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written by ANTONY MBITHI on 11-05-2011

Although incidents of terrorism abound throughout history, it wasn’t until the late 1960s that terrorism emerged as a force with a place in international politics. Since then, three waves of terrorism have been identified and coincide with important developments in international politics. Otenyo identifies the first wave as corresponding to the 1967 Israeli-Arab war, the second as epitomized by the 1979 return of Ayatollah Khomeini to Iran and the subsequent fall of the Shah, and finally the one associated with Osama bin Laden and the Palestine intifada after the gulf war in 1991. It is the last wave that is especially important with respect to international terrorism in Kenya (Morgenthau Hans, “Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace” Penguin1985)

Specifically, in the last twenty years or so, the world has witnessed terrorist attacks of tremendous proportions, which claimed thousands of victims. There were 855 incidents of international terrorism in 1988, 574 in 1991, and 321 in 1994, with the bomb used as the weapon of choice in most of these attacks. More recent attacks include the one on World Trade Center (WTC) in 1993, Nairobi and Dar-es-salaam in 1998 and the September 11th 2001 attacks on the WTC in United States. Since then there have been a series of terrorist attacks in India and Pakistan in 2001 and in Tunisia, Yemen, Kuwait, Indonesia, Philippines and Mombasa, Kenya in 2002, among others (J. A Ballard, “policymaking in a New State”, Papua New Guinea 1972-77 (University of Queensland press, London, 1978)

The first sign that Kenya had entered the terrorist circuit was in December 1980, when terrorists sympathetic to Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) bombed the world-renowned, Israeli owned Norfolk hotel in Nairobi. The attack claimed 16 lives and injured hundreds. The desire to punish Kenya for providing logistical support to an Israeli rescue mission of hijack victims at Entebbe airport, Uganda1976, is said to have motivated the attack. However, the attack seems to have been erroneously forgotten by policy makers as an isolated event (Robert O Keohane and Joseph Nye, “Transformational Relations and World Politics (Harvard University Press, 1973)

On August 7, 1998, Kenya faced the most devastating terrorist attack yet. The U.S embassy in the capital city, Nairobi was bombed, with two hundred and fifty people (mostly Kenyans) being killed and thousands injured. The attack coincided with similar one in neighboring Tanzania and was directly linked to Osama bin Laden. Four years later in December 2002, just as people starting to forget, suicide bombers calling themselves the, ‘Army of palestine’ attacked, wounded and killed patrons and workers at another Israeli owned hotel in Mombasa.

1. The cost of terrorism

The cost of terrorism whether in terms of lives lost, destruction, living in fear or the associated cost of counter terrorism, is colossal. The impact of some attacks has indeed been felt the world over. The effect of the bombing of the twin towers of WTC in New York reverberated throughout the global financial sector, with some analysts even predicting a recession in the world economy as a result. Even though this did not happen, the physical destruction and the loss of life were unprecedented.

In Kenya, the death and destruction was followed by upset to the tourism industry, decreased investor confidence and crippling of the country’s economy in general. Estimated losses from the physical effects of the blast run into billions of Kenya shillings. It is not surprising then, that all over the world terrorism is no longer viewed as an irritating itch that can be ignored but a disease with capacity to devastate lives anywhere in the international system.

Thus real and potential capacity for terrorist destruction cannot be underscored. From upcoming nuclear powers ok Pakistan and India to the military weaker Tanzania, from the super power U.S to the fast growing Southeast Asian economies to the relatively small East Africa economy of Kenya, from the Christian Philippines to the Muslim Middle East, terrorism does not discriminate. It sweeps the globe like a hurricane, in ways previously unreckoned, leaving in its wake anger and despair, pain and misery, and death and destruction on the one hand and celebration on the other.


1. Morgenthau Hans, “Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace” Penguin1985

2. Robert O Keohane and Joseph Nye, “Transformational Relations and World Politics (Harvard University Press, 1973)

3. J. A Ballard, “policymaking in a New State”, Papua New Guinea 1972-77 (University of Queensland press, London, 1978)

Date Submited: 11-05-2011

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