Don’t throw stones if you live in a glass house

With the entire world inundated by incidences of spontaneous terrorist attacks, it does feel as though humanity is presently housed in fragile glass. No country seems immune to these sorts of attacks that shatter the peace and are intended to create feelings of fear and despondency.

For many Kenyans, the first encounter with terrorism in conscious memory was during the events of August 7, 1998. This was when the American Embassy in Nairobi was bombed by militants from Al Qaeda, a group at war with the United States. Then, Kenyans who were injured, or lost their lives, were caught in the crossfire of a war that had little to do with them.

The recent terror attack on Dusit hotel, in Nairobi differs from that of 1998 in several ways. First, unlike the 1998 attack where afflicted Kenyans were simply collateral damage, this attack was intentionally directed at the country to cause it deliberate harm. Kenya has been at war with Al Shabaab, a group of Somali militants since 2012.

The war escalated from an incident where a tourist visiting Kenya was kidnapped by suspected Al Shabaab foot soldiers. This led to an invasion of Somalia by Kenyan military forces which Al Shabaab responded to with a series of terrorist attacks on Kenya. The attack on Dusit is the latest of such attacks.

Hostage situation

Second, the 1998 attack caught Kenya in a state of unpreparedness. There were no disaster response units and efforts to rescue those caught in the rubble of the bombing were largely civilian efforts directed by a motley crew of police and military personnel. The death toll was horrific.

Subsequent terror attacks by Al Shabaab have honed Kenya’s abilities to respond to such incidences. Reports indicate that the latest attack was intended to be a long stage-out. This, judging from the amount of ammunition carried in by the terrorists.

However, incident response was too fast for the terrorists to set up a hostage situation. A full nationwide broadcast in minutes and a coordinated response to the entire activity forced the terrorists to move from attack to defensive mode. The result was that though there was a regrettable loss of lives, the number of casualties was significantly lower than would have been.

Third, whereas the 1998 attack was mooted and executed entirely by foreign nationals on Kenyan soil, the attack on Dusit was undertaken by a mix of homegrown Kenyans and Somali nationals. One of the attackers was from Nyeri and another from Mombasa, lending credence to the notion that there has been an insidious penetration within the ranks of Kenyan youth by terror organizations.

Social media

Because Kenyans live in a glass house of security, they need to stop throwing stones. The first step is in appreciating the distinctions between Muslims and terrorists and between Somali as an ethnic identity and Somali as a nationality. Social media is awash with chatter from ignoramuses that ascribe all terrorist activity to Muslims. Absurd! True Muslim faithful abhor violence. Extremists may abound within them just as they would among Christians or Jews or any other religions. These radical elements do not make fundamentalists of everyone.

There are Kenyans who are Somalis by ethnicity and not by country. Most of these are patriots whose allegiance to the country is doubtless.  And they suffer the brunt of terrorism same as any other ethnic grouping. In fact, some of those who lost their lives at the 14 Riverside attack were Somalis.

This leads to the question of how to combat future threats from Al Shabaab. Because of proximity to Kenya’s border with Somalia, Kenyan Somalis hold the answers. It is time to put them on the frontline of the fight against the group. An anti-Al Shabaab police force whose bulk is Somalis, needs to be constituted, complete with an intelligence wing.This is because Somalis with information will only speak to fellow Somalis due to historical injustices and abuses meted out to the community from independence. Terror attacks in the North-East of the country have dwindled using this approach.

Finally, corruption is the last stone that threatens our glass house. There have been accusations from Al Shabaab that some of Kenya’s military top brass have replaced them in the lucrative sugar and charcoal industries. The same corruption is what has led to unemployment among Kenyan youth and made them easy marks for indoctrination into terrorism. Until we get to the bottom of this, there will be no end of shattered lives and dreams at the hands of those who have nothing to lose.

Khafafa is Vice Chairman, Kenya-Turkey Business Council