Merchant of Death
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Kenya' Volatility Dangerous for the Region
The sudden spiral into near-chaos of much of Kenya, long regarded as one of the most stable nations in East Africa, is a powerful reminder of how quickly even seemingly-secure countries can edge toward the precipice.

The sudden flaring of ethnic rivalries, large-scale killings and unresolved electoral disputes combine to greatly weaken the credibility of the state at a time when radical Islamist groups, including al Qaeda, have made clear their intent to increase activity in the Horn of Africa region.

This is not to say there is a terrorist hand in the current events. There are legitimate grievances, ancient hostilities, abuses, corruption, etc. etc. All are legitimate reasons and pressures for internal strife and the general mess.

But Kenya is in a strategic position, has been an al Qaeda operational center in the past and sits in a bad neighborhood where the Islamists have a strong interest. The chaos there will only facilitate the Islamist strategy of spreading instability, as they look for weak spots into which they can flow.

Given the previous, large-scale activities of al Qaeda in Kenya (the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing, where the investigation revealed a sophisticated al Qaeda infrastructure), they know the lay of the land.

The Mombasa bombing of 2002 showed that al Qaeda-related groups maintained structure there, including cadres with the capacity to acquire and use, albeit unsuccessfully, surface-to-air missiles.

The Islamist activities in Kenya are not by accident, but by design, given the country's geographic location.

Kenya abuts Somalia and Sudan, as well as the volatile Ethiopia. Kenya had been the relative anchor in a region awash in instability and strife. It would be an obvious target, where resources could be easily mobilized to penetrate already-familiar surroundings.

It is similar in many ways to the sudden collapse of Cote d'Ivoire a few years ago. The thin veneer that held the country together was pierced when the government lost a significant amount of credibility through corruption and electoral fraud. Ethnic and religious rivalries flared in ways that seemed unimaginable only a few months before.

Policymakers and strategists tend to ignore or dismiss the seriousness of unrest and the weakening of states in sub-Saharan Africa because the region seems far away and of little threat.

But if one reads al Qaeda's works, where they specifically describe their strategy of creating small wars and conflicts that bleed the non-Muslim world of resources and political will, the shortsightedness of this thinking becomes clear.

To see the value of these stateless regions of the world, one need only to look at the territories in the Afghan-Pakistan border region, where al Qaeda, the Taliban (of Afghanistan and Pakistan), opium smugglers and weapons merchants can co-mingle, network and enter lucrative joint ventures.

Kenya, unfortunately, sits at the crossroads of where the Islamist revolution is hot (Somalia and Sudan) and where it would like to spread. It has a long history of al Qaeda activity in-country.

Because of this, the chaotic situation in Kenya poses a problem that will have an impact far beyond its national borders.
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