Overshadowed as it has been in western minds by the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, it has been easy to forget that East Africa has been benighted by terrorism for two decades.
The horrific attack on a Nairobi shopping mall and the appalling death toll means that it will now loom large and have profound consequences for Kenya.
Coming after the attacks on aid workers in Zanzibar, the assault on an oil installation in Algeria, and the consequent French military incursion into Mali to halt an Islamist armed coup, it seems that the whole of Africa north of the Equator is becoming a dangerous place, not just for westerners, but also for the local people.
It is tempting, but almost certainly wrong, to see a pattern in the violence directed with some common aim. Militant Islamism has certainly been a factor in all of these violent episodes but that does not mean all the terrorists have been acting out a coordinated plan. Opportunistic brigandry, pumped up with a flush of weaponry, much of it seized from the ruins of Col Gaddafi’s regime in Libya, has played as big a role.
The region is vast, the hiding places innumerable, and frontiers so porous as to be non-existent. Acute poverty and utter hopelessness makes young men a ready recruiting ground for hardened al-Qaeda fundamentalists and their imitators.
The fact that those who attacked the Kenyan mall appear to want to achieve nothing more than to kill as many people – whether westerners or Kenyans appears not to matter – as possible before they achieve their own martyrdom says that this is a problem which is not going to go away any time soon.
The roots of the slaughter in Nairobi go back to the early 1990s when Osama bin Laden and much of the al-Qaeda leadership located themselves in Sudan. Apart from recruiting fighting martyrs, they established a network of terrorist groupings, some of which still survive.
Al-Shabaab, the Somali group claiming responsibility for the Nairobi atrocity, is itself thought to be composed of different factions which, to varying degrees, mix nationalist resentment against Kenya with their Islamism. Over the past decade it has been responsible for grenade attacks on Nairobi bus queues and a disco.
The hatred of Kenya stems from that country’s occupation of southern Somalia in an attempt to establish a buffer zone to reduce terrorist infiltration. Clearly that has failed, and a strategic re-think is needed. Kenya may be moved to step up searching for, and killing off, al-Shabaab in Somalia, which may end up worsening the problem if innocents become victims.
Yet it is hard to know how this dreadful problem can be solved. Certainly the repercussions for Kenya’s economy, heavily reliant on tourist income for its foreign exchange earnings, will be significant as they will persist long after the shopping mall siege is ended.
Ryder Cup fever on the rise
Golf purists may well have tutted and primly wondered what a steam train full of the game’s administrators, media folk and a sprinkling of film and pop stars have to do with their beloved game, but Samuel Ryder, whose eponymous cup will be competed for a year from now at Gleneagles would surely have been thrilled.
Having become a golf enthusiast late in life, he was dismayed to discover that able British golfers felt unable to compete against smartly dressed and better equipped Americans because they could not afford it. The Ryder Cup was aimed at stimulating a much more competitive spirit among British and Irish professionals and to attract more money into the game and eventually into winning pros’ pockets.
Though it took European talent to join the fray before the winning edge over the Americans Ryder wanted finally appeared, the entrepreneur and showman in him would have swelled to bursting point if he could have seen yesterday’s cavalcade.
It underlines the fact that the Ryder Cup now, in terms of the TV audiences attracted, ranks alongside football’s World Cup and the Olympics as the planet’s biggest sporting event. And the show put on yesterday demonstrates Scotland’s determination that next year’s competition will be a spectacle to remember, showing the country to the world at its best.
Even the EU’s trade commissioner Karel de Gucht turned up, not just cashing in on one of the few events which unites Europeans, but because the year ahead will see Europe and America locking horns in search of a trade deal to create the world’s biggest free trade zone. We wish him and Europe’s golfers equal success.