Kenya too important to abandon,World leaders told
Terrorists from the Somali-based al-Shabab Islamist militia stormed a college campus in the northern university town of Garissa the day before Good Friday, catching students off guard, many of whom were attending a morning prayer service.
The terrorists quickly identified the Muslim students, allowing them to leave unharmed. But the killers showed no mercy to the Christian students. When the shooting was over, 148 people had been martyred.
Foreshadowing the holy week massacre, terrorists attacked churches in Garissa in July 2012, reportedly killing dozens of worshippers.
Is it racism or indifference?
Many Kenyans must be feeling a dizzying mix of emotions, including fear, sadness and despair. But can the West hear Kenya crying over the loss of so many of its children in a single attack?
From the bombing of the Boston Marathon, to the massacres at the offices of Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in Paris, to the siege of the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa, the world tends to pay close attention to jihadist strikes in the industrialized world.
However, when jihadists carry out mass casualty attacks in Africa, international interest seems to be less intense and the response of the community of nations tends to be perfunctory.
For example, when Paris was rocked by jihadist violence earlier this year, social media was flooded with messages of support. And many world leaders marched in the streets of the city of lights in an impressive show of solidarity.
However, world leaders haven’t flocked to Kenya to march in solidarity with East Africa’s most important nation. And the reaction to the massacre on social media was underwhelming, prompting a backlash from Kenyans, who rightly pointed out that Kenyan lives matter, too.
U.S. President Barack Obama did not even mention that most of the victims were killed simply because they were Christian, or that their killers committed mass murder in the name of radical Islam.
In fairness, Canada was quick to denounce the massacre. “Canada is appalled by today’s terrorist attack at Garissa University College in Kenya, which has claimed the lives of many innocent students,” Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson said in a public statement.
Nicholson declared that Canada “stands by the people of Kenya in these difficult times and will continue to support international efforts to combat terrorism in all its forms.” His declaration was consistent with Canada’s Kenyan strategy, which aims to bolster peace, prosperity and good governance in the developing nation.
Does the world care less about terrorism in Africa because the victims are black? Racism is a plausible explanation.
However, the world did pay close attention to events in Kenya when jihadists laid siege to the upscale Westgate Mall in Nairobi in September 2013. The riveting spectacle unfolded in real time on Twitter.
Another explanation for the world’s lack of engagement is that Kenya has been victimized so many times in recent years that the West has become indifferent to seemingly routine jihadist strikes.
Without a doubt, Kenyans have suffered greatly at the bloody hands of al-Shabab. And most of the time, traditional and/or social media aren’t around to cover the carnage.
The terrorist militia has carried out many other ruthless terrorist attacks in Kenya, often targeting Christians. For example, late last year, Canada condemned a terrorist attack that “targeted non-Muslim workers at a quarry in northeast Kenya,” killing at least 36 civilians. That attack capped a particularly bloody year in Kenya.
In November 2014, al-Shabaab attacked a bus in northern Kenya, murdering 28 innocent civilians. And last June, terrorists slaughtered nearly 50 civilians and wounded many others at Mpeketoni.
The month before the Mpeketoni attack, terrorists executed strikes on Mombasa and Nairobi, reportedly killing seven people and wounding 60 people, prompting Ottawa to declare its support for Kenya’s “fight against terror.” And in March, Andrew Bennett, Canada’s Ambassador for Religious Freedom, publicly condemned a “terrible attack near Mombasa, Kenya, which has killed six people attending a church service.”
Why Kenya matters
Al-Shabab is an offshoot of the radical Union of Islamic Courts that ruled Somalia briefly in the mid-2000s. In 2012, al-Shabab became an affiliate of the al-Qaida terror network.
Four years ago, the terrorist militia kidnapped two foreign nationals working for Medecins Sans Frontiers in Kenya. In response, Kenya launched a military operation in Somali, a failed state, to secure the shared border.
Kenya’s military incursion, which was sanctioned by Somalia’s transitional government, weakened al-Shabab. However, the militia still has a strong presence in rural parts of Somalia and even in Kenya.
The community of nations should start paying attention to and caring about Kenya’s national security, because Kenya matters.
“Kenya is an economic and strategic hub for East Africa, so what happens there matters not just to Kenyans,” wrote Hillary Clinton, a former U.S. secretary of state and the frontrunner for the Democratic Party’s 2016 presidential nomination, in her memoir Hard Choices.
Canada agrees with Clinton about Kenya’s importance. According to the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs Trade and Development (DFATD), “Kenya is the economic engine and key driver of stability in East Africa. Its strong private sector, infrastructure, and financial services contribute significantly to growth in the region.”
In addition, DFATD praises Kenya for its diplomatic leadership and major contribution to peacekeeping, which “reinforce its role as a regional stabilizer.”
From the Realpolitik perspective, the Islamist assault on Kenya should be of great concern to the international community. Kenya is a bulwark against the spread of the violent and destructive transnational religious ideology of Islamism.
Al-Shabbab draws recruits from western nations, including Canada. That makes Kenya’s fight against the terrorist militia our fight. Jihadists returning to Canada from East Africa pose a clear and present danger to public safety in this country.
Kenya is simply too important to be allowed to face al-Shabbab alone. If the terrorists succeed in destabilizing Kenya and force Kenyan forces to adopt an isolationist foreign policy, Kenya would be diminished as a nation, and that would be very bad for the stability of the region.
Meanwhile, the West should find a way to belatedly demonstrate solidarity with Kenya in the wake of the Garissa massacre.
Nothing can justify the slaughter of Kenyans. And no twisted religious doctrine can legitimize mass murder. Kenyan lives matter, too.
By Geoffrey Johnston