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To anyone who has been following the al-Shaabab-Kenya axis, it was almost a foregone conclusion that such an attack would sooner or later hit some targets in the country. Most of the Islamist funding for al-Shaabab over the last couple of years could be traced to the Somali business community in Kenya. Moreover, there is an extremist branch attached to al-Shabaab in Kenya. In such a precondition one rarely goes wrong in expecting the worst. 

Understanding the Westgate Attack

Events surrounding the Westgate attack have created a lot of controversy. There have been conflicting reports about why it took several days to deal with the tragedy. It cannot be pinned down or wrapped up. This is not standard terrorist attack. The ease, with which al-Shaabab brought such havoc to Kenya, is wayward. There’s something unusual too in the response of the Kenyan security. The terrorist attack happened partly because the Kenyan security is not in a good shape, but also simply due to the fact that al-Shaabab is based in Kenya. In fact, to anyone who has been following the al-Shaabab-Kenya axis, it was almost a foregone conclusion that such an attack would sooner or later hit some targets in the country. Most of the Islamist funding for al-Shaabab over the last couple of years could be traced to the Somali business community in Kenya. Moreover, there is an extremist branch attached to al-Shabaab in Kenya. In such a precondition one rarely goes wrong in expecting the worst.

The Westgate raid may have tentacles reaching back into Somalia, but it appears to have regional and even international expertise involved in the planning .It also couldn't have happened without a serious and entrenched Kenya-based cell. This dynamic will have serious implications and import to the analysis surrounding the regional and international war on terrorism. This could seriously change the whole thinking and international response mechanisms to deal with the threat. Some aspects of it are still a huge unknown. The Cell has never been cracked down and the Kenyan security has been, to the least, compromised and some of the information trekked in a disparate manner to key players was not quickly acted upon by the political leadership. Many have been crying for the reorganisation and reform of the security institutions. What makes the response to it suspicious, then, is the way it has been executed and communicated. Conspiracy theories insist that we open our eyes and wise up. But this is more than that. There is another consideration too. To understand this we need to understand how al-Shaabab measures its impact.

Though al-Shaabab has been militarily weakened and its leadership is divided in to at least three factions, the main Al-Qaeda affiliated leadership led by Ahmed Godane is still at large and remains the most organised and vicious, and it wants to show its existence, publicise its actions and intimidate the rest of the factions and show its relevance to and seek support from Al-Qaeda. This partly explains the determination and ruthlessness with which it planned and executed this callous act at the time it did. It’s easy enough to see how this fragmentation links to what is being described. Though the group is believed to be deeply fragmented, the faction led by Ahmed Godane, which wishes to burnish its credentials with Al Qaeda, appears to have the upper hand. It has both the intent and the capability to engineer such attacks. He controls most of the monopoly of violence including a specially trained terrorist squad called Amniyat. Given the new downward spiral, the attack could be described as a "desperate, high-risk gamble" in the face of dwindling support, power struggles and successive defeats by combined military forces. This must have facilitated the execution of such a carefully planned and executed attack at Westgate Mall in Nairobi. Having lost most of its ground and income inside Somalia, al-Shaabab has gravitated to such terrorist attacks and there has been a pattern of behaviour that points to this direction. It should be noted that the Westgate attack follows deadly recent hits on Turkey's Embassy in Mogadishu, Somalia's airports, and a strike on the United Nations compound that claimed 15 lives.

The impact of the attack could be explained in several levels:

·         The most worrying aspect of the attack is that it revealed another variant in the Islamist infrastructure in the region. Evidently, al-Shaabab and its Kenyan affiliate, Al Hijra, appear to have devised a strong partnership in all of this. And the Kenyan government will be forced to closely work with Western powers, probably at any cost, to deal with it.

·         We should expect greater involvement of Western powers in the war on terror inside Kenya and Somalia. Greater military and security support as the attack also impacted on them in a serious way. The attack carried out in Nairobi has had a significant international impact. The victims come from a broad cross section of nationalities of Western nations and two Canadians count among the dead.

·         So a major aspect of any international focus would be on the extent of the Kenyan link and international operational connections, seriously revealed by the incident.

·         This will also have an impact on domestic anti-terror campaigns inside Western nations as it highlighted the dangers of Diaspora Radicalization about which I have been talking about recently, particularly Somalis in the US and the UK.

·         The resolve of Western nations will increase and they will beef up their financial and military support to anti-al-Shaabab forces inside Somalia. As such this could be a rare opportunity to mobilise international support and a chance to defeat al-Shaabab and bring peace to Somalia. One would expect additional resolve and determination in support the African force in Somalia militarily and financially.

·         Domestically, it gives some breathing space and support to the embattled political leadership and helps its leaders to divert attention from the ICC in the name of emergency situation and national security. This can have international dimension. It has already led to the adjournment of a trail at the International Criminal Court against Kenya’s deputy president, William Ruto, who was allowed to fly home from The Hague.

·         Economically, it will definitely have an impact in the country’s economic prospects, at least in the near term. However, a significant percent of Kenya’s economy relies on tourists, who travel thousands of miles to go on safari through Kenya’s Great Rift Valley and other wildlife reserves. Approximately 1.8 million tourists visited Kenya in 2011, primarily from Europe and the United States, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. Tourism from China and India has also grown in recent years. This will slow down and many visitors might possibly choose to go to Tanzania or South Africa, a trend already beginning to have taken shape.

·         Many Kenyans might be obliged to feel and work united in the face of a major threat but negative feelings and crackdown against Somalis cannot be ruled out. This might have a repercussion beyond human rights which might paradoxically benefit al-Shaabab. If the deadly attack succeeds in prompting vigilante violence by Kenyan citizens or heavy-handed government reactions against Somali residents, al-Shaabab stands a chance of recasting itself as the vanguard militia protecting Somalis against external enemies.

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 November 2013 20:39
 

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