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Khaya Dlanga: Africa must control its own fate

Khaya Dlanga

As Africa becomes a pawn in geopolitics and global terrorism, it's time for Africans to stand up and fight their own battles, writes Khaya Dlanga.

Wreaths have been laid in front of the Westgate Mall after more than 60 people were killed. (AFP)

Going to the mall is one of the most mundane things one could ever do. Of course, I speak from the perspective of a person who hates shopping. 

Imagine one day you are walking around so focused on the things you are going to buy that you don't see people you know walk past you. The buzz of people in the mall on a similar mission make you blind – which is probably what the attackers took advantage of in Nairobi when they attacked the Westgate shopping mall last Saturday.

What was meant to be a normal day turned into horror after 67 civilians and security personnel were killed during a raid. If the same thing had happened in a warring region, our reaction would not have been as intense. We were shocked because an everyday event turned into the unthinkable. A shopping mall was turned into a warzone, where innocent people, with no idea what the terrorists were demanding, paid the price.

In 1998, Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network bombed the US embassy in Nairobi. An estimated 4 000 people were wounded and 212 died during the attacks. The majority of these were Kenyans who had nothing to do with what the terrorists demanded. The 1998 bombing is said to have been in retaliation for American involvement in the extradition of four members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Journalist Lawrence Wright said the goal of the attack was a strategic one, "to lure the United States into Afghanistan, which had long been called 'the Graveyard of Empires'". Al-Qaeda believed it was impossible for them to lose against the US there. 

America did not go to Afghanistan until after the September 11 2001 attacks. 

The difference is that this time al-Shabab did not attack US interests but rather an upscale shopping centre in Nairobi. The strategy behind the attack was knowing it would receive maximum exposure. A lot of expatriates visit that mall, which meant international media would focus on the group. Again, people who have nothing to do with wars their government has decided to be involved in, are in the line of fire. 

Al-Shabab attacked the shopping mall after threats made in 2011 – operation Linda Nchi. It was a military campaign between the Somalian, Kenyan and Ethiopian militaries in 2011, which saw Kenyan troops cross the border into Somalia. The operation targetted al-Shabab militants who kidnapped foreign tourists and aid workers in Kenya. 

I do hope this time Africa will solve this issue on its own. There should be African solutions for African problems. For too long the continent has been bullied at the expense of locals. Africa becomes nothing but a pawn in geopolitics, as though we don't have a role to play in our own regions or the world. 

Even Bin Laden used Kenya in 2008 as a pawn to get the US to go to Afghanistan. Now should be the time for Africa to stand together against this act of terrorism in Kenya, but in so doing, we must show the world that we have our own solutions to our own problems. Africa shouldn't throw out assistance from the world, but we accept it on our own terms. After all, it is our people who are dying. 


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