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How did 9/11 and the War on Terror change Kenya’s trajectory?

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On the evening of September 11, 2001, I was returning home from work, dreading the uncomfortable ride in the crowded, noisy minibuses that are the backbone of what passes for a public transport system in Nairobi. I spotted a group of people crowding the TV outside an upscale bar and walked over to find out what was going on. The burning tower on the screen seemed like something out of a movie. Then the second plane hit. I pulled up a chair, knowing I would not be heading home for a while. Like everyone else at that bar, I instinctively felt something significant was happening, even though I did not appreciate then just how world-changing the events would be.

International terrorism was nothing new to Kenyans at the dawn of the 21st century. In 1976, the country quietly aided the audacious Israeli mission, known as Operation Entebbe, to rescue 260 passengers and crew after members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the German Revolutionary Cells hijacked an Air France plane and flew it to neighbouring Uganda. Five years later, the bombing of the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi, which killed 20 people and injured close to 100, was linked to the PFLP – apparent payback for Kenya’s role in Operation Entebbe. In 1998, the country suffered its worst attack to date when 213 people were killed and more than 4000 injured after al-Qaeda fighters bombed the US Embassy in Nairobi, causing a commercial building next door to collapse.

The attack on the US, however, seemed set to be orders of magnitude more consequential, even for Kenya. This was exemplified when the brutal dictator, Daniel Arap Moi, for the first time took to the streets to lead a demonstration against the 9/11 attacks, something he had not done when Kenya was the target. And with al-Qaeda having set up a base next door in anarchic southern Somalia, Kenya would be drawn into the so-called “global war on terror” US President George W Bush would soon launch.

Kenya had been battling the terrorists on its own territory even before the “war on........

© Al Jazeera


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