Mohammed Adow and his family survived a massacre of a different kind in Kenya in 1980.
The Al Jazeera correspondent and his parents miraculously escaped while thousands of their neighbours were killed in the small town of Garissa on the border of Kenya and Somalia 33 years ago.
The Kenyan family, who are ethnic Somalians, were not attacked by Muslim militants, but by Kenyan armed forces.
Now Adow believes that the Kenyan authorities must shoulder some responsibility for the attack by militants from Somalia-based group al-Shabaab on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping centre.
Adow, who owns a home 4km away from this week’s horror, says al-Shabaab has used impoverished northeastern Kenya as a springboard to attack the capital.
He says the government’s many years of heavy-handed and collective punishment of Somalians living on the border of Kenya may have played a role in the attack in which at least 72 were killed.
“This (Westgate) attack didn’t come out of the blue. There were a number of smaller al-Shabaab attacks on security forces and Christian churches in northeastern Kenya,” says Adow.
“In fact, about 100, if not more, attacks were carried out between November 2011 and now. They started immediately after Kenya’s invasion of Somalia in 2011. One could say these attacks were a dry run for the bigger hit on Nairobi. They were testing the resolve and preparedness of our security to deal with a serious hit.”
The government’s response to these attacks, he says, has alienated Somali-Kenyans in the region by making them feel like outsiders in their own country.
For example, he says, after three soldiers were killed in the region last year, government troops descended on Garissa and burnt down the market.
“Whenever there is an attack, people would be arrested en masse and thrown into jail. It didn’t matter if they were suspects or not.”
Last year’s attack, he said, resembled that of 1980.
Then, the armed forces arrived in Garissa, raped the women, killed thousands of residents and burnt down their homes in retaliation for the deaths of three government officials.
“Our house was also burnt down. We lost everything and had to start from scratch. Four years later, in the neighbouring town of Wajir a security operation went awry and the military rounded up men, put them on an airstrip and set some of them alight. Some died of dehydration, others were shot at point blank range,” adds Adow.
Because of this, many in the region will not report al-Shabaab’s activities, even if they are aware of them, he says.
Others, especially young men, join al-Shabaab to protect themselves from the brutality visited upon them by the security forces.
Adow’s documentary, Kenya’s Hidden Pogroms, will air on Al Jazeera, DStv channel 406, on October 24
Source : City Press (South Africa)