- By Elizabeth DickinsonElizabeth Dickinson is a Gulf-based Deca journalist.
As Americans rushed to Ground Zero and to the White House gates last night in joy at the news that Osama bin Laden had finally been killed, across the world, Kenyans were gathering at the site of another al Qaeda attack: The old U.S. embassy, bombed in 1998. Victims of that attack reacted with joy and relief.
"The killing of Osama has taken place nearly thirteen years after the terrorist bombings in Nairobi that led to the death of over two hundred people, in an act believed to have been masterminded by Osama. His killing is an act of justice to those Kenyans who lost their lives and the many more who suffered injuries," Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki said in reaction to the news.
Word of bin Laden’s death resonates for more reasons than just the memory of terror in the Kenyan capital. Outside of South Asia, East Africa today is arguably the most active hotbed of al Qaeda activity. In next-door Somalia, the militant group al Shabbab has pledged allegiance to the group. Uganda became the site of the first international Shabbab attacks last summer, when two restaurants were bombed during the World Cup. In short, terrorism is not a memory but an everyday, indigenous threat.The hope is that bin Laden’s death will weaken al Qaeda in Africa, too. The Ugandan military, for example, expressed hope today that terrorist funding would feel a pinch after the death of the al Qaeda leader. Still, Kenyan security services are on high alert today, particularly in the largest cities and near the Somali border.
Indeed, in addition to congratulations, Kenya sent another message to the United States today: Time to get more active in fighting terror in this part of the world too. This is a long-running frustration for the Kenyan authorities, who worry that their security concerns get upstaged by more high-profile al Qaeda activity elsewhere. "Osama’s death can only be positive for Kenya," the country’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga put it, "but we need to have a stable government in Somalia."
After all, as this part of the world viscerally remembers, however, bin Laden used to live in Sudan. In a previous attempt to kill bin Laden following the Nairobi bomging, the United States bombed a pharmaceudical plant there, believed to have been making chemical weapons. Not long after, bin Laden left Sudan, abandoning a compound similar to the one where he would finally perish yesterday.
Speaking to Reuters, residents for the Sudanese town bin Laden called home expressed mixed reactions of relief and anxiety at the news. Fearful of American bombings, no one has occupied bin Laden’s former compound for over a decade. Bin Laden may be gone, but here, like so many places, his legacy may live on.