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Terrorist alert at Kenyan airports, borders

By Adriana Stuijt     Feb 18, 2009 in Politics
Kenya's internal security minister George Saitoti has ordered a terrorist alert, tightening up security at airports and borders. The east African countries of Kenya and neighbouring Tanzania were hit before by terrorist attacks from El-Qaeda linked cells.
Near-simultaneous bombings were carried out at US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998, killing a total 224 people, and injuring 5,000. And in November 2002, other al-Qaeda-linked militants bombed an Israeli-owned resort hotel near Kenya's coastal city of Mombasa along the Indian Ocean, where 15 civilians were killed.That same day, the attackers also unsuccessfully tried to shoot down an Israeli airliner.
"I am not dreaming when I say there are terrorism threats. We have been hit before and that is why we cannot take these threats casually," Saitoti said, but did not elaborate.
It's not known which specific, immediate threat would cause Kenya to tighten its border patrols so suddenly.
On Tuesday, security at all local and international airports and border points was tightened considerably, a security official said. "We are screening all vehicles and persons entering the airport because we don't want to take any chances. We have instructions to be more careful. These threats are serious," said an official at the capital's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. see
Virulent terrorism...
Last week, security expert David H. Shinn, adjunct professor for George Washington University, Elliott School of International Affairs, described especially the east and north African regions as growing terrorism-hot spots. He warned at a meeting hosted by AFRICOM command at Garmisch, Germany that international terrorism has become 'especially virulent' in North- and East Africa. AFRICOM command is stationed in Kenya's Mombasa harbour and other crucial east-African ports at the horn of Africa.
"An early example was the 1980 bombing of the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya by the popular front for the liberation of Palestine," he said.
"More recently al-Qaeda attacked the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 1998. These are new challenges for African militaries, but countries like the US put it at the top of their list of concerns.'
And international terrorism is always closely linked to criminal activities, he warned, such as drug-smuggling.
"Africa is increasingly subject to both scourges, usually with involvement by outside parties.
"Criminal activity tends to follow the money and, as a result, is found more frequently in wealthier countries such as South Africa and Nigeria. "Money laundering has been a particular problem in southern Africa.
"Criminal elements have also engaged small-arms smuggling on a huge scale, in the illegal exploitation of diamonds, tanzanite and coltan. But even states with almost no valuable resources can find a way to engage in criminal activity.
"For example, enterprising Somalis have discovered there is a lot of money to be made in piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. Historically, the major drug smuggling problem involved the movement of heroin from South Asia to East and West Africa and then on to Europe and North America."
Large numbers of small arms:
Many African security forces have had to cope for decades with the existence of large numbers of small arms in the hands of dissidents, he pointed out.
"More and longer African conflicts result in a greater likelihood there will be even more small arms outside governmental control. Somalia, which has not had a functioning government since 1991, is an extreme case.
"Nearly every adult Somali has a weapon. Long-running civil wars in the DRC, Sudan, Angola, and Sierra Leone left a legacy of numerous weapons in the hands of potential malcontents. Most of the weapons originated outside Africa, provided either by foreign governments, sympathetic non-governmental groups or arms merchants. The major suppliers of arms to Africa (excluding Egypt) are Russia, Germany, China, the UK and France.
"One of the most dangerous situations occurred in 1998 when war broke out between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Russia sold Eritrea MiG-29 aircraft, which came with Ukrainian pilots. Ethiopia purchased SU-27 aircraft and the services of Russian pilots.
"The Russians and the Ukrainians never fought each other, but the absurdity of the situation was palpable. In addition, both Ethiopia and Eritrea purchased a large quantity of conventional weaponry from a variety of countries.
:"Increasingly, Africa is manufacturing its own weapons, especially small arms, light weapons and ammunition.
"South Africa has a long history of producing sophisticated weapons and small arms. Egypt has been an important arms manufacturer for decades, occasionally drawing on outside help as in the case of K-8E jet aircraft co-produced with China. Sudan recently became the third largest manufacturer of arms in Africa. It has the capacity to produce ammunition and mortars and to assemble tanks and armored personnel carriers. A number of countries, reportedly including China, Germany, Bulgaria and Iran, helped establish this manufacturing capability. Nigeria has produced small arms and ammunition since 1964.
"Former President Obasanjo stated he wanted to produce enough arms and ammunition to supply the sub region.
"Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville, Kenya, Morocco, Namibia, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe all produce ammunition."
Growing importance of China in Africa
The most significant development, however, has been the growing importance of China in Africa followed by India. China is projected to pass the United States by 2010 as Africa's largest trading partner.
It has diplomatic relations with forty-nine of Africa's fifty-three countries (four countries still recognize Taiwan) and has an embassy in all forty-nine countries except Somalia.
"That equals the number of U.S. embassies in Africa, and China has more independent consulates than the United States. China's current level of trade with Africa exceeds $100-billion.
"The playing field in Africa is much more crowded than it was just ten years ago. This gives the Africans more options, but it also complicates the nature of Africa's interaction with outside interests." see
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