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Kenya Analyzes Ties with US After Terrorist Attack - 2002-12-13

Last month's terrorist attacks on the Kenyan coast have left Kenyans deeply fearful of further attacks. Many of them are saying it is time for the United States to do more to protect one of its key allies in east Africa in the war against terrorism.

Visitors to popular Nairobi restaurants, clubs or shopping centers are nowadays met by police road blocks, so their vehicles can be searched for bombs and other weapons.

Following last month's terrorist attacks near Mombasa, there is widespread fear that the country could be targeted again. The al-Qaida network, which has claimed responsibility for the attacks, has threatened further strikes.

An editorial in Kenya's Sunday Standard newspaper warned that, "we have not seen the worst yet, and Kenyans will continue living in fear. We should brace ourselves for another round of bloodletting, another round of shedding tears, for the terrorists might strike again."

Kenyans are starting to question why their country has become a terrorist target. The November attack is not the first time in recent years terrorists have struck. In August of 1998, the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi was bombed, killing more than 200 people and injuring over 5,000. U.S. investigators have blamed that attack on al-Qaida.

In the latest attacks, 10 Kenyans and three Israelis were killed in the bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel near Mombasa. Missiles fired at an Israeli airliner as it was leaving Mombasa airport missed their target. Many Kenyans are beginning to wonder why their country is a target at all.

Some Kenyans advocate reassessing Kenya's ties with its allies. The country's leading human rights organization, the Kenya Human Rights Commission, says it is time for the government to reassess its close ties with the United States and Israel. The commission's executive director, Willy Mutunga, says, after three attacks, it is time to examine those ties.

"It is important that we decide, as a nation, whether we can put up with relations that are costing deaths to Kenyans," he said. "We are convinced that it is these relations that are part of the problem, and we should be able to discuss that."

In a statement, the commission describes Kenya as a "sacrificial lamb" in a conflict between the West and the Islamic world that is of no concern or benefit to Kenya.

It also says Israel has a moral obligation to compensate the Kenyan victims of last month's Mombasa bombing.

Mustapha Hassouna, a diplomacy analyst at the University of Nairobi, says such comments reflect a shift in public attitudes toward the United States and Israel.

"It looks like the popular sentiment is basically turning out to be a little bit anti-American, anti-United States, anti-United States foreign policy," he said. "Here you have had a constituency, which was always very pro-American. It began to turn around in 1998, with the August bombings of the American Embassy here, and it has been further compounded by what has happened in Kikambala, in Mombasa, just recently."

But others argue that Kenya has no choice but to ally itself with the United States in the war on terrorism, particularly as Kenya has been subject to al-Qaida attacks. They also say part of the reason Kenya is the scene of terrorist attacks is that it is an easy target. They say it should take steps to make itself less vulnerable to terrorists.

Gichira Kibara, an analyst with the Center for Governance and Development in Nairobi says the big priority for Kenya is protecting itself, not finding someone to blame.

"The Kenyan government must seriously take the issue of its own security, by negotiating with the U.S., in terms of getting more capacity to combat insecurity," Mr. Kibara said.

Part of the reason for Kenya's vulnerability is its location. It shares a long, porous border with failed states like Somalia, which means that virtually anyone who is determined to get into Kenya can find a way. On top of this, analysts say, official corruption makes it even harder to adequately police Kenya's boundaries.

In the last few years, the United States has established operations in Kenya to aid in the fight against terrorism. Mr. Hassouna, the analyst at the University of Nairobi, says Washington should provide more training and equipment to Kenya.

"For a safer skies program to effectively take off, you have to have proper equipment, you have to have trained personnel, you have to have a capacity-building program that is able to come to terms with the challenges of the 21st century," he said. "We are also talking about, for example, the bomb squad here, which was trained in the early '70s. They need new equipment. They need new training. They probably need new personnel altogether."

The inadequacy of Kenya's bomb squad was made all too clear in the aftermath of the Mombasa bombing. It soon became clear, Kenyan authorities did not have the sophisticated equipment, or the training, to carry out an in-depth investigation. Israeli and U.S. investigators quickly moved in and took over, much to the anger of their Kenyan counterparts.