Post-Westgate Insecurity, Islamic Extremism In Kenya

Post-Westgate Insecurity, Islamic Extremism In Kenya

One month after the Sept. 21 terrorist attack on Westgate Mall, Nairobi is calm again.

On the coast in Mombasa, several arrests signal that Kenyan forces are closing in, but still chasing suspected terrorists.

“Many people are beginning to wonder what kind of terrorism it was, especially with the government’s failure to confirm any arrest of the terrorists themselves,” said Denise Kodhe, a well-known political journalist in Kenya who serves as executive director of the Institute for Democracy and Leadership in Africa. “It is alleged that all of (the terrorists) escaped from the shopping mall after the attack,” Kodhe told AfkInsider.

Islamic extremism is expanding in most African countries, Kodhe said. “It is necessary for African leaders via the African Union Commission to find out ways and means of controlling and stopping the spread.”

Kenya has been struggling with counter terrorism challenges, and Nairobi has been easily infiltrated by Somalia-based al-Shabab and affiliated organizations, as opposed to neighboring Ethiopia, which has a very efficient security forces, according to Dr. Tibor P. Nagy, former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia from 1999 to 2002.

The former ambassador, who is currently serving as vice provost for International Affairs at Texas Tech University, is convinced that U.S.–Kenyan relations “continue to stay good.”

“Kenya is extremely vulnerable to such threats,” Nagy said.

The Westgate attacks and the larger issue of terrorism in Kenya are truly a national security concern for the U.S., and therefore require more American involvement to help Kenyan services, which are considered generally weak, Nagy said.

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“Although there are natural limitations, the Kenyans will have to do the work themselves. If the services can stop the potential follow-up acts, the after effects will disappear,” Nagy said.

However, also the Westgate incident has already hurt Kenyan tourism, which plays an important role in the economic development of the country. Tourism dominates the services sector, which produced an estimated 61 percent of gross domestic product in 2012, according to the CIA World Factbook.

Tourism earnings almost doubled in four years between 2008 and 2011, reaching $1.15 billion, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics 2012 report. This proves how the East African country depends heavily on this sector.

The religious divide between Christians and Muslims is growing even though political leaders are trying to downplay it, Kodhe said.

“There is a big Somali population in Nairobi, as most of the 2.4 million Kenyan Somalis (2009 census) live in the capital,” he said.

The total population of Kenya was more than 38.6 million at the time of the 2009 census, and today it is estimated at 44 million, according to CIA World Factbook.

Several influential Kenyan Somalis have made massive investments in property development, transport, leisure, hotels and trade in Kenya.

“The Somali community itself will take steps to liquidate the extremists,” as it does not want its economic position harmed by any stressful situation connected to religion, Nagy said.

Muslim Somali leaders continue to condemn the terrorist attack claiming that it has nothing to do with religion, Kodhe said.

“They are trying to speak with one voice with Christian leaders condemning the strategy by the terrorists to create rifts and misunderstanding between Muslims and Christians,” he said.

Despite the apparent tactic by the attackers to give a religious color to the incident, none of the Christian or Muslim organizations used sectarian language or innuendo to convey their message, Najum Mushtaq wrote in the Horn of Africa Bulletin.

Mushtaq is a policy and communications advisor at the Life and Peace Institute.

President Uhuru Kenyatta said Kenyans are united and must stay that way, with their “conscious drift, away from extremism and exclusion, and towards acceptance and understanding,” which Kenyatta said he considers as “a key to our national strength.”

Kenyatta spoke Oct. 1 at the National Inter-Religious Prayer Service in Nairobi.

The attacks happened at a time when Kenyatta is preparing for his trial at the International Criminal Court scheduled on Nov. 12. He is allegedly responsible for the crimes against humanity connected to post-election violence.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed to the Security Council to support the U.N.-backed African Union Mission in Somalia to fight al-Shabab, “strengthening the military campaign” against the terrorist organization.