Garissa attackThey are ruthless and merciless. Their trademark is terror. And their mission is to kill and maim people. The blood thirsty gang of criminal thugs who raided Garissa University in Northern Kenya this week and senselessly killed 147 innocent students belong to Al-Shaabab, a Somalia-based terrorist group affiliated to Al-Qaeda.

Why is Somalia perceived as a haven for terrorists, pirates and war lords? The answer is probably, poverty. Like elsewhere in Africa, Italian and British colonial masters left behind a poor people divided along ethnic lines, clans and hard-to-police international boundaries.

By and large, Somalia is inhabited by 85 per cent Somalis who are mainly pastoralists and 15 per cent minority groups, including the predominantly farming community of Somali Bantus in the south of the country.

In 1969, Mohammed Siad Barre seized power in Somalia and ruled with an iron hand. He sided first with the communist Soviet Union, who he later kicked out and turned to the West before the collapse of his regime in 1991 following a protracted Civil War. For the next 24 years, Somalia had no central government.

Insecurity and famine became order of the day. Many Somalis sought refuge abroad and in neighboring countries. To manage the humanitarian crisis that followed, the UNHCR set up a base in the Kenyan town of Daadab, which lies approximately 100 kilometres from the Somalia-Kenyan border. Today, the refugee camps around Daadab are the biggest in the world.

When the Islamic Courts Union took over the Somali capital of Mogadishu and imposed harsh Sharia Laws, Ethiopian forces moved in and dislodged them in 2006. The ICU scattered and Al-Shaabab was born as an extremist splinter group that lived off the bounty from piracy and extortion.

An Al-Shaabab attack on tourists in the Kenyan coastal region led to the counter attacks that drew Kenya into the Somali theatre of seemingly endless war. The African Union created an interventionist force drawn from several African countries among them Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya.

Kicked out of Mogadishu, Al-Shaabab has become a hit and run force that has staged terrorist attacks on soft targets in Kampala, Uganda and in Westgate, Mandera and now in Garissa, Kenya. Al-Shaabab is driven by a warped, intolerant fascist ideology that has no respect for life or the way ordinary and reasonable people live together peacefully.

Kenyans reacted with shock and fury at the latest unprovoked deadly attack on unarmed innocent students. The attack confirmed the perception in Africa and abroad that greater international resolve is needed to confront the threat of Al-Shaabab and similar outlawed groups by all means, including economic empowerment of the youth and other marginalized groups.

The tide is changing, albeit slowly. The Somali diaspora is returning. With the blessings of Somali political and business leaders, a new generation of moderates is rising and firing the imagination of their long suffering nation which has fought 3 expansionist wars with Ethiopia over the Ogaden region and 1 war with Kenya over the North Eastern Province.

The rising skyline of Mogadishu tells it all. When the sound of gun fire finally dies out, Somalia, the mainland country with the longest coastline in Africa has the potential to become an economic power house in the continent.

Tackling decades-old and deeply entrenched suspicions amongst Somali communities and her Eastern Africa neighbors will not be easy. But, it can be done. What is needed is more out-of-the-box thinking by Somali and Eastern Africa diaspora and opinion leaders of all other persuasions.

By Leonard Njoroge, Diaspora Messenger Contributor, Email: [email protected]

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