Letter from America. 10.24.2011. Why War?
Whose idea was it anyway?
I mean for the Kenya Government to unceremoniously join the global “war on terror” by going on the offense against Al Shabaab!
Couldn’t we have had a referendum or a public debate of some kind, so the Kenyan people could have a say in whether they approved of such an otherwise unilateral decision?
Did the Kenya Army really have to cross over the border into Somalia and declare war on Al Shabaab?
I don’t think so.
Supposedly, the reason the Kenya government chose to chase after Al Shabaab is because somebody somewhere decided there was a connection between the kidnapping of two white European women—one British lady called Judith Tebbutt whose husband was sadly murdered by the criminal thugs who hijacked the wife, and one French woman, Marie Dedieu who was seriously unwell before she got kidnapped and who died ostensibly because the pirates didn’t let her have her medication.
Both women had been living in exclusive areas of the Kenya Coast when they were kidnapped; they were living a few kilometers away from where Somali pirates have been operating for many months, hijacking boats of all shapes, sizes and nationalities.
To me, it seems more than obvious that the pirates would have eventually come ashore and taken a respite from hijacking ocean liners which have been easy marks for many months up to just recently. But now that a few countries have gotten serious about putting an end to piracy, I’m not surprised to hear that the pirates have devised a new strategy: going after rich tourists living off the beaten path along the Kenya Coastline.
But no, the Kenya Government decided they’d lay the blame for tourists’ abduction on Al Shabaab, the Somali-based wing of Al Qaeda. How the government made this murky connection between white women being kidnapped and the culprit being Al Shabaab is inexplicable.
All we know is the issue of pirates damaging Kenyan tourism was barely raised. Instead, somehow the hostage-taking became the trigger for the Kenya Army to cross the border into Somalia to “retaliate” against Al Shabaab.
According to Western observers, it wasn’t the Americans who advised the Kenya Government to go for Al Shabaab. Nonetheless, the new US Ambassador Scott Gration, a retired military man, was quick to promise assistance to the Kenya Army in all ways, short of sending in US troops. (Does that seem to echo President Obama’s promise in the case of Libya, where he was quick to commit NATO forces but not American troops?)
To make matters worse, the Kenya Police have planned swoops into “Little Mogadishu” otherwise known as Eastleigh in Nairobi to weed out Al Shabaab sympathizers. Yet if making such a public statement of intent a somewhat foolhardy move, I don’t know what else to call it.
It would seem especially unwise when, at last count, there were 2.4 million Somalis living in Kenya, as well as another 600,000 Somali refugees who have flooded into Kenya as a result of both conflicts which have been ongoing in Mogadishu for many years and the drought which has had devastating effects on the lives of not only Somalis but Kenyans living up north as well.
So was anyone surprised to hear that Al Shabaab spokesmen promised to retaliate against ordinary Kenyans for their government’s hasty decisions to: number one, declare the kidnappers of the two white women to be Al Shabaab—not ordinary Somali pirates; number two, send troops in “hot pursuit” of the would be kidnappers all the way to Kismayo; and number three, (according the Alfred Mutua) have those troops intending to “track down and dismantle the Al-Shabaab.” (FT, 20 October , 2011)
Whether the Kenya Government made these decisions autonomously or whether they were quietly prodded to be proxies for Western powers who have been waging their “war on terror” since 9.11.2001 is not clear.
What is clear is that two explosions in the heart of Nairobi on Monday have already cost lives and created chaos in Kenya where there was nothing comparable to those attacks, apart from the 1998 attack on the US Embassy when again, it was mainly Kenyans who suffered many more casualties and lost many more lives than did the Americans.
So now we need to pray that recent events do not explode into an all-out war that affects not just tourism and tourists, but millions of lives and livelihoods of Kenyan people themselves.
It may well be that the Government enjoys sabre-rattling as a way to avert Kenyans’ attention from all the other problems they are facing—inflation, unemployment, corrupt lawmakers and politicians—but this time opening a war front in Northern Kenya is not a fight that most Kenyans neither want nor need.