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WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com)–As Kenya’s President Daniel Arap Moi and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi rushed here for security talks with President George W. Bush in the wake of two attacks aimed at Israeli citizens vacationing in a Kenyan seaport town near Mombasa, Africans were again apparently caught in the cross-hairs of an American-Middle East political tragedy.
At least 16 people–10 of them Kenyans, three Israelis, and three suspected bombers–were killed in a so-called suicide attack on the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel Nov. 28. Two shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles were also reportedly launched at an Israeli airliner leaving Mombasa International Airport. The missiles missed the plane with 261 passengers on board, authorities said.
Western media reports said Dec. 2 that, in a statement purportedly posted on an Internet site, Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network claimed credit for the attack. The group vowed that the United States and Israel would remain vulnerable around the world, according to Reuters news service.
The statement also referred to 1998 bomb attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya’s capital Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, western media reported.
Earlier claims for the attack made by another organization from Lebanon, The Army of Palestine, were quickly discarded.
“This is the second time. In 1998 we suffered a terrorist attack together with Tanzania and the world has not come to our aid,” complained President Moi, as he talked to reporters before leaving for talks first in London, and then in Washington.
“We will fight terrorism in Africa ourselves as Africans. We will do our best to fight it,” he said, cutting short a farewell visit to neighboring Uganda. Mr. Moi is due to retire from office in late December.
Africans are likely tired of being caught in this Middle East geo-political war, experts in this country warn. In the sense that Africans were once again the majority of the victims, as they were in the 1998 embassy attacks, this bombing may be seen as an attack on Africa, as much as an attack on Israel and the United States, some observers note.
“I think there’s an insensitivity toward life in acts of terrorism, toward all life,” Salih Booker, executive director of Africa Action, said in an interview. “And being in Mombasa, the chance is that many of those Kenyans who were killed are Muslims as well.”
Most Africans “are very sympathetic to the struggle of the Palestinians,” according to Mr. Booker. “A lot of them have sympathy not just for the Palestinian cause, but probably with a sense of solidarity with Muslims who feel aggrieved because of how they have been treated historically, internationally.”
“Terrorists take advantage of failing states such as Kenya with poorly secured borders, non-existent law enforcement and security systems to move men, weapons and money around the globe,” said Susan E. Rice, senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institute, in a recent position paper. Ms. Rice, who served as the assistant secretary of state for African Affairs in the Clinton administration, said the Bush White House has no real policy for nations such as Kenya.
“Such states can and often serve as safe-havens and staging grounds for terrorist organizations. They afford terrorists easy access to valuable resources that finance their activities,” Ms. Rice wrote. There is a need for Bush administration policies that help stabilize African states, as a strategic interest of the United States, she argues.
One expert on East African military affairs was skeptical of the timing of the bombings. “In light of a recent proclamation by the Israeli foreign ministry that Israel has no security concerns in Kenya,” said Walter Matson, of the Institute of World Affairs, the bombings look like “terrorist theater.” The bombings had no real strategic purpose except to make a dramatic point, he said.
There are different forces in Kenya that might want to launch such attacks, in part, because the area of the bombings has been taken from indigenous Kenyans, he said. Many people could have done it, said Mr. Matson.
Muslims condemn bombing in Kenya
Kenya’s Supreme Council of Muslims chairman Ghafur El Busaidy called the attack a hideous and irresponsible act. “Whoever planned and executed the bombing is a number one enemy of the Muslim community and must be shunned by all peace loving individuals,” the religious leader said at a Nov. 29 press conference in Nairobi. Kenyans have lived in peace, regardless of their religious affiliations and it was wrong for individuals with selfish motives to jeopardise that peaceful co-existence, said Chairman Busaidy.
“I have never heard of such kinds of attacks from Palestine for the time I’ve been in this country,” he added. The Islamic leader urged Kenyans not to jump to conclusions that because the reported occupants of the vehicle used in the bombing were of Arab origin. “I urge you to seek divine guidance and to exercise unity during this trying time,” he stressed. Shariff Nassir, a minister in the office of the president and a prominent Kenyan Muslim, appealed to Mombasa residents to be extra vigilant and maintain peace. He condemned the bombing, saying peace-loving Muslims were forbidden from engaging into such actions, especially during the holy month of Ramadan.
Dr. Ray Winbush, of the Institute for Urban Studies at Morgan State University in Baltimore, also warned against jumping to conclusions about who committed the bombings.
“The disturbing factor is, it seems as if people are only saying ‘just a few Africans were killed.’ I do not accept openly that it was al Qaeda. I know that the United States is concerned that they may not be able to continue to launch military attacks from nations like Saudi Arabia, and that a reason is needed to continue their argument for a global war against terrorism. So a bogyman is needed,” he said.
