By: Barry Nyauke ’13, Guest Writer
The world’s attention was once again turned to Kenya following another audacious attack by Al Shabaab. On September 21, 2013, a group of gunmen entered the Westgate Mall in Nairobi in an attack that left 67 dead. Barely a year and a half later, the Somalia-based terror group hit again. This time the attackers chose a university and left 147 Garissa University College students dead in their wake. Once again Al Shabaab was quick to claim responsibility. Their actions, they claim, were in retaliation to Kenya’s incursion into Somalia and the supposed historical atrocities committed by the Kenyan government against Muslims in the region.
The harrowing images from the massacre and the chilling personal accounts from survivors have been heart-wrenching. Ongoing worldwide support and shows of solidarity have however produced the silver lining reminding us all of our common humanity. As the dust settles and the bereaved families start to piece together their lives again, we are left with many unsettling questions. Why did the government not act on the intelligence that led to the UK and Australian governments’ issuance of travel advisories against Kenya? How could it take ten hours for the special forces unit get to Garissa which is a two hour flight from their Nairobi base? Who authorized the hiring out of a Kenya Police helicopter to a private individual at the time of the attack? Was one of the attackers really the son of a local chief? Why didn’t we learn anything from Westgate? Can the government keep us safe anymore?
I returned to Kenya upon graduating from Thunderbird in December 2013, following what seemed like an obvious choice at the time. But choosing to stay has not been as obvious. Developing countries can be challenging to live in because of the lack of established systems and institutions, the rampant corruption, and weak infrastructure. There is an excitement that comes with actively participating in shaping the destiny of a nation that make these challenges pale. Insecurity however introduces doubts into the minds of even the most ardent nationalists. The sense of anxiety is only heightened by the ubiquitous security checks in public spaces; this is further exacerbated by the constant stream of advisories warning about the next major target that should be avoided.
A popular narrative is that there is a causal link between terrorism and poverty. Hence, we can break this link through economic growth and job creation. As one who had embraced this idea, I came to accept that living under such uncertain circumstances therefore was acceptable because I was serving the greater good. However upon carefully reviewing the facts of Garissa attack, a strong challenge to this narrative emerged. One of the attackers, Abdirahim Abdullahi, was a Kenyan-born lawyer who came from a wealthy and prominent background.
Keith Proctor, a policy researcher at Mercy Corps posits that, “Terrorism is not just job-seeking by another name. It’s driven by deep-seated problems and personal frustrations in that society…. There are millions and millions of young people living in poor and violent countries. A very small percentage of them actually join an armed movement so the reason has got to be something other than poverty.” He argues that in order to effectively combat terrorism, underlying issues of corruption, injustice and poor governance have to be addressed. Creating sustainable global prosperity, the mission that makes Thunderbird such a unique institution, must therefore go beyond wealth creation and economic inclusion and encompass social inclusion, ethics, capacity building, and justice. Only then shall our mission as Thunderbirds be accomplished.