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written by ANTONY MBITHI on 11-05-2011

If terrorism is best defined by its calculated abuse of the innocent for political purpose, there is reason to survey political motives, which prompt such actions. However, this is a formidable task owing to their variation. But because responsibility for terrorist action has been placed squarely to Kenyans, as opposed to earlier discourses, which saw Kenya as an indirect victim of terrorism targeted at the U.S, it is necessary to investigate allegations of domestic terrorism in Kenya and by extension discuss the root causes of terror- an approach that the international community seeks to avoid,- perhaps because exposes infirmities prior hidden.

The most direct way of determining causes of terrorism would be to examine specific demands in attacks. These were however not forthcoming in the case of Kenya, thus creating room for debate about responsibility. The fact that Kenya and not every other was attacked (not just once but twice), leads one to tag it to terrorists’ psychological disposition that some countries are better ‘formatted’ for attack than others. The research thus sets out to investigate the relevance of such allegations to the Kenyan experience.

Central among these factors is the perceived connection between Kenya and the West and between Israeli and the Kenyan government. Since independence, Kenya’s foreign policy has been a result of sustained pre-colonial dependency and that resulting from cold war strategic interests of the west.

Analysts have indeed drawn parallels between the targeting of Israeli establishments in 1981 and 2002 and the cozy relations between Kenya and Israel. This ostensibly caused discomfort among Muslim populations opposed to Israeli occupation of Palestine (Morgenthau Hans, “Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace” Penguin1985).

A related factor is the distinctive and conspicuous action of the power elite. For example Moi’s support for Christian Churches with ant-islamic orientation and refusal to register the Islamic Party of Kenya (IPK) on religio-political grounds, may have led to perception of Kenya as an enemy of Islam. Indeed, Sprinzak has argued that terrorism is often a direct behavioral extension of normal opposition politics gradually radicalized through a process of de-legitimization. In addition, real or perceived business links between powerful officials in the Moi government and Israelis could only have worsened the situation, as would have rampant corruption and vulnerability to terrorist infiltration through bribes for passports and banking facilities for laundering cash.

Naïve dealings with various dissident groups should also be considered. These include the hosting in Kenya, of the deposed Somali dictator Siyyad Barre amid protests from Islamic organizations in early 1990’s, providing refuge to the 1994 Rwanda genocide masterminds, partisanship in regional civil war such as supporting Sudanese secessionist movements (indeed during the time when Sudan hosted terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden), being partisan in Uganda 1986 and the Congo 1998 and hosting the Haftar force that sought to eliminate Libyan leader, Gaddafi. Statements made by terrorist spelling out the motive behind similar attacks globally, alerts us to the potential harm such intercourse between Kenya and dissident groups can cause.

The numerous ethnic and religious groups within Kenya, coupled with immigrants have also been mooted as a factor predisposing Kenya to terrorism. Kenya is home to people of Arab, Jewish and European descent in addition to its forty-plus constituent tribes. Any animosity between these groups could import violence into Kenya from their original homelands. In addition, it is argued that where Muslims comprise the minority, they generally belong to the losers of social and political changes that have swept Africa in the last decade, further creating or fuelling latent conflicts, which may be expressed in various ways not excluding terrorism.

Moreover, Kenya’s relative peace in war-torn Horn of Africa has seen her host numerous refugees. Apart from the danger this poses when porous borders cause illicit arms proliferation, -as exemplified by entrance of the shoulder missile used in the 2002 Mombasa attacks, -other direct connections can be made. For example in early 1990s when the World Food Program and United Nations High Commissioner for refugees was unable to match resources with the high refugee influx into Kenya, the Saudi based Al-haramaih Islamic Foundation came in to fill the void. Later the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) allegation that the foundation was a conduit for terror cells was founded when a connection was established between it and the U.S. embassy bombing in Nairobi. Thus much of the problem of refugees is entangled with that of terrorism providing new vulnerabilities (Schell, “The Strategy of Conflict” New Yok1980ing Thomas)

Some scholars even allude to economic deprivation being a cause of terrorism. However, despite terrorist activities having occurred when the Kenyan economy was in recession, the assertion is disputed with the argument that most African countries find themselves in similar socio-economic predicament. Therefore, were this arguments to be pursued simplistically, the vast majority of Africa would be terrorists. Indeed, some analysts feel that economic recovery meant to tame terrorists but which is viewed as condescending towards religious identity and culture can be resisted. This inadvertently denies economic theories credit they might otherwise have enjoyed.

Yet, terrorism is itself not a cheap affair. For example, the Al Qaeda has held significant assets and Osama bin Laden and many of the individual operatives within the network are by no means poor. Moreover, claims that suicide bombers engaged in terrorism after being paid or promised that their poor families would be taken care of financially cannot be underestimated. Indeed, as Pierre puts it, ‘individuals are more likely to turn to violence when they lose hope and life seems not to be worth living, a condition that can arguably be associated with poverty, economic deprivation and by extension oppressive imperialistic tendencies. Thus, economic deprivation can be a source as well as the supply line of terrorism.

Despite and in spite of this, religious content and motivation has emerged as a major characteristic of new terrorism. This is because religion ordinarily a wellspring of hope, stirs deep passions that can lead to mobilization to violence especially where earthly and spiritual realities are deemed inseparable. However, the case that groups in Sub Saharan Africa and specifically in Kenya are affiliated to the cause of Al-Qaeda on religious grounds is not very strong. Indeed, some observers even doubt whether the often-mentioned exception, Al-Ittihad (suspects in 2002 Mombasa bombings), are still operational. However, the possibility of developing an African variant should not be ruled out in the entirety since the necessary discontent and deprivation exists. The sufficient requirement a mobilizing idea and agitators to direct the violence bred by these factors externally -would nevertheless be needed to complete such a picture (Cohen B J “perspectives on Global power and wealth” St. Martins Boston 2000)

Indeed, terrorism requires both the opportunity and the practical means to translate radical intent into effect. And unlike sub-state terrorism, international terrorism needs a suitable pool for recruitment, considerable finances, command, control, communication and intelligence, training, access to weapons and equipment, logistical support and a have in the form of sympathetic regimes. But while some of these ingredients are lacking in the case of Kenya, the presence of yet others provide ample reason for accusations and counter-accusations. More importantly, the uncertainty provides a chance to move fast to avoid such a tragedy.

The discussion of root causes of terrorism in Kenya is thus rife with referents to responsibility for attacks. While some pointers may fail to absolve Kenya of the responsibility for the attacks, it should be noted that the decision by the U.S. to abscond from responsibility could be viewed in light of her interests. Indeed, the primary obligation of the American ambassador to Kenya (who incidentally expressed these sentiments) is to protect American interests. Thus the U.S. may have sought to avoid liability and subsequent compensation of victims given that accepting responsibility would have ordained this. In this light, the ambassador’s allegations while providing reason to proceed cautiously lack merit. Therefore, root causes of terrorism in Kenya are more foreign than domestic.


1. Cohen B J “perspectives on Global power and wealth” St. Martins Boston 2000

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

3. Schelling, “The Strategy of Conflict” New Yok1980

Date Submited: 11-05-2011

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