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Tag: Nairobi

J. S. Ondara: Saying Goodbye

Tuesday, 26 February, 2019

He grew up in the slums of Nairobi and learned English from the songs of Bob Dylan, but he neither copies nor imitates. J. S.Ondara is a talented wordsmith — “My heart is never on time / Always a little behind” — and his androgynous voice is quite a contrast to the raspy tone of the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature winner. Dylan “electrified” the music world in 1965 with his set at the Newport Folk Festival and J. S. Ondara will follow in the master’s steps there on 28 July. The gig is sold out already.


The urban battleground

Thursday, 10 October, 2013 0 Comments

This just in via the BBC: “Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has been seized by armed men from a hotel in the capital, Tripoli.” Attacks such as this and like that on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi underline what we’ve already seen in other cities: urban environments with their hotels, shopping centres and restaurants will be the battlegrounds of the future. And the siege, with its commando-style tactics and penetration of the city’s systems, is increasingly the tactic of choice for the enemies of civilization.

In his new book, Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla, counterinsurgency strategist Dr. David Kilcullen examines conflicts in Benghazi, Kingston, Mumbai and other cities to explain the changing face of warfare. Given the major trends of the 21st century — population growth, coastal urbanization and increasing digital connectivity — he predicts a future of savage cities, and increasing intersections between crime and conflict in the real and virtual urban environments. Kilcullen argues that dealing with these challenges will require insight and expertise outside the military realm — from urban planning to systems engineering to alternative energy technology.

How countries can diffuse urban conflict was the theme of a discussion with Dr. Kilcullen hosted last month by The New America Foundation. It’s excellent. By the way, we end our urban-themed week here tomorrow with a look at Big Data and the City.


Kofi Awoonor, victim of Islamism

Thursday, 3 October, 2013 0 Comments

There’s a page on Wikipedia that lists “mortalities from battles and other individual military operations or acts of violence, sorted by death toll.” When it comes to the section titled “Terrorist attacks,” we can see that eight of the top 10 life-destroying atrocities are attributed to “Islamism”. With 67 victims, the 21 September massacre in the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi doesn’t make the top 100, but it is attributed to “Islamism” and among the victims was Kofi Awoonor, the Ghanaian poet and author who was attending a literary festival in Kenya at the time. These lines from his Songs of Sorrow are tragically prescient:

I have wandered on the wilderness
The great wilderness men call life
The rain has beaten me,
And the sharp stumps cut as keen as knives
I shall go beyond and rest.
I have no kin and no brother,
Death has made war upon our house;

When death, in the form of Islamism, made war upon the house of civilization in Nairobi and claimed the lives of children, women and an old poet from Ghana, the liberal elite could not bear to call out the culprit. The perpetrators cannot be called “terrorists”; we must use “militant” instead and rather than blame their religious perversion, the absurd Simon Jenkins writing in the Guardian claimed that shopping malls are responsible for their murderous hatred:

“The modern urban obsession with celebrity buildings and high-profile events offers too many publicity-rich targets. A World Trade Centre, a Mumbai hotel, a Boston marathon, a Nairobi shopping mall are all enticing to extremists. Defending them is near impossible. Better at least not to create them. A shopping mall not only wipes out shopping streets, it makes a perfect terrorist fortress, near impossible to assault.”

Followers of Islam must finally confront and denounce the extremists who kill in the name of Allah. Until that happens, innocents will continue to suffer. Blaming shopping malls, hotels and marathons for the actions of the jihadists offers a cowardly fig leaf for terrorism and insults the memory of Kofi Awoonor, who once wrote: “On such a day who would dare think of dying? So much Freedom means that we swear we’ll postpone dying until the morning after.”


Frederick Forsyth has al-Shabab in his Kill List

Thursday, 26 September, 2013 0 Comments

The Kill List “Eighty percent of success is showing up,” said Woody Allen, famously, but what about the critical remainder? Success is tied to timing so which part of good timing is due to good luck? Or is good timing a function of hard work? These questions are worth discussing in light of the latest thriller from Frederick Forsyth, The Kill List. What makes its appearance right now so uncanny is that much of the story plays out in Somalia, home to the terrorist group al-Shabab, which provides sanctuary for the fanatical Islamist at the centre of the novel. Following the weekend slaughter at Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, the name al-Shabab, meaning “The Youth” in Arabic, is now associated with butchery and horror as fact intersects with fiction.

In Forsyth’s novel, the evil sermons of the wicked “Preacher” are being broadcast in immaculate English from a command centre in the Somali port of Kismayo, and in the real world on Monday a man identifying himself as Abu Umar, an al-Shabab commander in Kismayo, spoke impeccable English as he offered details on the identity of the terrorists and the siege that suggested a command centre inside Somalia was running the operation. Forsyth is concise on the tragic story of this wretched place, which once had comprised French Somaliland, British Somaliland and the former Italian Somaliland. Snippet:

“After a few years of the usual dictatorship, the once thriving and elegant colony where wealthy Italians use to vacation had lapsed into civil war. Clan fought clan, tribe fought tribe, warlord after warlord sought supremacy. Finally, with Mogadishu and Kismayo just seas of rubble, the outside world had given up.

A belated notoriety had returned when the beggared fishermen of the north turned to piracy and the south to Islamic fanaticism. Al-Shabab had arisen not as an offshoot but as an ally to Al-Qaeda and conquered all the south. Mogadishu hovered as a fragile token capital of a corrupt regime living on aid…”

Frederick Forsyth provides much more than a page turner when he writes thrillers. The Kill List is history, geography and a warning to the civilized world as well. As events at Westgate Mall have shown, the barbarians are at the gates.