Kenya is caught up in the headwinds of the global surge of terrorism, now wreaking havoc on security worldwide and threatening the power of the liberal order.
Whether it is the brazen terrorist attack on Karachi’s International Airport that killed 30 people; the orgy of bombings in Baghdad that killed 52 people; the capture of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL); the killing of 23 Shiite pilgrims in Baluchistan; or the killing of the moderate Muslim cleric, Sheikh Mohammed Idris, by gunmen in Mombasa on June 10, the world seems to be losing the war on terror.
This rekindles memories of the decline of the Roman Empire in the 4th-5th centuries in the wake of “barbarian” invasions, which inspired the 1986 Canadian comedy, The Decline of the American Empire — and its two sequels, The Barbarian Invasions (2003) and Days of Darkness (2007).
Pundits are fretting about “the return of geopolitics” — the old-fashioned power plays, into international relations signified by the resurgence of Russia, China’s rise into a global superpower, Japan’s increasingly assertive strategy and Iran’s web of alliances with Syria and Hezbollah in the Middle East — as the greatest threat to American power (Foreign Affairs, May/June 2014: 69-79).
But the real threat to pax-Americana — the long spell of peace after 1945 based on America’s military and economic power — is not the return of geopolitics, but the windstorm of Islamic terrorism. Perhaps Africa needs to push for a global dialogue on terrorism and the future of pax-Americana.
For Africa, terrorism is a double jeopardy. Besides being caught on the tornado path of terrorism, America is losing the war on terror when one of Africa’s own sons, Barack Obama, is at the helm of the American power.
The statistics are worrying. In early June, the Rand Corporation, a non-profit global policy think-tank providing research and analysis to American military, released its report titled: A Persistent Threat: The Evolution of al-Qaida and other Salafi Jihadists, which details the threat of terrorism since 2007, when Obama ascended to power.
The report concludes that “since 2010, there has been 58 per cent increase in the number of jihadist groups, a doubling of jihadist fighters and tripling of attacks by Al-Qaeda affiliates.” Not even the exit of Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda’s founder and head, on May 2, 2011 has halted terrorism’s surge.
While jihadist groups have increased from 28 in 2007 to 49 by 2013, their attacks have increased from 100 in 2007 to 950 last year and the number of terrorists worldwide estimated at between 18,000 and 42,000 fighters in 2007 has shot up to a low-end figure of 44,000 and a high-end total of 105,000 terrorists last year.
In Kenya, about 100 people have been killed in shooting, grenade attacks and small bombs since January last year.
America has acknowledged this alarming trend. The Country Reports on Terrorism 2013, submitted by the State Department to Congress on April 30, 2014, reveal that last year attacks worldwide increased almost by half from 6,700 attacks to 9,700. Terrorist attacks claimed nearly 18,000 lives and injured nearly 33,000 people.
With 7,000 to 20,000 foreign extremist fighters, Syria is emerging as the new growth point of Islamic fighters, replacing Sudan and Afghanistan. The ISIL, which has cut its teeth in the Syrian civil war, is currently capturing territory in Iraq and putting at great risk the survival of the fragile government in Baghdad.
Although terrorism is no longer a principle threat to the US homeland, it is a mortal threat to fragile states. In Africa, Salafists have targeted America’s pivotal states like Kenya and Nigeria.
But the two are not currently important in America’s counter-terrorist strategy, now increasingly focusing on North Africa, the Middle East, and even South Asia.
Under Obama, the need to cushion America’s pivotal states in Africa against terror by establishing a robust and more adaptive counter-terrorism strategy has been eclipsed by an ideological crusade for liberal values, including human rights, gay rights and impunity.
Faced with the terrorist attacks, its pundits and diplomats are like the proverbial absurd Ibo villager who left his hut burning to chase a rat escaping the flames.
America appears to be shooting itself in the foot. Dramatic security alerts and travel advisories issued by its embassy and those of allies in Nairobi have only emboldened the terrorists.
Again, analysts known to be well plugged into the foreign policy and intelligence orthodoxies of London and Washington are pouring vitriol on the same security institutions that America has for years relied upon as partners in counter-terrorism.
Writes Michela Wrong in yet another of her acerbic pieces in Foreign Policy Magazine (June 2014): “The KDF [Kenya Defence Forces] … devoted much of the four-day siege [of the Westgate mall] that followed to shooting open shop owners’ safes, emptying fridges of beer and looting designer outlets — removing men’s suits, jewelry, mobile phones, and frilly underwear as survivors cowered in toilets, waiting to be freed.” This reads like Joseph Conrad’s racist classic, Heart of Darkness (1899).
Kenya may perhaps need to rethink its strategy on Somalia, repositioning itself as an honest broker between the Government in Villa Somalia and the jihadists fighting it, and jettisoning quirky paradigms that divide between “good” and “evil” Somalis.
Meanwhile, as the clock ticks towards the Opposition’s Saba Saba (July 7) deadline for a national dialogue, Africa must also push for a global dialogue on terrorism.
Prof Peter Kagwanja is the Chief Executive of the Africa Policy Institute and former Government Adviser.