The story of Ilhan Omar is romantic and beautiful. The 36-year-old, who became the first Somali-American elected to Congress in the US midterm elections in November, had a remarkable rise. Born in Somalia, her family fled to a refugee camp in Kenya when she was just eight, where she lived for four years before moving to the US. Some 23 years later, she was elected to Congress.
Though Omar is not Kenyan, she spent some of her formative years here, and I, along with many Kenyans, Africans and people around the world, was moved when she was sworn in just a few weeks ago.
I was extremely disappointed therefore to learn of some of the views that she harbours towards us. In previously unknown comments to a small local television station following the Westgate attack in 2013, which killed 67 innocent civilians and wounded 200, Omar described the attack as a ‘reaction’ to the actions of the West, and a “by-product of the actions of our involvement in other people’s affairs.”
While we were grieving our brothers and sisters that died at the hands of murderous terrorists, Omar, who lest we forget was sheltered and given refuge in our country, was blaming US, and indeed our own, foreign policy for our suffering.
High profile locations
I think Omar needs some history. Al Shabaab was formed in 2006, not in response to US or Kenyan foreign policy, but as the armed militia of an extremist Islamist group, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), who were involved in an ongoing battle with the Somali government.
Al Shabaab soon broke off from the ICU, and began a violent wave of attacks aimed at imposing Shariah law and taking control of the Somali state. Not from Kenya or the US, but from the Somali government.
Al Shabaab soon branched off into attacks against its neighbours. Why? Because we were easy targets. Because bombing high profile locations in Kenya – a thriving democracy – gets it more publicity than attacks in Somalia. Most of all, because in their eyes, we are infidels.
If our foreign policy is to blame for their attacks, why was the first terror attack against Kenya in 2008? Why in 2010 did Al Shabaab bomb a restaurant in Kampala during the World Cup Final, killing 74; and in 2011? Why in 2011, before our military response, did Al Shabaab kidnap two Spanish aid workers from the Dadaab refugee camp?
Omar should really learn the difference between cause and effect. Kenyan foreign policy did not ‘cause’ Al Shabaab or cause them to attack us. Quite the opposite. Operation Linda Nchi was launched following all of these events, to protect our country. It was an effect of Al Shabaab terrorism.
Fortunately, President Uhuru Kenyatta does not listen to such irrelevant, confused voices. Unlike Omar, he understands the real causes of terrorism and is working hard to eradicate them, by bolstering our security and counter-terror forces and by empowering and strengthening the Somali government to do the same across the border. Uhuru has been tough on terror throughout his time in office, and he isn’t about to stop now.
It is also fortunate that leaders of the West are not as misguided as Omar. President Trump’s selection for the new US Ambassador to Kenya, Kyle McCarter, has promised that fighting Al Shabaab will be top of his list of priorities, noting that “it is in our best interest to protect Kenya and to keep Al-Shabaab from making its way into Kenya.”
Recently, the UK has stepped up its support for our counter-terror units, while Germany has pledged to construct a Counter-Improvised Explosive Device Centre in Kenya. These leaders recognise that we are the victims of terror, not the aggressors, and are committed to supporting us in partnership.
Legendary US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said that “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” I strongly urge Congress woman Omar to take this sentiment to heart, and learn the true causes of terror, and why Al Shabaab is really attacking us.
In the meantime, Kenya, with assistance from our true partners around the world, will fight back.
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- The writer is a banker