Westgate Mall Attack: Special Issue
Kujenga Amani proudly presents a special series on the Westgate Mall attack. This collection of essays was coordinated and edited by Dr. Awino Okech of the African Peacebuilding Network Advisory Board.
(The following introduction was written by Dr. Awino Okech)
This special issue of Kujenga Amani focuses on the peace and security implications of the recent terror attack in Nairobi, Kenya. The siege at the Westgate shopping mall, which began on September 21, 2013, and ended three days later, has brought renewed attention to counterterrorism efforts in the Horn of Africa and the role of the al Qaeda–linked Al-Shabaab, which claimed responsibility for the attack. Al-Shabaab is an offshoot of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which splintered into several smaller factions after its defeat in 2006 by the Somali Transitional Federal Government and Ethiopian military allies. Since then, although based in Somalia, Al-Shabaab has been linked to the militant Islamist group al-Qaeda.
This special issue brings together a set of analyses and commentaries by African scholars and practitioners who work in the broad area of peace and security. Their reflections suggest that counterterrorism efforts on the continent must be multifaceted. As conversations continue in Kenya and among global actors, participants must heed the different lessons and questions that were raised following the Westgate attack for Kenya specifically, but also for the subregion and the continent more broadly.
The continental nature of fundamentalism is brought home by Boubacar N'diaye’s commentary on the many “Westgates” taking place across Africa. N'diaye emphasizes the importance of strengthening the implementation of regional policy frameworks, which provide substantive proposals on the imperative of security sector reforms.
Focusing on Kenya and the Horn of Africa, Godwin Murunga, Achieng’ Akena, and Ato Onoma variously discuss the imperative of rethinking approaches to the provision of security, the structure of the institutions that provide it, and, ultimately, the ethos that shapes security thinking. Murunga draws attention to the risk of “us” (innocents, victims, Kenyans) versus “them” (terrorists, Somalis, Muslims) as an approach to resolving the threat Al-Shabaab poses to Kenya and the East African subregion. Public utterances by members of Kenya’s parliament and the ordinary mwananchi (Kiswahili for “citizen”) illuminate the embodiment of the “us” versus “them” binary. Kenya has ethnic Somalis as one among its more than forty ethnic groups, in addition to refugees from Somalia. The dangers of this binary as the process of rebuilding a unified Kenya continues after the post-election violence of 2007–8 and in the face of Westgate cannot be gainsaid.
Akena furthers the binary argument through the lens of the law. She examines national, subregional, and continental norms designed to protect refugees and, in this particular case, Somali refugees from targeted repatriation. She highlights the illegalities in the knee-jerk reactions by leaders of a nation wounded. Akena examines some of the subregional, and therefore national, legal disparities in counterterrorism laws and the inherent loopholes they offer for the abuse of rights, the muzzling of civil society and opposition, and resulting democratic regression. Like N'diaye, she emphasizes the role of African Union policy frameworks as the starting point for robust conversation on reforms.
Onoma concludes the debate on state building by emphasizing that resolving Somalia’s instability depends to a large degree on the principles and strategies that shape counterterrorism approaches. The principles of good governance cannot be jettisoned for the demands of efficiency and then reclaimed after the war is over.
‘Funmi Olonisakin concludes this special issue by addressing the proverbial elephant in the room: Somalia as a state and the implications of its protracted fragility for the stability of the subregion. An expert on peacekeeping, Olonisakin examines Kenya’s incursion into Somalia and the role of the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM), as well as other international actors such as the United States. She offers her views on what is next for Kenya, AMISOM in Somalia, and subregional peace and security strategies.
Like all other contributions on Kujenga Amani, this special issue is designed to further constructive dialogue that will shape inclusive and contextually relevant policy directions for Kenya and countries in the subregion. Karibu.
Dr. Okech is a research associate with the African Gender Institute at the University of Cape Town. She is also a member of the African Security Sector Network and serves on the advisory board of the African Peacebuilding Network. To see a full list of APN Advisory Board members, click here.
The time has come to reflect soberly on the significance of the Westgate mall siege and other terrorist attacks, and what lessons must be drawn to prevent another tragedy. The imminent danger remains the inability of our states’ security institutions and our regional and continental security instruments to effectively tackle extremism-related acts of violence and terrorism. A vast movement must take place to ready the continent to meet this clear and present danger.
The Westgate Mall terror attack of September 21 has raised many questions about the nature of national security in Kenya and regional security in Eastern Africa and the Horn of Africa. These questions call for a rethinking of how security operations are conceived and executed, as well as an understanding of how the war on terror has raised new stakes and demanded different approaches to security.
The September 21 Al-Shabaab attack was a significant blow to the difficult process of state building on the continent, producing a sort of fear that prompts advocates of good governance to give states a blank check in the so-called ‘war on terror.’ People in Somalia and other countries touched by Somalia’s instability should, above all else, rededicate themselves to the fight for good governance and try to recapture the respect for human rights (including those of terrorists), as well as the commitment to the rule of law (including when dealing with terrorists) that such attacks tempt us to cast aside.
Following the Westgate Mall attack in September, a range of proposals have been put forth about what Kenya needs to do in order to protect itself and prevent such a tragedy from happening again. However, the panic and fear arising from the Westgate attack may lead to draconian measures that are neither legal nor effective and in direct contradiction to the Kenyan constitution. This piece argues that terrorism cannot be effectively controlled without reforms that are both principled and legal.