19 November 2013

East Africa: Terrorism Threatens EA Tourism Hubs

THE twin bombings of US embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi in 1998 may have just suggested the word terrorism in the minds of citizens of Tanzania and Kenya.

But by recent bombing of churches in Tanzanian northern region of Arusha and the Kenyan Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi has engraved the word indelibly in the vocabulary of the two cities which happen to be tourist hubs in their respective nations.

The recent terrorists' attacks of the Westgate a few kilometres away from Nairobi is likely to increase fear even in the Lake Zone regions bordering Kenya and Uganda, if East Africa won't have in place security measures strong enough. The 1998 bombings followed by the latest bombings in the two East African countries where tourism is a chief forex earner have made terrorism a common word in their vocabulary.

The Arusha bomb blast in a church occurred in May and another one in June, this year. The Westgate one did happen in September 21. Delegates from partner states observed one-minute silence to mourn Kenyan brothers and sisters who died in the Westgate Mall blast, one of East Africa's worst terrorist attack at a time a meeting of sectoral council of East Africa ministers for Lake Victoria Basin Commission was taking place in Mwanza, Tanzania.

"The Kenyan tragedy is our tragedy. We don't know where they will attack next," said Burundian envoy, Leontine Nzeyimana, expressing her fear that her country could be the next to be attacked because her country had soldiers in a UN peacekeeping mission in Somalia.

According to security analysts, terrorism is moving fast across Africa, from northern Nigeria where Boko Haram Islamists are killing minority Christians, down to the Horn of Africa where Somali Al- Shaabab terrorists are bombing and attacking innocent people in Kenya.

The Islamic terrorist group Al- Shabaab based in Somalia poses a threat across the East Africa region. Somali pirates, security analysts say, are working hand in hand with the global terror network to hijack ships crossing the east coast of the Indian Ocean.

Porous borders between East African nations of Kenya and Tanzania have been cited as one among key factors leading to smooth passage of terrorists, said Philemon Kamuntu from Uganda, who was a chairman of sectoral council of East Africa ministers for Lake Victoria basin commission.

Judi Wakhungu, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry for water, environment and natural resources said that lack of properly trained anti-terrorism security personnel and bribery at points of entry were other reasons which raised eyebrows as to whether Kenya and Tanzania and other East African nations could manage the fight against international terrorism.

Security in East Africa remains a paradox with people living under fear of a possible blast at public places. Ms Wakhungu said that terrorism has also sneaked into Tanzania where a group of attackers rose to kill Christian minorities in the semiautonomous island of Zanzibar.

"In recent years, there have been attacks against Christians on the island of Zanzibar and in some parts of the Tanzania mainland by people believed to be radical attackers who promised, in leaflets in January this year, that they would make more attacks particularly targeting Christian," she added.

A Catholic priest, Father Evarist Mushi, was killed on his way to conduct a Sunday mass. Following his murder on the island of Zanzibar in February, this year, Tanzanian Bishops issued a statement through the Christian leaders to take action against anti- Christian propaganda spread by a faction of believers.

These incidents led to a statement by the Christian forum, issued to coincide with Easter this year. The statement said: "A few assailants in Zanzibar disseminated an ideology asserting that the muggers should not tolerate any other religions. Prof Jumanne Maghembe, Minister for Water said that from Zanzibar, terrorism had spread to the mainland Tanzania and hit the northern tourist capital of Arusha, known as the Geneva of Africa.

Presiding Bishop and Head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT), Dr Alex Malasusa, was quoted as saying, "Intimida ion using bombs, violent acts against the clerics and torching of church buildings may maltreat the church, but such acts should not discourage people from praying."

More Christian leaders have raised their voice against terrorism against the church. The Apostolic Nuncio to Tanzania, Archbishop Francisco Padilla, who escaped a bomb blast in Arusha on May 5 of this year said, "I pray that peace will for eternity prevail, that violence would not be the way to remove tensions."

The state of insecurity is likely to threaten many, including the Head of the Catholic Church in Tanzania, Polycarp Cardinal Pengo, who called on religious leaders and the government to work together to ensure peaceful coexistence among the community in the country.

Terrorism in Tanzania has so far been a threat to the tourism sector in the country as it has in Kenya. The state of insecurity in Zanzibar remains a big concern for tourism, the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sports, Mr Said Ali Mbarouk, has admitted. "We need to maintain peace and stability to promote tourism.

It is very unfortunate that Zanzibar recorded fewer tourists last year compared to 2011," he said. The Zanzibar's tourism minister had attributed the low number of tourists to violence that gripped Zanzibar. He said the number of tourists who entered Zanzibar from January to November 2011 was 153,747, but the number dropped to 150,026 after the unrests, which scared away tourists.

"We hope to minimise future unrests by involving community and religious leaders. We are planning to launch tourism committees in wards," he said. On 21 September, this year, unidentified gunmen attacked the upscale Westgate shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya.

The attack, which lasted until 24th September, resulting in at least 72 deaths, including 61 civilians, 6 Kenyan soldiers, and 5 attackers. The attackers held hostages and later engaged in gun battles with Kenyan security forces. Over 200 people were reportedly wounded in the mass shooting.

The Al-Shabaab group claimed responsibility for the incident, which it characterised as retribution for the Kenyan Military's deployment in Somalia. Many media outlets also suspected the insurgent group's involvement in the attack based on earlier reprisal warnings it had issued in the wake of Operation Linda Nchi from 2011 to 2012.

The incident followed threats from Al-Shabaab in late 2011 of attacks in Kenya in retaliation for Linda Nchi, a coordinated military operation in southern Somalia that was launched against the group by the Somali military and Kenyan military.

One week before the incident and a month after the United Nations warnings of possible attacks, Kenyan police claimed to have disrupted a major attack in its final stages of planning after arresting two people with suicide vests packed with ball bearings, grenades and AK-47 assault rifles.

The two suspects were from a Nairobi neighbourhood where Somali immigrants live. A manhunt was also launched for eight more suspects. The Sunday Telegraph claimed that it had seen United Nations documents that warned last month that the threat of an 'attempted large-scale attack' in Kenya was 'elevated.'

After the incident, Nairobi senator Mike Sonko claimed that he had warned the security services of a possible attack three months before. The country was celebrating the International Day of Peace when the incident took place.

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