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Westgate Mall: symptom of a far deeper problem than the media and politicians would have us believe

The Westgate Mall in the Kenyan capital Nairobi is on everyone's lips and every news agency appears to be covering the awful incident that catapulted this relatively unknown shopping centre into the headlines. The mainstream media has carefully crafted its narrative into one that has a limited timeline beginning on the 21st September 2013 and embedding key words such as "Islamic terrorism", "insurgents", "Al-Shabaab" and "Al Qaeda", thus establishing the foundation and terms of reference for any discussion.


As the consumers of the mainstream are caught up in the natural expression of humanitarianism, empathy and concern, critical questions are marginalised. The most critical question remains, what is the context of attack?

It is crucial before engaging in this discussion to establish the motivation for what happened in the Westgate Mall. Various news agencies have indicated that Al-Shabaab, via its official twitter account, made it known that the motivation behind this barbaric act was Kenya's military intervention in Somalia. At no point in this statement was Islam or the defence thereof highlighted as a motivating factor and yet the mainstream media has been quick to insinuate as much by using key words such as "Islamic terrorism" and derivatives of the same. The motivation behind the attack is entrenched firmly in politics, though, and not religion, contrary to what the mainstream would wish the masses to believe.

The roots of the incident go back quite a few years. They were referenced briefly by General Carter Ham, the former head of Africa Command during a press conference with South African journalists in March 2013 in Stuttgart. He stated, "The last time the US became militarily involved in Somalia, that didn't turn out very well. This time, we applied a different methodology…" This statement is a reference to the change in US military policy within Africa after the dramatic turn of events in 1993 popularised by the movie Black Hawk Down. The USA has been utilising military outfits such as the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) to liquidate targets within Africa and particularly Somalia. The words contained within the Shultz report regarding the failed mission of Special Forces over Mogadishu in which 18 Special Forces operators were killed are most telling. "The Mogadishu Disaster spooked the Clinton Administration as well as the brass, and confirmed the Joint Chiefs in the view that SOD should never be entrusted with independent operations." The words of investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill regarding the Transitional Federal Government and AU troops are revealing: "…US-trained, -armed and –funded African Union troops." The US military policy of using African countries as proxies to carry out its dirty work is evident, even more so due to the establishment of Somalia's own "Guantanamo" at Mogadishu airport which is run by the local authorities but with access and interrogation governed by the CIA.

The problems of Somalia, the rise of Al-Shabaab and the tragic consequences all have their roots in what the author and friend of the oppressed Arundhati Roy described as "the task that never ends", which is "America's perfect war, the perfect vehicle for the endless expansion of American imperialism". The establishment of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) that deposed the CIA-backed warlords roaming Somalia was the first modern interpretation of stability and a democratic governance system in Somali post-1991. Interestingly, Al-Shabaab was part of the ICU although it remained a fringe movement and was considered radical but was kept in check by the ICU leadership. Enter 2006, and the Head of US Central Command (CENTCOM), General John Abizaid, authorised the invasion of Somalia by Ethiopian troops supported by US forces, air superiority and Special Forces to topple the ICU. In the words of Jeremy Scahill, Al-Shabaab became the "vanguard" against invasion and US intervention in Somalia. It was the external meddling in Somalia by the US and its proxies that provided the platform for Al-Shabaab in its rise to prominence.

The use of AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia) bankrolled and trained by the United States to fight the US war against Al-Shabaab is what set the Westgate Mall attack in motion. This is compounded further by the fact that the AU force is composed predominantly of Kenyan troops, as confirmed by a report carried by Al-Jazeera.

In 2011, the Shabella Media Network ran a story headed, "Somalia: MPs condemn AMISOM for shelling Mogadishu's Populated Areas", giving a hint of the mass atrocities that were perpetrated against civilians under the banner of AMISOM. The implications for Kenya, the use of its territory and forces for invasion, strikes against Somalia as well as its role within AMISOM were exposed by the New York Times in the same year with the following: "Over the past year, the American Embassy in Nairobi, according to one American official, has become the hive of military and intelligence operatives who are chomping at the bit to escalate operations in Somalia." Furthermore, the deployment to Somalia of 5,000 Kenyan troops in 2012 leaves no doubt in the mind as to why Kenya was targeted.

Although the tragedy of the Kenyan Westgate Mall is indeed the horrific loss of innocent life, the attack is merely a symptom of a far deeper problem. As the media continue to blow the trumpet of the Islamic terrorist threat the failure to recognise State terrorism that gave rise to such radicalism is a catastrophic miscarriage of objective reporting. The essence of the conflict is vested firmly in US militarism and the destabilisation of democratic structures. We have witnessed it in Mali; evidenced by America's inability even to utter the word coup in Egypt; and we see it in Somalia with the ICU and the use of AMISOM to fight US imperialist wars. It is only when foreign powers are expelled and we refuse to be used as pawns of imperialist powers that we will see the end of the bloodletting by our own hands in our own home of Mother Africa.

The writer is the Chairman of the Media Review Network, South Africa

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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