East Africa will defeat terrorists
Posted Monday, September 23 2013 at 01:00
The horrifying scenes of anguish and confusion in Nairobi, Kenya, once again remind us of the growing insecurity in the East African region – thanks to callous terrorists. On Saturday, armed individuals forced their way into a crowded mall in Nairobi and executed harmless civilians - a chilling episode that left 59 people dead (by yesterday) and several injured.
While Kenya has had sporadic attacks linked to the al-Shabaab militants of Somalia, the Westgate attack is the most terrifying since the 1998 bombings of the US embassy in Nairobi by al-Qaeda-linked extremists who carried out a simultaneous attack on the US embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
East Africa has become vulnerable to acts of terrorism given the growing threats from the al-Shabaab – the same group that took responsibility for the July 11, 2010 bombings in Kampala that left more than 70 people dead. These attacks are a clear manifestation that al-Shabaab remains a big threat to our region. Following the Westgate attack, a social media post attributed the group even gloated about the Nairobi incident.
As we join Kenyans in prayer in this difficult time, questions should be asked about our collective regional security. As President Uhuru Kenyatta noted, terrorism is the philosophy of cowards, but the bigger challenge to East African leaders is how to protect citizens from terrorists.
It is evident that the al-Shabaab, with support from al-Qaeda, is consolidating itself. The group made threats against Uganda before the 2010 bombings and they have targeted Ugandan troops in Somalia serving as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia. In 2011, the group also threatened to attack Kenya.
We can argue about security lapses and what should have been done, but our immediate focus should be how the terrorists enter our countries, infiltrate communities and recruit young people. Reasonable measures must be put in place to prevent terror attacks and this requires a collective effort.
As one Kenyan posted on social media, the display of unity among Kenyans is commendable but asks: “Must we only be united during difficult times?” This message carries a hidden but powerful lesson: If we all loved our countries and countrymen in good and bad times, perhaps terrorists will never infiltrate our countries and communities. Indeed, no terrorist should be allowed to break the East African spirit of unity.