Possible fallout from an attack on Africa
It is not simply a backlash from Israelis “that whoever carried out the attacks needs to be concerned about. It’s the backlash of those that might otherwise support the Palestinian cause, or might otherwise be critical of Israel, who can very easily turn, and either change their position or disengage,” Bill Fletcher, president of TransAfrica Forum told The Final Call.
“Countries are reconsidering what kind of association they’re going to have with the United States, if there are these kinds of consequences,” Mr. Booker, of Africa Action, said. “The United States didn’t compensate the Kenyan families who lost loved ones in the embassy bombings in any significant or generous way.”
Africans however, will suffer long after the smoke has cleared and the investigation into the incident is complete, according to Melvin Foote, president of the Constituency for Africa. “Unfortunately, this adds to the negative information generally that is out there about Africa. It adds to the whole debate. ‘Africa is a terrible place to go.’ ‘Africa is a place you’re going to get AIDS.’ ‘Africa is a place where you’re going to have something terrible happen to you.’ So (this bombing) feeds into that negative (stereotype), unfortunately.”
America is “looking harder at Africa than it ever has in the past. It’s starting to recognize that Africa is part of our own national security,” he said.
Indeed, the U.S. is expanding its imperial role in Africa, according to another expert.
“We are like Britain, France and Portugal all rolled up into one in terms of our (U.S.) colonial interests in Africa,” said Wayne Matson, author of the 1999 book “Genocide and Covert Operations in Africa,” told The Final Call. He said the U.S. has troops permanently stationed in East African nations Djibouti and Somalia as well as amphibious assault ships carrying attack helicopters in Mombasa, for three reasons: “Oil, oil and oil.”
Any war on terror is second to the desire for oil, he said. The U.S. must also protect the interests of American corporations, like Haliburton, which built the ship moorings in Yemen, Mr. Matson said. That is the reason for placing ships like the USS Cole, which was attacked, in Yemen, he explained. Yemen is located near the Horn region.
The Horn of Africa could be used as another staging area allowing the U.S. to consolidate its interests in the region, Mr. Matson noted. “I call the Horn of Africa another staging area because Saudi Arabia may not be available to U.S. military operations too much longer,” he added.
Mr. Matson said that there are military agreements between Kenya and Israel. Israel also has intelligence gathering agreements with Eritrea, he said.
Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. in the Gulf told a news conference at the Pentagon on Oct. 29, that the troop build up in the East African nation of Djibouti was intended to allow the U.S. to broaden its security assistance to regional allies, while remaining poised to attack terrorists.
“You know that we have security relationships or engagement opportunities with countries in the Horn of Africa,” Gen. Franks said.
Gen. Franks told reporters that 800 troops have been deployed to join the 400 already stationed in Djibouti. He said that there is a Special Forces Commando Unit in Djibouti that would be involved in “snatch-and-grab” deployment, which abduct or kill suspected terrorists.
“No doubt in my mind that we will see a major build up of American military forces in the Horn of Africa in the next three years,” said Dr. Winbush, of Morgan State University.
He also said the Thanksgiving Day attack proves Kenya’s vulnerability. While there are troops in East Africa, U.S. officials really do not consider Africa a place that needs protection, he noted. “The troops are in the Horn of Africa simply to protect the interests of American corporations. African leaders in the Horn and further south must take a stand against further American military incursion in the region,” Dr. Winbush said.
Should U.S. change approach?
The fundamental component that is essential for the U.S. to win any kind of war against terrorism is missing, Mr. Fletcher insists. That component is “broad popular support (for U.S. policies) in the countries” where terrorists operate. “It’s not simply about getting Somalia, or Ethiopia, or Kenya, or wherever else to crack down on individuals, it’s about removing the basis of support that these forces have among the often poverty stricken populations in those countries,” he said.
“When you have a situation (in which the U.S.) is preparing for an illegal war against Iraq, the fact of the matter is that support for terrorists will grow,” said Mr. Fletcher. “When you have a situation where there is greater historic levels of wealth polarization in the global South, people are going to appeal to a number of desperate solutions.”
Some of those responses will be by terrorists, and some will be non-terrorist military activity, and some of it will be political, he said. “But unless you get to the core” of the problems producing and perpetuating global poverty and injustice, there is no victory, Mr. Fletcher said.
Melvin Foote, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Constituency for Africa, agrees with Dr. Winbush, that Kenya was attacked because it is an easy target with very weak security systems. “I do not see Kenya as a serious staging area for al-Qaeda as some suggest, it is just a poor nation with little resources to fight the war on terrorism,” Mr. Foote said. He also hopes recent attacks do not hinder plans by some American clothing companies to do business with Kenyan textile interests.