kenya: Kenyan Australians worry over militant attacks

The Somali-based al-Shabaab group has threatened further attacks in Kenya, following the attack on a university campus last week that left nearly 150 people dead.

Security has been stepped up at shopping malls and public buildings in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, and in the eastern coastal region.


A dusk-to-dawn curfew has also been imposed in communities along the border with Somalia.


But that hasn’t eased the worry of loved ones here in Australia.


Paul Ogunah is the chairman of a group known as the Kenyan Association of New South Wales.


Mr Ogunah says many in the community were upset by the attack on the Garissa university, which al-Shabaab says was in retaliation for Kenyan military involvement in Somalia.


“It did shock us in a big way, because it is one of the things that we least expect, so our community here in Australia are really feeling the pain.”


Mr Ogunah also says some members of the community feel the international community has not reacted adequately to the events in Garissa.


He draws comparisons to when world leaders were quick to condemn the killing of staff at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in France in January and travelled to Paris to take part in a solidarity march.


But Mr Ogunah says there’s been nothing like that response to events in Kenya.


“That is what we’d like to see. It seems as if the issue is more or less Kenyan based as opposed to internationally and yet Kenya is a part of the international community and this issue of terrorism knows no boundaries.”


Munyasya Mwangangi is the acting Kenyan High Commissioner in Australia.

He says the High Commission is yet to hear from the Australian government about the attack.

“No, not yet. We are still waiting for a word from them, but other embassies here (in Canberra), they have given us their condolences and they are praying with us, and they are mourning with us.’ Reporter: ‘So the Australian government is yet to offer formal condolences?’ ‘Not yet. probably could be still on the way.”

A spokesman for the Prime Minister has confirmed that Tony Abbott has sent a letter to his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta offering his condolences.

The federal opposition and the Australian Greens have publicly condemned the events in Garissa and offered their sympathies.

Kenyan-born Sam Makinda is a professor of International Relations and Security Studies at Murdoch University in WA.

Professor Makinda agrees that terrorism is a global issue, and not one that Kenya can tackle alone.

But he says the Kenyan government had been forewarned days before the attack by the international community including Australia.

“I wouldn’t see any basis for comparing the reactions in the two cases, here in the case of Charlie Hebdo, there was no prior warning which the French government ignored. In the case of Kenya, intelligence was provided which was dismissed by the Kenyan government that al-Shabaab was about to attack a Kenyan institution in the country.”

Acting Kenyan High Commissioner to Australia Munyasya Mwangangi has defended his government’s actions.

“What I can say is yes, we share intelligence, but with terrorism, you don’t know when they can attack. They can attack anytime. And you see this time they chose to attack during the Easter holidays, but we always, the kenyan government, we’ve always been ready and that’s why they were even able to rescue the students.”

Paul Ogunah from the Kenyan Association of New South Wales says members of the diaspora have raised their concerns with the Kenyan government.

He says of particular concern is the situation in the area near the Somali border.

“One of the major reasons, is that we want the government to take decisive action to bring peace to the north eastern (region). It is something that has been going on (for a while) but it has escalated and we know the government can do and if it means working with our defence force to be there with them full time, if it means probably the government looking into ways in withdrawing troops that are helping Somalia – deploy them there. Whichever option that is viable and will bring peace to our family and friends in the north eastern province.”

Paul Ogunah says despite the geographical distance, many are still connected to events in their homeland.

“There are those who feel that we should do something. Either go back home and help out. The people in the diaspora are frustrated and want to know if they can help out in any way. Because we know the al-Shabaab have been doing little things here and there, this is the biggest. If you look at the history, this is the second biggest when the US Embassy was bombed (1998), and al-Shabaab has been inflitrating Kenya on that side in small bits and its become a nightmare now.”

Professor Makinda believes the group has weakened significantly since it lost control of the Somali capital Mogadishu and large parts of the country.

He argues that the group can be stopped from carrying out further attacks – if the Kenyan authorities respond adequately.

“It (al-Shabaab) has attempted and to a certain extent succeeded in hitting some soft targets in Kenya. This is not because al-Shabaab is strong – this is not because al-Shabaab is effective. This has been due to the fact that the Kenyan security forces have not been acting professionally. There’s a lot of corruption in Kenya, so unless is eliminated or reduced, Kenya is not going to fight very succesfully against al-Shabaab.”

Source: SBS