On Wednesday, Kenya began three days of official mourning following four days of heavy fighting to control a Nairobi shopping mall. The well planned and executed terrorist attack left more than 60 people dead in the rubble. Details are still unclear, but according to reports nearly a dozen attackers were killed or captured.
The attack clearly was designed to generate news as well as death. Randomly killing innocent shoppers is geared to getting the attention of media and the vast mass of the world’s population not attentive to international politics. Especially in wealthy nations, in particular the United States, striking a center of consumer culture is guaranteed to both grab attention and create concern.
Al-Shabab, a terrorist organization associated with al-Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for the murderous attack and added that foreigners were targeted. Several days was required to subdue the terrorists, which testifies to their tenacity.
Kenya foreign minister Amina Mohamed has stated that British and American citizens were involved in the attack. Interpol on Thursday issued a worldwide alert for Samantha Lewthwaite, widow of one of four men guilty of the 2005 London subway bombing.
Uncertainty still clouds details of the Kenya attack. During the lengthy battle, three floors in a portion of the mall collapsed, complicating evidence gathering.
Somalia, where al-Shabab is based, has been a "failed state" for more than two decades, with government unable to provide even elementary services or security. In 1993, a U.S. military mission to that country ended in frustration after the killing of 18 U.S. Army Rangers. Pirates preying on vessels off the coast of Somalia have been a continuing, vexing challenge.
Al-Shabab emerged about a half-dozen years ago, following the breaking apart of the Islamic Courts Union. American Omar Hammami was involved until killed in a power struggle before the Kenya attack.
The United States historically has been absent-minded about Africa. American presidents generally devoted their attention to other parts of the world, with two notable exceptions. Sen. John F. Kennedy was chairman of the African Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, unusually attentive to that task, and carried his concern about Africa into the Oval Office.
President Jimmy Carter while in office and since has steadfastly worked with Africa. The Carter Center has devoted sustained emphasis to public health and related problems of that continent. One dramatic result is the virtual eradication of guinea worm, a devastating agonizing disease. Carter effectively leveraged his center’s efforts into World Bank efforts targeting the disease.
Former President Bill Clinton has achieved superstar status in Africa, a regular stop in his travels on behalf of the Clinton Foundation. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama deserve credit for attention devoted to that continent while in office.
The enormous global growth in private philanthropic giving, along with expansion in mining and related commercial exploration and development, means there are unprecedented opportunities to raise living standards across Africa. Basic safety and security, however, must be present.
The Kenya attacks have occurred during the traditional fall special session of the United Nations in New York. Obama and other leaders have taken the opportunity to condemn the attack in Kenya. Intergovernmental cooperation remains essential to effectively combatting and eradicating terrorism.
Al-Shabab and other terrorist groups generate continuing death, destruction and headlines, but have yet to demonstrate enduring appeal to the average person in Africa – or elsewhere on the globe.