Al-Shabaab terrorists who attacked the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, which claimed the lives of 68 people, and injured 175, were defeated.
After more bodies are retrieved from the collapsed floors of the mall, the casualty figures will rise.
The real defeat the terrorists suffered was not during the shoot-out with security forces. It happened further away in the other suburbs and the rest of Kenya. But ultimately, in the minds of the nation.
While people have to deal with the death of their loved ones and the destruction of livelihoods, for terrorists, the human kill is only a means to a bigger end.
They seek, as President Kenyatta and several commentators observed, to destroy the way of life of nations and peoples, and the things they hold dear. And in the process, to weaken them for the real battles that lie ahead.
For example, the September 11, 2001 attacks upon the US in New York and the Washington DC area killed nearly 3,000, including 19 terrorists.
In retaliation, the US attacked Afghanistan where the Al-Qaeda leadership was hiding out. America’s invasion of Iraq was driven by the fear that dictator Saddam Hussein would provide its enemies weapons of mass destruction that he allegedly had in his stores and the US would thus one day be finished off. Of course, it turned out Saddam didn’t have any such weapons.
However, since late 2001 this America “war on terror” had cost the lives of 5,281 servicemen and women as of April this year. And the number wounded as of last month was a staggering 671,846.
A recent study projected the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could cost the US as high as $6 trillion (Sh522 trillion –357 times bigger than Kenya’s 2013 budget). In addition, America passed several draconian laws allowing the government to spy on private citizen’s communication, and to deny terrorist suspects trial in civilian courts.
US security agencies took to torturing suspected terrorists, tightened immigration, and introduced unreasonable airport searches.
Thousands of students could no longer get into America. Many ended up in Canada, whose universities now have an edge over America’s in scientific research.
Several scholars have attributed a large part of America’s current decline to “imperial overstretch”, and blowing away money it could have used to grow its economy on wars it can’t win. Therefore Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab’s godfather, could be said to have won its war against America.
Kenya’s case has been interesting. After the simultaneous 1998 bomb attacks on US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam — again the handiwork of Al-Qaeda — Tanzania and Uganda rushed through very stringent anti-terrorism laws.
Despite subsequent attacks on the Paradise Hotel in Mombasa, it took Kenya nearly another 10 years before it passed its anti-terrorism law, which is kindergarten stuff compared to Tanzania’s and Uganda’s.
Intriguing if you consider that Kenya suffered the most. There were about 212 people killed, and 4,000 wounded in Nairobi, compared to 11 killed in Dar es Salaam and 85 wounded.
Likewise, the Westgate Mall attack didn’t spark a wave of paranoia or anti-Muslim hysteria as it did in the US. It did the opposite — gave a nation still divided by the March elections, neighbourhoods tormented by criminals, consumers buffeted by high prices, and workers stuck in bleak lives because of low wages, a higher cause to rally around. Political leaders who had been at each other’s necks, closed ranks.
Because Al-Shabaab is domiciled in Somalia, and the terrorists at Westgate sought to slaughter only non-Muslims (although in the end they killed several Muslims too), there was always the danger that there would be a backlash against Somalis and Muslims.
Yet, in the Somali-dominated Eastleigh suburb, Somalis turned out in record numbers to donate blood to victims. And even more dramatically, in the teeming Dadaab refugee camps, they lined up in their thousands. Ordinarily, you would not expect a long blood donation queue in an African refugee camp.
The attacks did three things. They gave Kenya something it sorely needed — a greater and uniting national purpose. After a very long time, it inspired the people to embrace the motherland.
And it brought out the compassionate side of the nation. I bet none of those were on the Westgate terrorists’ memo.
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