Obama to boost aid to Africa

FIGHT­ING TERROR IN KENYA, SO­MA­LIA At­tacks on civil­ians dis­cussed in Nairobi


Nairobi — Pres­i­dent Obama on Satur­day com­mit­ted the United States to an in­ten­si­fied fight against ter­ror­ists in East Africa, an­nounc­ing here that his ad­min­is­tra­tion would ex­pand sup­port for coun­tert­er­ror­ism oper­a­tions in Kenya and So­ma­lia, in­clud­ing in­creased train­ing and fund­ing for Kenya’s se­cu­rity forces.

“We have to keep that pres­sure go­ing even as we’re strength­en­ing the So­mali gov­ern­ment,” he said at a joint news con­fer­ence with Kenyan Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta.

Obama ac­knowl­edged that al-Shabab ter­ror­ists re­tain the ca­pac­ity to at­tack “soft tar­gets” in both coun­tries, even af­ter years of Amer­i­can drone strikes and ef­forts from a re­gional, U.S.-backed coun­tert­er­ror­ism force based in So­ma­lia. But he said al-Shabab’s ter­ri­tory had been “sys­tem­at­i­cally re­duced.”

Obama came to of­fice vow­ing to move the United States off a per­pet­ual war foot­ing and promis­ing to wage a smarter, swifter war on in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism.

But his East African so­journ serves as a stark re­minder that seven years into his pres­i­dency the long, dif­fi­cult fight against ter­ror­ism re­mains a cen­tral and vex­ing com­po­nent of his for­eign pol­icy.

“As is true around the world, what we find is, is that we can de­grade sig­nif­i­cantly the ca­pac­i­ties of these ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions, but they can still do dam­age,” Obama said at the news con­fer­ence. “And part of our an­nounce­ment to­day in­volves ad­di­tional fund­ing, ad­di­tional as­sis­tance that we’re pro­vid­ing the Kenyan se­cu­rity forces to deal with these very spe­cific

coun­tert­er­ror­ism threats.”

Obama’s dis­cus­sions with Keny­atta have been dom­i­nated by the ques­tion of how best to counter Is­lamist ex­trem­ists en­gaged in reg­u­lar at­tacks against civil­ians. “We are deep­en­ing that democ­racy while fight­ing global ter­ror­ists who seek to de­stroy our way of life,” Keny­atta said. “Left un­de­feated, they will re­draw the in­ter­na­tional sys­tem and make room for vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism and tyranny.”

Keny­atta said his coun­try is new to the fight against ter­ror­ism and is learn­ing from part­ners such as the United States, and added: “This is an ex­is­ten­tial fight for us.”

Se­cu­rity will also be sim­i­larly dom­i­nant dur­ing the pres­i­dent’s time in Ethiopia, a na­tion that has worked to keep the in­sta­bil­ity in So­ma­lia from spilling across its borders and that has dis­patched peace­keep­ing forces to South Su­dan and else­where.

“Coun­tert­er­ror­ism will cer­tainly be a fo­cus,” na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Su­san E. Rice told re­porters be­fore Obama left for Africa. While al-Qaeda af­fil­i­ates are the pri­mary con­cern in East Africa, Rice said, “in West and North Africa, ob­vi­ously we have seen [the Is­lamic State] be­come an in­creas­ing pres­ence, par­tic­u­larly in the Maghreb, but also in Nige­ria.”

Ken­nethMenkhaus, a po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor at David­son Col­lege, said it is hard to be hope­ful that closer co­op­er­a­tion be­tween coun­tries could re­solve the re­gion’s prob­lems any­time in the near fu­ture.

“The Horn of Africa presents ex­traor­di­nar­ily com­plex po­lit­i­cal and se­cu­rity dilem­mas, for which there’s no ob­vi­ous an­swer,” Menkhaus said in an in­ter­view. “The ques­tion re­ally is which is the least bad choice, and how can you kick open doors which, down the road, could present op­por­tu­ni­ties for con­flict res­o­lu­tion.”

