Most people who know me are aware that I have close connections with Kenya. I have lived there, and I am now normally there twice a year. If you are intrigued to know my excuse for polluting the Sahara with regular air trips, kindly have a look at www.kabisa.org.uk.
I know the Westgate Centre in Nairobi, and it is not a typical Kenyan environment. It is a big city, middle class shopping complex. The weekend crowds will have been multiracial, not to say multinational and multicultural. The centre also happens, I understand, to be Israeli owned. It was a logical target for al-Shabab jihadis.
Let me indulge in a few paragraphs about the immediate circumstances, and lead from that to suggesting focus for your prayers…..
Slightly over 6% of Kenyans are Somalis. Because of relatively recent refugee influx, this is sharply up from 2% or so a generation ago. They “belong” in the desert north, but now dominate parts of Nairobi, particularly Eastleigh, and over 500,000 are in Dadaab refugee camp near the Somali border – probably the largest single refugee camp in the world. Arid and isolated, it is a prison for most of its occupants.
Somalis are good at mayhem. The warlordism that has driven Somalia to the status of “failed state” and created hell for most Somalis is rooted in clan structures and rivalries. Somalis are Sunni Muslims, but my understanding of their traditions suggests an inclusive Islam, linked to tribal and nomadic practices and with Sufi spiritual overtones. But the lawless state of Somalia has been a gift to Islamist jihadis, and al-Shabab is indeed reasonably thought of as an “al-Qaeda affiliate”.
One stream of al-Shabab ideology is Somali nationalist, feeding on anger at the way they feel that Somalia has been used and torn apart by the outside world. Much of this anger is directed at Kenya, whose army occupies much of southern Somalia in a generally successful attempt to root out jihadi control of that area.
The other stream in al-Shabab is the ideology of global apocalyptic Islamism. I would expect to learn that several of those who attacked Nairobi were jihadis from a range of countries. Al-Shabab militants include hundreds of non-Somalis, including, apparently, about 50 British passports. This Islamism feeds upon the militant and military traditions of Somali clan warfare.
Kenya cannot resource lock-down levels of security, and even if she could, it would be poison to the genuine growth of an open society that the country is achieving. The Westgate event poses Kenya with impossible strains and choices.
In your prayers, please hold in the light of Christ
- The Westgate victims, diverse as they are. Kenyan, global, African, Asian, European, Christian, Sikh, Muslim, Hindu, old, young and little children.
- Kenyan Muslims. A minority in the country as a whole. Guardians of the rich Swahili culture of the Coast. In fear of the real possibility of communal backlash, especially in Nairobi.
- Somalis in Kenya. Whether or not they are Kenya citizens. That they should stand fast against jihadi influence. That they may not endure communal retribution.
- Kenyan “wananchi” (citizens). Especially in the cities. That they may resist the temptation to seek retribution, and not allow their country to become divided on tribal or religious grounds.
- Kenya’s urban poor. Those in Kibera and other slums whose search for hope can only be dented by the focus on security and other issues that Westgate will entail.
- The Kenyan Government. Elected after a difficult and fractious election in March. Charged with implementing an admirable new homegrown constitution guaranteeing the rights of all Kenyans.
- All Kenyan leadership. That they may assert Kenya’s independence and integrity in peace. Resisting communalism, tribalism and sectarianism. Resisting being swallowed into the Homeland Security of others.
- Marksen Wafula Masinde. Our politically very active Kenyan Associate, working on founding an Iona group in Kenya. With Freda, a remarkable community leader.