Sept. 23 — Billows of smoke emanated from the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, on the third day of a standoff among Kenyan, Israeli and U.S. FBI forces against members of the Al-Shabaab Islamic resistance movement based in Somalia, which had seized the mall. Reports indicated that at least 62 people have been killed since the incident began on Sept. 21, most of them civilian mall shoppers.
Many news sources reported that members of Al-Shabaab said their operation was in response to the ongoing occupation by approximately 2,500 Kenyan Defense Forces troops of southern Somalia.
The attack on the Westgate Mall is being portrayed by the corporate and pro-imperialist media in the U.S. and Europe as a new episode in the so-called “war on terrorism.” But there has been little news with background about the incident or of the significant role of U.S. imperialism in creating instability in the region.
Kenya, which shares a border with Somalia, sent its army into the troubled Horn of Africa state in October 2011 with U.S. blessing. President Mwai Kibai and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, close allies of the U.S. administration, led the Kenyan government then.
KDF forces bombed the strategic port city at Kismayo in the early phase of the operation. The city was a financial base for Al-Shabaab, which controlled lucrative charcoal exports from the country.
Since the intervention of Kenya into Somalia, resistance has continued in the country’s south and has been escalating outside Kismayo, where Al-Shabaab fighters battle KDF occupation troops daily.
U.S. role in the Somalia crisis
U.S. imperialism has attempted to influence politics in Somalia for decades. In the late 1970s, the Jimmy Carter administration armed Somalian leader Mohamed Siad Barre against revolutionary Ethiopia, then in alliance with the Soviet Union and Cuba.
As a result Somalia was plunged into a disastrous war with Ethiopia over the Ogaden region. Somalia’s defeat began a decade-long political crisis. By early 1991, the Barre regime had collapsed, leaving a vast security and political vacuum. U.S. troops went into Somalia in a phony “humanitarian” intervention until military casualties caused them to leave in 1994.
After Ethiopia’s socialist-oriented government was driven out in 1991, Washington used its new clients in that country to gain more influence in the region. The George W. Bush administration encouraged Ethiopia to invade Somalia in 2006 in order to displace the Islamic Courts Union government that had begun to consolidate its influence and stabilize the country.
With Somalia facing a grave famine, Ethiopian military forces withdrew in early 2009 and sections of the Islamic Courts were won over to a Washington-backed Transitional Federal Government. A youth wing of the Islamic Courts arose known as Al-Shabaab (Youth) and began to wage war against the TFG, demanding that all foreign forces be withdrawn from Somalia.
Beginning in 2007, the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) was formed. The bulk of its forces were from the U.S.-allied Ugandan government. U.S. and British bombing operations have been carried out against alleged Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda bases in Somalia. The country is also a base of operations for U.S. drone programs, and Mogadishu is home to a major CIA field station.
The combined AMISOM forces, now consisting of some 17,500 troops, receive training and funding from Washington.
The U.S.’s Somalia operation is part and parcel of the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), which was formally started in 2008 under Bush but has been strengthened and enhanced by the Obama administration.
Kenya’s intervention in southern Somalia in October 2011 had been planned for at least two years. The release of WikiLeak’s cables in 2010 documented the plans and the role of the State Department.
In addition to U.S. involvement in Somalia and Kenya, the state of Israel has close ties with the government in Nairobi.
Developments in Kenya and throughout the entire region of East Africa must be viewed in the context of U.S. economic and strategic interests in partnership with its NATO allies and the state of Israel. In recent years flotillas of U.S. and European Union warships have been occupying the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia with the pretext of fighting piracy.
Both Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice President William Ruto are under indictment by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, accused of human rights violations following elections in 2007. Not only the Kenyan government but the entire 54-member nations in the African Union have rejected the ICC, which has almost exclusively focused its charges on Africa’s leaders.
While Washington did not favor the government of President Kenyatta during the March elections, it is likely the U.S. will try to take advantage of the mall attack to increase its already strong presence in Kenya.