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Terrorism Not a Kenyan Problem

Yesterday’s removal of a ban on British Airways flights to Kenya, together with the lifting of a travel warning on vacations to the country has come a month too late.

Britain says there has been an improvement in the security situation – meaning the harrassment of traders in Eastleigh has been stepped up, and the move to sabotage the miraa industry – by banning flights to and from Somalia – is succeeding.

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Now, it remains for America to tell its citizens that Kenya is no longer one of the most dangerous places to be. Last week, the US temporarily closed its embassy in Nairobi, citing terrorism fears – and has not reopened it. Those in the Kenya tourism industry will tell you, though, that America and Britain are no longer important markets for them.

That Britain and the US have fairly reliable intelligence networks cannot be gainsaid. On that account alone, they have cause to be circumspect when they receive information about an imminent terrorist attack. For this reason, their travel advisories are relied upon by citizens of other countries other than their own. But the reasons for issuing them remain suspect.

America and Britain would rather Kenya had tanks rolling at its airports, that everyone dropping into a bar for an evening beer was frisked for TNT, and that a law on terrorism was in the statute books. Both countries would rather Kenya had people being tried for aiding terrorists – regardless of whether or not there is evidence to convict them.

In the absence of these things, America and Britain have chosen to spread fear and despondency about being in Kenya – with the result that the tourism industry is teetering on the brink of collapse, and the air travel industry is looking at massive losses in coming months. Parliament calls it economic sabotage.

The superpowers may have a right to ask that the Kenya Government takes certain steps to protect them and their interests – after all, they attacked Iraq without anyone’s approval – but the decision to acquiesce to these requests remains discretionary.

It is not unlikely that the argument – over whether or not Kenya is doing enough to prevent terrorism – could go on for much longer than its negotiations with the International Monetary Fund on the resumption of aid.

In the event that Kenya is unable to satisfy the two countries’ security demands, and it will not, their citizens and interests will never be safe. The sooner this acknowledgement is made, the better for everyone concerned.

If Kenya is unsafe for America and Britain, the logical thing to do would be for the two countries to move their embassies and businesses elsewhere – not bad-mouth the country to the rest of the world. It is Americans and Britons who may be inviting insecurity into Kenya – because their presence beckons terrorism.

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The two nations have enemies who seem determined to pursue them to the ends of the earth.

On that account, Kenya should not be getting stressed about how safe Americans and foreigners are. It should be worrying about reducing insecurity internally, so that its citizens can do business and live in an atmosphere of peace. Foreigners can only enjoy this peace incidentally.

Terrorism is not a Kenyan problem. And it is not a global problem. That is only the propaganda that badly behaved superpowers sell to the world.

The only reason that restrained Kenya from asking the US to close its embassy in August 1998, after more than 200 of Kenyans were killed in a terrorist attack was in order to send a message to the terrorists.

Sending the Americans away at that time would have handed victory to Osama bin Laden, who had double-bombed their embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in a space of seven minutes.

Although the Kenyan casualties were higher than those suffered by America, and the damage to local property was more devastating than what the Nairobi embassy building suffered, the country had little choice but to stand with America. Repairing Cooperative House, which suffered “collateral damage” in the bombing, only ended last month – five years after the attack.

It was not lost on the Government or the people of Kenya that Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network had not targeted Parliament Buildings, or State House, or the Nyayo monument at Uhuru Park. The terrorists’ war was – and still is – with America, Britain and now Norway.

Kenya, as a good friend of America, and as a nation that rejects the use of terrorism to achieve any end, chose to stand with America. And with Israel, and with Britain, and with many other countries that are considered legitimate targets by a host of terrorist organisations.

As payment for its kindness, Kenya has been roundly condemned for its lax administration of immigration affairs, for letting aircraft from anarchic Somalia fly in and out of its airports, and for not caring enough about security. Now, it is listed among the 15 places most likely to be attacked by terrorists – alongside Israel, Saudi Arabia and Morocco.

The very nations that Kenya has stood up for have been advising the world to avoid this country because it is unsafe.

Kenya has no quarrel with America or Britain. Its people have not even considered throwing Molotov cocktails at their embassies yet – a habit that is rampant in many developed countries. Kenya is a very tiny, poor country trying to solve its numerous problems and should be allowed to continue without the kind of superpower sabotage being perpetrated in the name of preventing terrorism.

Regardless of what diplomats and Government ministers tell one another at cocktail parties, the common Kenyan is extremely tired of bearing the burden of friendships that cost too much and yield too little. And that with America, especially, are beginning to fray Kenya’s patience.

America does not need to have its embassy in Nairobi. There are many secure towns and cities in neighbouring countries, such as Entebbe in Uganda and Arusha in Tanzania, where America – and any other country that feels unsafe on Kenyan soil – can go and operate from.

If there is any lesson to be learnt from the British Airways flight ban and the closure of the American embassy, it is that Kenya needs to adopt a hard line in dealing with terrorists, and even harder one when dealing with the nations that attract them.

by Kwamchetsi Makokha

 

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