as an act to avenge Nairobi’s military support for the United Nations mission in Somalia.

Indeed, since the Kenya Defence Forces launched a cross-border incursion into Somalia in October 2011 in pursuit of Al-Shabaab militants who kidnapped several foreigners from the Kenyan side of the border, the question has not been whether the terrorists will launch an attack but where and when.

The latest atrocity, though the worst since the August 7, 1998 American embassy bombing that left more than 200 people dead and thousands injured, follows others smaller ones, usually involving planting of bombs in crowded places and grenades thrown from passing vehicles.

And just as the Al-Qaeda failed to break the spirit of Kenyans then, Al-Shabaab’s attack will also bring out the best in us. The sense of commitment displayed by the large number of volunteers who flocked to offer assistance to the wounded at Westgate Mall, the long queues of Kenyans from all walks of life, regardless of their colour of skin or religion, at blood donor centres and the degree of selfless service witnessed from our disciplined forces since last Saturday are a testimony to our great love for one another and our common destiny.

It would be unfortunate were our Western friends, especially the US, to jump into issuing travel advisory notes that discourage their citizens from visiting Kenya as a result of the latest tragic events considering that the rationale behind our fight against terrorism is common to us all.

It is noteworthy that Kenya is neither the first, nor the only country, that suffers from this global scourge.