The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
“In Darkness They Will Stab You”

A bomb ripped through a bus in the Little Somalia neighborhood of Nairobi on Sunday, killing nine civilians. Many Kenyans immediately put the blame on Nairobi’s Somali community. “People are angry. They are angry because of the people throwing bombs and grenades. They are blaming the Somalis. These Somalis are living with us but you cannot know their ways. They speak well and they will even make you laugh but in darkness they will stab you,” one resident of the neighborhood told the AP.

Several people were injured in rioting after the bomb attack. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse people throwing rocks, and an Associated Press reporter saw a group of Kenyans stabbing a Somali. The violence is the result of months of a highly charged atmosphere:

Kenyan police in September said they disrupted a major terrorist attack in its final stages of planning after they found four suicide vests rigged with hundreds of metal ball bearings, two improvised explosive devices, four AK-47 assault rifles and 12 grenades in Eastleigh. Two ethnic Somalis have been charged in court. [...]

“It’s slowly getting out of hand,” Mr. [Abdullahi]¬†Halakhe [an analyst for the International Crisis Group] said. “Since Kenya’s intervention in Somalia last October there is a fair amount of profiling of Somalis from the security forces.”

Weak states and struggling societies in Africa present the newest and most challenging front in the global struggle against terror. In Kenya, Nigeria, and other places in Africa, terror is partly an outgrowth of social and economic inequality between groups of people; in Kenya, many of the rioters were jobless young Kenyans upset by the somewhat wealthier immigrant Somali community, which some suspect is flush with cash from Somali pirating.

Africa is filled with inter-tribal rivalries, religious disputes, desperate urban slums where hardworking people scrabble for a living, angry, threatened, vulnerable to radical messages. Governments are weak, services poor, security forces often both brutal and inept — to say nothing of corrupt. Borders are porous, crime is rife.

This is a big mess, very hard to fix, and likely to be with us for some time.

Published on November 20, 2012 9:06 am