The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

The Al-Shabab Mall Attack and the Responsibility of Imperialism

Sep 30, 2013

A large group of men identifying with the Somali Islamist group Al-Shabab entered a shopping mall in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, and took control of it for several days, holding dozens of people hostage. After a series of violent clashes, the death toll stood at 68, with more than 200 wounded.

Westgate Mall, Al-Shabab’s chosen target, is an enormous luxury shopping mall, a window display of U.S. and European wealth situated in an ocean of misery. Each day, thousands of people from Kenya’s most privileged social layers and numerous foreigners go there to shop.

The terrorists claimed to be carrying out jihad and acting for Al-Qaeda. They targeted Kenya because, since 2012, 5000 Kenyan soldiers have been stationed in Somalia. For twenty years, Somalia has been in the grip of fighting between rival militias organized on the basis of religion and clan identity who are competing for power. This fighting has led to the collapse of the central government. On several occasions, neighboring governments have intervened to support one or the other of the rival factions. Their interventions have also been pushed by the United States, which does not look favorably on this permanent instability and on the 2006 installation of a hostile Islamist power. To counter the Islamist militias, the U.S. strongly supported Ethiopia’s intervention from 2006 to 2009, then that of Uganda under the cover of an African force of the United Nations, and then that of Kenya.

In the past, the imperialist powers–particularly the U.S.–have themselves contributed to the development of the Islamic terrorism that they now confront in this part of Africa. In 1977, the U.S. backed Somalia in a war against Ethiopia, which was then supported by the Soviet Union. The money sent by the monarchies of the Persian Gulf as part of this support greatly benefitted the Islamist movement. As happened in many other regions of the world–in Afghanistan in particular–these Islamist forces created armed groups who turned against their former protectors. This was what happened when a U.S. expeditionary force was sent to Somalia in 1993.

Since then, this situation of permanent civil war has been worsened by poverty and under-development. For many, the only hope of survival is to belong to a militia and have arms to extort money from the population. And here again imperialism is entirely responsible, because it maintains this unjust social order that condemns countries like Somalia to such appalling underdevelopment.

Al-Shabab uses blind violence and nurtures a reactionary ideology. However, the big powers that ravage and pillage this region of Africa and play off religious, ethnic, and clan differences, bear an equal responsibility for these attacks. They practice the “civilized” form of barbarity.