Last week the Chief of Kenya Defence Forces Gen. Julius Karangi warned that the Somali hardline Al Shabaab militia might stage terror attacks in the country in retaliation for the army’s three-months-old campaign in southern Somalia.
Christmas came and went without incident, and now Kenyan security agencies are on the lookout for a New Year attack.
In Uganda, yesterday (December 30), Police spokeswoman Judith Nabakoba warned of a possible Al Shabaab attack on New Year party venues.
The July 2010 World Cup Final night attacks in Kampala, in which Al Shabaab suicide bombers killed nearly 80 people, are still fresh in people’s minds in Kampala. A few Kampalans are, therefore, approaching New Year with caution.
I am taking a cowardly approach, and not going anywhere near a public New Year party venue.
I had no such fears over Christmas, so why I should be concerned for New Year?
For one, I can imagine an Al Shabaab strategist advising against bombing a Christmas event. That is more likely to alienate and harvest the anti-Islamic prejudices of fundamentalist Christians.
Secondly, there is no Christmas crowd anywhere that will be even half as large as a good New Year one. Just to maximise the kill, a New Year party in Kampala or Nairobi would be the perfect target for an Al Shabaab suicide bomber.
Thirdly, some Islamic and Christian fundamentalist generally view New Year the same view – as some kind of consumerist idolatry gone amok, and a day of sin – drunkenness, fornication, greed, and other evils. The bombing of a racy New Year party might find sympathisers among Christian extremists and puritans too (as long as their families are not caught in it).
However, the main risk of a New Year bomb has to do with what is happening inside Somalia. While Al Shabaab claimed victory with the July 10 Kampala killings, which it carried out to punish Uganda for its lead role in the African Union Peacekeeping Mission in Somalia force (AMISOM), was also easily one of its biggest blunders.
To begin with, it dramatically alienated international opinion and led the US to increase intelligence-sharing on terrorism in with Kampala. In addition, it also led to improved intelligence collaboration between Uganda and Kenya on terrorism in the region, especially that likely to come from Somali militants.
And, it was also the spark that steeled AMISOM’s resolve to up the fight – and the AU to change the force’s mission from “peace-keeping” to “peace-enforcement”. With that, came the AMISOM push that finally kicked Al Shabaab out of all the 16 districts of the capital Mogadishu, and unified the city under one political authority for the first time in nearly 20 years.
Without Kampala July 2010, perhaps none of these events would have come to pass.
All the signs are that, despite its occasional bravado, the momentum has clearly moved away from Al Shabaab to the AMISOM and Kenya forces.
This New Year, therefore, is probably the Shabaab’s last chance to go out with a bloody mayhem that will not be forgotten for a long time to come. If the current play of politics and war continues in Somalia, by this time next year Al Shabaab could be more – or so weakened it would be toothless.
We should be afraid of TODAY, because it could be Al Shabaab last chance at a bloody slaughter. Now, here is the extremely unpalatable part. Going by the July 2010 Kampala example and its aftermath, one could argue that a Shabaab attack that kills many, might just be what is necessary for the organisation to die. Everyone will throw everything they have into finishing off Al Shabaab if it blew up a dozen or so New Year revellers.
© Charles Onyango-Obbo / twitter@cobbo3