Terrorists Strike Kenya, Again

Kenya: Why Us?

Kenyan newspapers report on the bombing of the Paradise Hotel in Mombasa
Newspapers in Nairobi on Nov. 29 show images of the previous day's bombing of the Paradise hotel in Mombasa (Photo: AFP).

Kenyans were shocked by another terrorist attack in the country when suicide bombers struck in the country’s placid coastal city of Mombasa on Nov. 28, blowing up a hotel owned by an Israeli and firing missiles that missed an Israeli commercial airplane with 261 people aboard. The attack left 15 dead and scores of people injured.

"It is quite disheartening that Kenya could be subjected to yet another attack when the experience of [the attack on the American embassy in Nairobi] in1998…is still fresh in our minds," reacted the state-owned Kenya Times on Nov. 29.

The Mombasa attack struck new fear into the hearts of Kenyans, many of whom had not taken terrorists’ presence to be so strong in the country. Writing in the independent Daily Nation of Nov. 30, Mombasa-based commentator Wycliffe Muga observed: "We have terrorists in our midst. And although Kenyans may not be their principal targets, it is impossible that a major bomb blast in some office building or a busy street should fail to kill more Kenyans than visitors."

The attack also revealed "the chilling fact is that Kenyans are extremely helpless in the face of terror," wrote Magesha Ngwiri in the Dec. 1 issue of the independent Sunday Nation. "As a result, all the vows about fighting terrorism will keep sounding hollow in a situation where you don’t know whether the vehicle cruising behind you is being driven by suicide bombers or whether that mild looking man carrying a paper bag is not about to reduce a first-class hotel into rubble."

Like other commentators, Ngwiri expressed anguish at the devastation at the killing of Kenyan civilians for a cause unrelated to them. "It is not enough that the terror groups wage war on Israel at every turn; now they must kill Kenyans as often as possible in the knowledge that we cannot retaliate," he wrote. "Have our people become cannon fodder in a war that is not their own?"

"A poor country whose people have an average income of a dollar a day, which is daily losing 500 citizens to AIDS, a tattered economy, bogged down by a million orphans, is not a worthy adversary for any self-respecting warrior. But the soldiers of Al-Qaeda are not warriors. They are cowards," charged Mutuma Mathiu in the Nov. 29 Daily Nation. Similarly, Ugandan journalist John Nagenda commiserated with Kenyans in his "One Man’s Week" column in the Nov. 30 issue of Uganda’s state-owned New Vision, saying, "Kenya has not massacred a single Palestinian in any regional war. It is precisely for this reason that no Palestinian, or sympathizer, should massacre, in this case, a single Kenyan."

On the other hand, the attack also brought to the fore the pertinent issue of the flawed security apparatus in the country. "I really don’t understand how such sophisticated weapons can get into our country despite our vaunted security system," opined Patrick N. Njeri, a Kenyan citizen, in a letter to the editor in the Dec. 2 issue of the Daily Nation. As hordes of tourists cancelled their bookings to various hotels at the Kenyan coast as a result of the attack, thereby hurting the country’s all-important tourism industry, the Dec. 4 Daily Nation took a swipe at the country’s chiefs of defense when it exclusively reported that a warning that Al-Qaeda was planning another attack on Kenya had been ignored by security chiefs.

The liberal East African Standard also railed at the security system in its Dec. 8 issue: "Undeniably, even as the country mourns its woes at the hands of terrorists, Kenyans, the government included, have played a role in the current sad state of affairs." But the Kenya Times rooted for Kenya’s security system. In its Nov. 30 editorial, it stated: "It is our contention that Kenya is a hundred times safer than New York, Washington, Jerusalem, or Johannesburg." In a Dec. 3 editorial, the paper lamented: "The decision to warn and recall visitors from different activities in Kenya by their respective governments is ill-advised and only hands victory to merchants of terror."

Even the leftist People Daily had earlier sought to reassure tourists. "Tourists should continue visiting the vast resources in the country, as Kenya has just been a victim of circumstance," the paper exhorted in its Nov. 30 issue.

As they mourned the blow to their national life and the country’s tourism industry, Kenyans remained strong and determined to move on with their lives as they approached the decisive general elections scheduled for Dec. 27, 2002. "Even as we grieve our dead and wounded, even as we express our anger, the simple fact is that we must move fast to repair the damage," wrote the Daily Nation in its Dec. 30 editorial. "We take courage in the fact that despite two attacks, there has been no religious backlash and that Kenyans have suffered this atrocity together and are going to survive its effects united," trumpeted the Sunday Nation in its Dec. 1 editorial.

Indeed, in the wake of religious riots in Nigeria, the lack of religious tension in Kenya seemed like the silver lining in an increasingly heavy grey cloud. "We don’t have a Muslim-Christian problem here and we shouldn’t let the war against terror create one," wrote John Githongo in the Dec. 2 - 8 issue of The East African, an independent, regional weekly.