By Jerry Okungu
April 24, 2012
It is true when it comes to fighting terrorists in our country, we can count on the American logistical and material support. After all, the reason we have terrorists focusing on us since 1980 when the Norfolk was bombed is due to our undying friendship with the Americans and by extension Israel. Norfolk was bombed by a lone terrorist from the Middle East ostensibly because at that time it was owned by Jack Block, a Jew. And because of the centuries old feud between Jews and Arabs over Palestine, one understands the animosity that exists between the two sons of Abraham.
Since that fateful day on December 24 1980 when we witnessed the first bloodbath from a terrorist attack, we have continued to experience such deadly attacks from time to time. In August 1998, the same terrorists brought the American embassy down as they coordinated similar attacks in Dar es Salaam and Kampala. Of the three embassies, Nairobi was the hardest hit with several buildings around that embassy coming down.
Not long afterwards, another attack was carried out at Kikambala Hotel in the Kenyan coast. At that time, Israeli nationals departing from Mombasa were the target. Again like in Nairobi, there were several casualties- mostly Kenyans.
The reason our soldiers are fighting Al Shabaabs in Somalia is because Kenya was tired of being an easy target of lawless militias in that country. Piracy, kidnapping and hi-jacking of Kenya nationals and tourists had become the order of the day. Our sea coast and islands like Lamu had become unsafe for anybody including our fishermen.
And even after our troops marched into Somalia, we have lost lives in Nairobi and Mtawapa due to terrorist attacks. It is a testimony that we cannot underrate the intentions of the Al Shabaabs and their international networks.
This week, we received the latest friendly warning from our friends the Americans. However, the way the news was released left a lot to be desired. We were told that preparations to attack major buildings in Nairobi were advanced, possibly in their final stages. What we were not told was when the attacks would occur and by who. However since this information was with the American intelligence, surely someone in the group must have known which terrorist group was planning to attack Kenya.
What was even more baffling was that instead of giving more information so that all Kenyans can be on the lookout, all we heard were the American nationals being warned to be extra careful. Why were all Kenyans and other foreign nationals not cautioned to be careful? Don’t our lives and those of other foreign nationals matter?
When these intelligence warnings are released, they are always accompanied with what have come to be known as “travel advisories”, those little press releases that warn American nationals either to avoid travelling to Kenya or better still avoid public places because there is credible evidence that an attack is imminent.
The world over; whether it is in Israel, Ireland, London, New York, Oklahoma, Arizona or Oslo, we have had repeated terrorist attacks. In some cases, lunatics have walked into a school compound and left several children dead. We never get travel advisories to avoid those countries. If truth be said, there can never be any place more deadly than Johannesburg, American cities or Israel where sporadic shootings have become a part of their culture. Sometimes snipers in Washington DC do it as a hobby.
Any warnings on impending terrorist attacks should never be taken lightly and neither should they be an end in themselves. Early warnings are only useful if they can be tools for preempting such attacks. If they cannot assist us to forestall an imminent attack then they are as good as no warnings at all.
Why have the East African states, more so Kenya and Uganda borne the brunt of terrorist attacks? Why has Kampala suffered two attacks between June 2010 and now? Why has Kenya experienced several bomb attacks in the same period?
The reason we have suffered and will continue to suffer is because we have joined the Americans in the war on terror in Somalia. If we mobilize to drive the Al Shabaabs from our shores, we are by extension fighting the Taliban and Al Qaida, the main enemies of the Americans in the Middle East who have spread their cells all over the world including inside the United States of America.
For this reason, any warnings either to the government of Kenya, Uganda or Ethiopia must be accompanied with measures to preempt such attacks. Telling hotels, banks and restaurants to beef up their civilian security numbers at entry points is not the solution. The real terrorists will not put bombs in the boots, bonnets and underneath their cars where metal bomb detectors will get them. A more comprehensive way of dealing with terrorist threats must be discussed with countries targeted rather than merely send to them advisory notes.
At best, these notes do more harm to the country’s image as they create fear and despondency among citizens. A fearful and frightened citizenry cannot fight terrorism effectively.