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Africa

Opinion: Kenya destabilized by militants

At least 69 people have been killed and many more injured in the Nairobi hostage-taking. Islamist militant group al-Shabab is once again in the spotlight.

This act of terrorism threatens to destabilize Kenya and a political solution is needed, writes Andrea Schmidt.

Andrea Schmidt, Head of Swahili department. Photo: Per Henriksen(DW)

Andrea Schmidt, Head of Swahili department

The attack on the popular shopping center for wealthy Kenyans and foreigners, was meant to inflict maximum damage and attract worldwide attention.

The attack was not only aimed at Kenya, but also at Israel and the international community. The Westgate shopping mall is partly owned by Israelis and is frequented by employees from the nearby UN complex.

The world must not allow extremists in Africa, neither in Kenya nor in Nigeria (which is being terrorized by the Islamist sect Boko Haram) to continue to destabilize this situation still further.

Al-Shabab, a self-proclaimed jihadist group with ties to the terror network al-Qaida, launched its attack on the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, with extreme brutality. The group claimed responsibility for the attack via Twitter and also threatened further attacks.

The reason the group gave for the attack was the particpation by Kenyan troops in the AMISOM mission in Somalia. Al-Shahab has suffered serious military setbacks at the hands of AMISOM troops, who come from Uganda and Burundi as well as Kenya.

AMISOM has been able to recapture territory formerly under the control of the al-Shabab.

Political solution needed

This attack was inhumane and brutal, but there is no reason for African troops to withdraw from Somalia. Kenya has a long border with Somalia which is difficult to control. There are also hundreds of thousands of people of Somali descent living on Kenyan territory.

Kenya has long been regarded as a bulwark against Islamist insurgency and has repeatedly been the target of terrorist attacks. In 2011, Kenyan troops entered Somalia in support of the AU-backed troops deployed there. The intervention was to help fend off the terrorist threat to the Kenyan tourisim industry.

It is important for the Somali population that efforts are made to combat the radical Islamist group. The international community should not passively stand by and watch while neighboring countries are targeted by al-Shabab and dragged into the war.

AMISOM's military intervention must therefore be followed up by sustainable political solutions. These include bringing moderate Islamists to the negotiating table and drawing up an international blueprint for the reconstruction of Somalia. This is the only route to peace.

Kenya's political divide

At the same time, Kenya should not allow mistrust of country's Muslims, who make up 11 percent of the population, and of Somalis resident in the country, to be exploited by the extremists.

Specifically, the Islamist militants had asked visitors to the Nairobi mall about their religious affiliations. Those who were not Muslims were shot and killed instantly. Not even children were spared.

The attack "in the name of the prophet“ poses a great threat and is set to deepen religious and ethnic divsions in the country.

Kenya also has other diffiuclties. Both President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto face crimes against humanity charges at the International Criminal court in The Hague. The charges relate to post-election violence in 2007/2008.

If they are convicted, Kenya would be deprived of its leadership and therefore become an even easier target for terrorist attacks.

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