We are still reeling from the attack on a Nairobi mall last weekend.
Members of Al Shabaab, a terrorist organization based in Somalia, attacked the Kenyan capital’s Westgate Mall with guns and grenades, killing more than 70 and injuring dozens more in an attack that started on Saturday and stretched out into a three-day siege of the complex.
Kenya, a historically strong US ally and now currently involved in the a regional peace force inside Somali was always a logical target.
The twin attacks on the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998 leap to mind, but subsequent attacks on the coast in 2002, the kidnapping of tourists last year and an attack on two churches in Garissa, where 17 were killed and injured another 50 people leave no doubt that Kenya has always been a target.
What’s the point?
The diabolic logic behind acts of terror is that by attacking innocent civilians, discontent against the targeted government will grow, even erupt, making whole countries ungovernable.
To what end?
Terrorists are mad men (and women, it turns out) in as far as they do not operate within the norms of society, but to let our understanding of them stop at that is a mistake. However unpalatable it may sound terrorists actually have political agendas.
Analysis following the Nairobi attack suggest that Al Shabaab, largely on the run in Somalia having been flushed out of the key urban areas there are using this as a last ditch attempt to raise morale among their number and to recruit more into their ranks.
This last reason is the scariest one.
The idea here is to provoke a knee jerk reaction by the Kenyan security apparatus, to go out and hound and harass the country’s large Somali population and business community. Their youth angry and frustrated at the police would then be fertile ground for recruitment into the ranks of Al Shabaab and their businessmen will be more likely to contribute to the cause.
On the hierarchy of power, violence is on the lowest rung. Violence allows you to coerce people to do your bidding but more likely they will not do it willingly. The next level of power comes with money. With money you can have people do your bidding without coercion, even do it with zeal. And the final level of power is information or knowledge, he knows has power. The scandal they say, is not the disparity in wealth between the “north” and the “south” but the disparity not only in volume of knowledge but with the speed and ease with which this knowledge can be transmitted in the north.
Going by this it is the weak who resort to power as a first resort.
With the terrorist the attacks on unarmed civilians then, has to be at the bottom of the ladder of how low you can stoop in meting out violence.
That maybe as it may but with the increased access to small arms and munitions the modern day terrorist assumes a disproportionate threat to our well being.
The challenge for our governments is how to deal with terrorism.
Seeing as terrorists assume no form, until they strike, the answer is not to beef up armour but to improve and strengthen intelligence, information gathering capabilities.
This will give the ability to preempt attacks rather than wait for them to occur and contain.
Easier said than done but governments have no choice.
Running rough shod over suspects or suspected communities will only be playing into the terrorists’ hands. The war against terror will take more brain than brawn.