By Jerry Okungu
December 21, 2010
East Africans, the terrorist threat from Somalia for the rest of East Africa is real. It is no longer a question of this state or that state is the affected one. Now it is abundantly clear that one does not need to be Somalia’s immediate neighbour to bear the brunt of brutal attacks from Al Shabaabs, Al Qeudas and their sympathizers worldwide.
Fellow East Africans, this year alone, Nairobi has born the brutal murder of innocent Kenyans through grenade attacks, most recently two attacks in Nairobi’s Eastlands area just two weeks ago. Earlier in June, a referendum rally at Uhuru Park in Nairobi’s Central Business District suffered such senseless attacks and lives were lost.
In July this year, 79 innocent Ugandans and Ethiopians lost their lives in Kampala in similar circumstances merely because they had chosen to watch the World Cup finals together at public restaurants.
Now this week, a Kampala bound bus was the target of grenade attacks by an assortment of nationals that early investigations indicate included a Tanzania. Never mind that this was happening at a time when suspected terrorists that include Kenyan nationals were still facing trial in Uganda for the 7/11 attacks in Kampala.
Just hours before the Kampala bus attack took place in Nairobi, Ugandan intelligence services had issued warnings of possible terrorist attacks during the Christmas holiday. If this threat had been coordinated and shared effectively among all the five member states, perhaps we would have preempted the latest Nairobi attacks. And if indeed one of the suspects arrested with suspect cargo was a Tanzanian; the question to ask is this: did the Tanzanian national travel all the way from Tanzania and crossed all border points to land in Nairobi with his deadly cargo? Or, is the suspect indeed a Tanzanian national either living in one of the Al Qaida or Al Shabaab cells in Nairobi’s Eastleigh area or in Mombasa?
The other day when Uganda was attacked, the Ugandan authorities moved with speed to apprehend the culprits from as far as Mombasa. We may remember with gratitude the efficiency and precision with which the Ugandan intelligence handled that tragic matter. At that time our June attackers in Nairobi had not been apprehended.
When we were attacked twice in one day just two weeks ago, Kenya’s Police Commissioner quickly invited the FBI to help unravel the source of the attacks. Despite that move, Kenyans have yet to apprehend the people responsible for such attacks apart from shooting to death those that the police happened to lay their hands on. The question to ask is this: when security forces are just too eager to eliminate suspects, how will we know the masterminds of such attacks especially when the foot soldiers are suicide bombers anyway?
I think the most logical way to go is for the East African Community Summit to convene a special meeting to deal decisively with the real threat of terrorist attacks in our region. In June was Kenya bleeding. In July, it was the turn of Uganda tom bleed. This time round Kenya is bleeding again. The next time, it may be Tanzania, Rwanda or Burundi.
As things stand now, let us use our resources and expertise to deal with terrorists on our shores. If Uganda has the capacity to deal with terrorist attacks more swiftly and efficiently in the region, it would only be logical to give Uganda the lead and requisite material support in handling such attacks on behalf of the member states. In any case, this is the essence of the spirit of the East African Community Treaty.
East Africans may want to be reminded that on August 6 1998 when a coordinated terrorist attacks were planned to hit the American embassies in Nairobi, Kampala and Dar Es Salaam simultaneously, only Kampala was spared by the grace of God. Many people died or lost their limbs in those attacks. Since then our region has remained vulnerable to those unprovoked attacks.
As we deal with these attacks, it has not been on lost on us that just 14 years ago; Rwanda went through the trauma of genocide. It has not been lost on us that Burundi is just getting out of the prolonged civil war. It is also not lost on us that Joseph Kony’s ghost in Northern Uganda and Southern Sudan has not been laid to rest. Under the circumstances, not-withstanding the porous border between Kenya and troubled Somalia, this scenario provides fertile ground for terrorists recruitment based on the nature of violent life we have led. This situation calls for joint urgent action as East Africa to deal decisively with this threat that has become global.
In suggesting this approach, it has not been lost on me that dealing with terrorism is an expensive affair. Indeed that is why the Americans and Western allies have taken the war to the states that are known to be safe havens for terrorist cells. However, national or regional security in any part of the world is an expensive exercise. It needs massive investment in high level manpower training and equipping our security agencies with the necessary skills and tools to combat terrorism. This can only be meaningfully done if the East African Community sees this problem as a common problem and invest appropriately.