One of east Africa’s most important stories has been hidden from the headlines recently: Kenya and Ethiopia’s push into lawless Somalia to wipe out al-Shabaab, the motley gang of pirates, thugs, and al-Qaeda-linked militants that has ruled swathes of Somalia for years. After a rough start, Kenyan and Ethiopian forces have booted al-Shabaab out of several strongholds. But this weekend, al-Shabaab struck back: two grenades exploded in a restaurant near the Kenyan port city of Mombasa and at a roadside prayer meeting on Sunday.The grenades resulted in relatively few casualties: one dead and more than thirty wounded, at the latest count. But we begin to see the real damage of these attacks in the context of the wider regional conflict.Kenya and Ethiopia are mostly Christian, and their Somali enemies almost entirely Muslim. The recent grenade attack occurred during an outdoor Christian service, where thousands had gathered to worship. After the attack, al-Shabaab released this statement:
The Kenyan public must be aware that the more Kenyan troops continue to persecute innocent Muslims of Somalia, the less secure Kenyan cities will be; and the more oppression the Muslims of Somalia feel, the more constricted Kenyan life will be.
Al-Shabaab didn’t attack Western tourists in Kenya; the grenade-thrower didn’t bomb a hotel or a government office, or try to hijack or terrorize a cruise ship. He attacked Kenyans—Kenyan Christians.From one side of Africa to the other, violence between Muslims and Christians is intensifying. These tensions are more likely to increase than to fade away. Al-Shabaab’s statement continues:
With Kenya now perilously sailing along a tremulous sea, lacking both the political purpose and the will of its soldiers, the Kenyan public is also gradually being sucked into the maelstrom of an endless war….Such is the law of retribution.