Home OPINIONS Lessons from 1998 Nairobi bombing on international counter-terrorism collaboration

Lessons from 1998 Nairobi bombing on international counter-terrorism collaboration

August 7th, 1998 etched an indelible and sombre chapter in our history, a day that thrust us into the heart of darkness as the American Embassy in Nairobi, fell prey to the calculated assault of the Al Qaeda terrorist organization.

The cataclysmic events that unfurled on that fateful day reverberated across the globe, illuminating the relentless march of international terrorism to menacing heights. Within the confines of Nairobi, chaos erupted as a seismic explosion shattered the tranquility of the US Embassy, leaving a wake of devastation that seared into our collective memory.

Channel 1

The loud sounds of destruction were quickly replaced by loud cries of fear and urgent calls for help. The dark smoke rising from the ruins created a gloomy and eerie atmosphere, showing the terrible things that had happened.

In an endeavour to illuminate the shadow cast by the August 7th, 1998, bombing, we turn to the insights of a stalwart defender of peace. Mr. Charles Ikenye, a Counter Terrorism Expert, and the esteemed Executive Director of Epuka Ugaidi Organization, who unearths the intricate implications of this pivotal event on the landscape of counterterrorism efforts.

Can you provide an overview of the August 7th, 1998, bombing in Nairobi and its significance in the context of global terrorism?

The August 7th, 1998, bombing in Nairobi emerged as a tragic occurrence, showcasing a new and alarming facet of terrorism. This event, often referred to as the precursor of modern terrorism, was orchestrated by Al Qaeda under the leadership of Osama bin Laden. Its impact extended beyond Kenya, shaping a global awareness of the escalating menace of terrorism. This event marked a pivotal moment that catalysed a broadened perspective within counter-terrorism efforts, urging a unified global stance against the rise of global jihadism.

Do you think we were prepared for the event?

Regarding our preparedness for the event, it’s a mixed assessment. While our country is consistently vigilant in addressing security concerns, the nature of this attack posed unique challenges. It deviated from conventional security issues, catching us off guard due to its novelty. Uncertainty prevailed regarding the responsible entity—military, police, private security, or international authorities. The attack, though unexpected, prompted us to seize the opportunity for study and learning to enhance our preparedness.

Since the 1998 bombing, Kenya’s counter-terrorism capacity has undergone significant evolution. The attack served as a pivotal learning point, prompting us to delve into the complexities of global jihadism. Our approach shifted towards a comprehensive understanding of terrorist tactics and modus operandi, leading to the establishment of specialized units within both the military and the police force to counter terrorism.

We’ve recognized that countering terrorism goes beyond addressing the act itself—it involves countering the underlying ideology. This realization has propelled us to adopt a holistic strategy. Our response now encompasses not only security agencies but also embraces the soft power approach, leading to the creation of the National Counter Terrorism Centre. This centre focuses on mitigating terrorism through psychological, ideological, and societal means, fostering a multidimensional approach to combating this threat.

How did the Nairobi bombing influence the evolution of counter-terrorism tactics and approaches globally?

The 1998 Nairobi bombing significantly impacted the evolution of global counter-terrorism tactics. The attack underscored the shift towards globalized terrorism, as terrorists sought targets beyond their immediate regions. This realization prompted the necessity for counter-terrorism measures that transcend geographical borders. Consequently, a globalized approach emerged, fostering collaboration and coordination among counter-terrorism stakeholders worldwide. The Nairobi bombing acted as a catalyst, prompting a unified effort to combat terrorism on a global front.

How has the bombing affected your life in the long term, both physically and emotionally?

The long-term impact of the bombing is profound, affecting individuals physically and emotionally. Many, bear permanent scars from the attack, with lives lost and families shattered. Lifelong psychological trauma persists, underscoring the need for comprehensive care post-terror attack. Victims continue to grapple with enduring physical and psychological effects.

Sadly, lack of immediate support due to the novelty of the situation left deep scars that persist today. Lives were forever altered by the 1998 attack, highlighting the urgency of addressing the lasting consequences of terrorism.

What message would you like to convey to those who might not fully understand the consequences of such attacks on individuals and communities?

Safeguarding against another 1998 bombing is a shared duty for every member of our community. If you observe suspicious activities, ideologies promoted by rogue clerics, or unusual behaviour within a group or individual, it is your responsibility to report it, even at a minimum to the police. Recognizing signs of potential future terrorists is crucial. A hotline, like the National Counterterrorism Centre (0800721600), is available for such concerns. The fight against terrorism is no longer solely the realm of security agencies; it’s a collective obligation spanning all ages, backgrounds, and statuses.

At Epuka Ugaidi, we believe that the aftermath of the tragic August 7th, 1998, bombing in Nairobi revealed a significant shift in counter-terrorism strategies. This seminal event spurred a global awakening to the cross-border nature of modern terrorism. While reflecting on its lasting impact on individuals and communities, the imperative for collective vigilance and responsibility emerges prominently. By understanding the consequences of such attacks and actively engaging in counter-terrorism efforts, we can forge a safer and more resilient future for all. As we commemorate this solemn anniversary, we honour the resilience of the Kenyan people and the memories of the lives lost.

Winstone Wasonga is the Head of Programs Epuka Ugaidi Organization

Winstone Wasonga
+ posts