Obama’s de­ci­sion to visit the African Union’s head­quar­ters in Ad­dis Ababa, Ethiopia— the first sit­ting U.S. pres­i­dent to do so — is part of his push to build ca­pac­ity among African na­tions to ad­dress the prob­lems of their re­gion.

Ethiopia and Kenya — both of which bor­der So­ma­lia and South Su­dan, coun­tries that re­main riven by deep con­flict — have con­trib­uted troops to mul­ti­ple re­gional peace­keep­ing oper­a­tions. Both are part of the African Union Mis­sion in So­ma­lia (AMISOM) and the U.N.-African Union Mis­sion in Dar­fur (UNAMID). Ethiopia is also part of another U.N. force in Su­dan and played a key role in try­ing to bro­ker a peace agree­ment in South Su­dan, while Kenya has sent troops to the U.N. peace­keep­ing mis­sion there.

In 2015, Kenya re­ceived $100 mil­lion in U.S. coun­tert­er­ror­ism as­sis­tance — more than dou­bling the amount al­lo­cated the pre­vi­ous year.

As a re­sult of this week­end’s talks, the Mas­sachusetts Na­tional Guard and the Kenyan gov­ern­ment will sign a part­ner­ship agree­ment, a se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said, and the ad­min­is­tra­tion has pledged to work with Congress to pro­vide ad­di­tional coun­tert­er­ror­ism aid to Kenya.

Vicki Hud­dle­ston, who served as U.S. am­bas­sador to Mali as well as deputy as­sis­tant sec­re­tary for Africa at the Pen­tagon, said the two coun­tries “have stepped for­ward in the fight against ter­ror­ism in So­ma­lia, and we need to rec­og­nize Ethiopia for what it’s done re­gard­ing ter­ror­ism and ex­trem­ism in the re­gion.”

Obama has pro­moted U.S. coun­tert­er­ror­ism work with al­lies in So­ma­lia and Ye­men as a model for how the United States can pur­sue its se­cu­rity goals with­out de­ploy­ing com­bat troops.

Ethiopia has widely been per­ceived as hav­ing an ef­fec­tive mil­i­tary force, in­clud­ing in its Ogaden re­gion, which is largely So­mali, though some of its ef­forts have been ac­com­pa­nied by acts of po­lit­i­cal re­pres­sion.

Al-Shabab launched two hor­rific at­tacks in the past two years: the Septem­ber 2013 oc­cu­pa­tion of Nairobi’s West­gate shop­ping mall, which left 67 dead; and the strike in April at Garissa Univer­sity Col­lege in Kenya, which took the lives of 147. Those losses have seared the con­scious­ness of Kenyan lead­ers in the same way the Sept. 11, 2001, at­tacks af­fected U.S. politi­cians.

Obama noted those at­tacks in his re­marks Satur­day. “Ear­lier, I had the op­por­tu­nity to meet with sur­vivors and fam­i­lies of vic­tims of the bomb­ing of our U.S. Em­bassy in 1998,” Obama said at the news con­fer­ence. “In the face of de­spi­ca­ble vi­o­lence, such as the at­tack on Garissa Univer­sity Col­lege and the West­gate Mall, the Kenyan peo­ple have shown in­cred­i­ble re­solve and re­mark­able re­silience.”

Part of the aim of Obama’s visit is to bol­ster that re­solve. “On se­cu­rity, the United States and Kenya are al­ready strong part­ners,” he said, “and to­day we reaf­firm that we stand united in the face of ter­ror­ism.”

Mwenda Njoka, a Kenyan In­te­rior Min­istry spokesman, said in an in­ter­view that “ter­ror­ism is the key threat we face” and that Kenya needs more U.S. aid to wage the bat­tle.

“We need tech­nol­ogy that al­lows us to mon­i­tor and pre­vent the en­emy’s ef­forts at re­cruit­ment,” Njoka said. “Whether that’s sur­veil­lance or en­cryp­tion tech­nol­ogy, we know the Amer­i­cans have the ca­pac­ity to do this.”

