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Blowback in Kenya: Occupiers in Somalia Sowed the Seeds of the Nairobi Mall Massacre

Years of intervention have hardened Somalis' feelings towards Kenya, with many considering it a hostile state.

A member of the US army observes Kenyan army soldiers.
Photo Credit: Sgt. Jeremy T. Lock, U.S. Air Force/Wikimedia Commons


All people of goodwill and of all faiths must condemn al-Shabab for its gruesome deed at Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. No one serious enough about their creator can butcher innocent people as was done in Westgate earlier this week. These culprits are indeed faithless and must be brought to justice.

As traumatic as the Westgate tragedy is, it must teach thoughtful Kenyans and others that the largest number of victims of al-Shabab are not Kenyans, Ugandans, or others, but Somalis in Somalia. Al-shabab has imposed an incredible tyranny on the population and has disabled them from rebuilding their war-torn country. The international community, including Africans, have been not only oblivious to the plight of the Somali people, but have turned them into a disposable political football since the collapse of their state in 1991.

For over 16 years the world watched warlord terrorists rape, loot and kill Somalis with impunity. In some instances, members of the international community used the warlords as clients to affect their agenda in Somalia. For instance, the value of the Somali shilling against the US dollar appreciated significantly in late 2005 and early 2006 as the market in Mogadishu realised that there was a flood of dollars coming into the city. The source of these was American intelligence sources that supported some of the warlords against what later became known as the Union of the Islamic Courts (UIC).

First it was Ethiopia

The UIC defeated the warlords and created peace in Mogadishu for the first time in 16 years and without any help from the international community. Rather than engaging with the UIC, the US and its African clients considered them as terrorists and Ethiopia was given the green light to invade and dismantle it. Ethiopian forces took over Mogadishu on December 25, 2006, and the prospect of a peaceful resurrection of Somalia perished.

The brutality of the Ethiopian occupation has been documented by human rights groups. Resisting the Ethiopian occupation became the rallying cry for all Somalis. Some of the toughest challengers of the Ethiopian war machine were segments of the UIC militia known as al-Shabab. Their valour endeared them to many Somalis and this marked the birth of al-Shabab as we know it today. Had the international community and particularly the West productively engaged the UIC, I am confident that al-Shabab would have remained an insignificant element of a bigger nationalist movement.

What does Kenya have to do with the mess in Somalia to attract al-Shabab's wrath? The massacre of innocent people at Westgate is not the first time al-Shabab murdered people in public places in Kenya. I personally know one of the Kenyan MPs that al-Shabab tried to murder while he was consulting with members of his constituency in a mosque in the Somali enclave in Nairobi. Somalis and Kenyans agree that al-Shaab is a terrorist organisation which engages in heinous acts. What is also no longer debatable is  that Kenya's military intervention in Somalia two years ago, and its occupation of parts of Southern Somalia, have give al-Shabab an excuse to export its terror.

Kenya's involvement

Kenya's original rationale for  invading Somalia was to protect its citizens and tourist-based economy from al-Shabab's predations. For many this argument seemed reasonable as al-Shabab was accused of kidnapping several expatriates from Kenya. According to a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity, there were credible reports that the Kenyan government had planned on gaining a strong sphere of influence in the lower region of Somalia long before the al-Shabab-affiliated incidents.

Somalia's neighbouring states were prohibited from being members of the African Union military force (AMISOM) which was operating in Somalia, however, Kenya ignored this edict and sent it troops into the country. But as the cost of the occupation skyrocketed, Kenya sought financial help from friends but failed to gain enough resources to sustain the project. The war's financial strain compelled Kenya to join AMISOM.

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