KIRUKU: To fight terror, begin with corruption
As the United States commemorated 15 years since the deadly 9-11 terrorist attacks in the US, three female terrorists were killed in a foiled attack on the Mombasa Central Police Station. The threat of terrorism, then, continues to define events both locally and internationally in ways that would never have been imagined a few decades ago.
The attack in the US way back in 2001, in particular, marked a defining moment in the war on terror. With 2,996 people left dead in the wake of the plane hijackings that day, the world’s remaining superpower has since taken action – and galvanised the rest of the world to act – in ways that have affected the whole planet.
Every year, terrorism leads to thousands of deaths, easily making it the world’s most notorious crime. Thousands are left with permanent injuries, property worth millions of dollars is destroyed, and hundreds of families are left without breadwinners and children orphaned. The impact of terrorism on society is devastating, to say the least.
The number of terrorist attacks has been on the rise in the region, with Kenya a prime target for al-Shabaab fighters. Nairobi has thousands of troops fighting in Somalia as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom), which comprises troops from various African countries.
While Amisom troops have been in Somalia since 2007, Kenya’s entry into the conflict in October 2011 was instrumental in pushing the rag-tag militia out of its most important strongholds, including Mogadishu and the port town of Kismayu. Uganda, Burundi, and Ethiopia also have their troops in Somalia, exposing much of the region to terrorist attacks.
But these and other battlefield successes cannot in themselves give total victory against terrorists unless the underlying factors that provide fertile soil for terror are addressed. The glaring gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen amid debilitating poverty. Governments have been reluctant to address the depressing unemployment in the region, giving terrorists a field day as they recruit the youth.
According to BBC News, roughly a quarter of Al-Shabaab’s 7,000-9,000 forces are Kenyan. Many of them were attracted by the militia’s high salaries for new recruits, which are reportedly more than $1,000. Meanwhile, the average monthly wage in Kenya is $76 ($912 annual). More than 70 per cent of working class youth in the region are unemployed.
One of the key factors leading to frequent attacks in the region is the porous borders, which help Al-Shabaab attackers to travel easily to their targets. Although Kenya has announced plans to build a wall along parts of the 682-kilometre-long border with Somalia, the structure could cost as much as $17 billion — and it wouldn’t address other glaring issues.
Corruption within our security agencies has led to a proliferation of terrorist groups. Kenya’s police force is reputedly among the most corrupt anywhere; members of Al-Shabaab can easily buy their way and visas from officials.
Perhaps more than any other sector, tourism has been negatively affected in East Africa; Western countries issue occasional travel bans and advisories following terrorist attacks. The region has had to invest heavily in the tourism sector to ensure the industry does not collapse. Through introduction of the single tourist visa and opening up of borders to allow free movement of persons, the countries have struggled to ensure that the sector remains afloat.
Kenya has threatened to send Somali refugees back to their country, but has gone slow on these plans after international intervention. The region hosts the largest number of refugees from Somalia, some of whom have been accused of engaging in terrorist attacks or aiding terrorist groups gain entry into the region. Kenya’s Dadaab refugee complex is the world’s largest, hosting over 336,000 people.
Of even greater concern is the changing face of terrorism. Terrorists are changing their game but the region is using the same old methods of tackling the vice. Young school-going children and women are now joining terrorist groups, too, a trend that should worry security agents.
Regional governments will therefore need to be proactive in fighting terrorism, employing state-of-the-art technology and updating themselves on the latest methodologies in tackling this crime.
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