The coun­try’s se­cu­rity forces were heav­ily crit­i­cized af­ter the West­gate at­tack, which they failed to pre­vent de­spite warn­ings from Kenyan in­tel­li­gence agents. Of­fi­cials ad­mit those mis­takes and say they have im­proved their ca­pac­ity.

“The left hand didn’t know what the right was do­ing,” Njoka said, call­ingWest­gate “a wake-up call.”

But Kenya’s re­newed de­ter­mi­na­tion to fight ex­trem­ists has come at a cost.

Some of the coun­try’s ef­forts to crack down on ter­ror­ists within its borders have prompted an out­cry from Mus­lim or­ga­ni­za­tions and hu­man rights groups, who say that a com­bi­na­tion of eth­nic pro­fil­ing and cor­rup­tion have un­der­mined the ef­forts’ ef­fec­tive­ness and fu­eled ex­trem­ism.

One of the most no­to­ri­ous coun­tert­er­ror­ism oper­a­tions oc­curred in 2014, when Kenyan po­lice rounded up more than 1,000 So­mali refugees and Kenyan Mus­lims in Nairobi and de­tained them in a large soc­cer sta­dium for days. Kenyan of­fi­cials said it was a cru­cial op­er­a­tion to pre­vent another at­tack, but hu­man rights groups said it was un­law­ful and in­hu­mane.

Obama will be speak­ing in the sta­dium dur­ing his visit — a shock to Kenya’s So­mali com­mu­nity, which re­mains trou­bled by the op­er­a­tion.

At Satur­day’s news con­fer­ence, he en­cour­aged the Kenyan gov­ern­ment not to per­se­cute or alien­ate mi­nor­ity groups in its ef­forts to crack down on ter­ror­ism. Al-Shabab has long tried to re­cruit fight­ers in Kenya by point­ing to the se­cu­rity forces’ mis­treat­ment of Mus­lims.

“We need to make sure the ap­proaches taken in root­ing out po­ten­tial ter­ror­ist threats don’t cre­ate more prob­lems than they solve,” Obama said.

Mus­lims make up roughly 11 per­cent of Kenya’s pop­u­la­tion; So­mali refugees in the coun­try num­ber nearly 422,000, and the num­ber of Kenyans of So­mali ori­gin is es­ti­mated to be more than 2 mil­lion.

Al-Amin Ki­mathi, who chairs the Mus­lim Hu­man Rights Fo­rum, said the tac­tics have “led to a po­lar­iza­tion of Kenyan so­ci­ety” and have been “one ma­jor con­trib­u­tor to the rad­i­cal­iza­tion that we’ve seen across the re­pub­lic.”

Sen. Christo­pher A. Coons (DDel.), a mem­ber of the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions sub­com­mit­tee on African af­fairs, who joined the pres­i­dent on his trip to Africa, said Kenya, like other coun­tries, needs to think through how to bal­ance re­spect for hu­man rights with its ef­forts to main­tain the se­cu­rity of its peo­ple.

“How democ­ra­cies re­spond to ter­ror­ism is an en­dur­ing chal­lenge for all of us,” Coons said.


Kenyans gather to watch Pres­i­dent Obama’s con­voy in Nairobi, where a ter­ror­ist siege at a shop­ping mall two years ago killed 67 peo­ple. “We can de­grade sig­nif­i­cantly the ca­pac­i­ties of these ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions, but they can still do dam­age,” the pres­i­dent said.


Pres­i­dent Obama and Kenyan Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta de­part af­ter a joint news con­fer­ence in Nairobi. Keny­atta said his coun­try is new to the fight against ter­ror­ism and is learn­ing from part­ners such as the United States. He added: “This is an ex­is­ten­tial fight for us.” Se­cu­rity will also be a dom­i­nant topic when the pres­i­dent vis­its Ethiopia.

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