Terror and football appear to make for an explosive connection in Africa. In 2010 in Uganda, around 70 people were killed in suicide bombings in restaurants they had assembled in to watch the FIFA world cup finals. In Kenya this year, 50 people, many of them watching a FIFA world cup match, were gunned down on the night of June 15. This was followed by another killing spree the next night that claimed 15 lives. As in Uganda in 2010, so in Kenya in 2014, the Somali militant organization, al-Shabab, has claimed responsibility for the killings. For the group, this is retributive justice for Uganda’s and Kenya’s meddling in Somalia. Their participation in the African Union Mission in Somalia has deprived al-Shabab of its control over major urban areas and ports such as Kismayo in southern Somalia that had been a source of its revenue. There is hardly any doubt about al-Shabab’s intentions or actions. They had been made clear during the group’s siege of a Nairobi mall last September. And yet, the Uhuru Kenyatta government in Kenya is ready to absolve al-Shabab of responsibility and keen to pass the blame on to what it describes as “local political networks”. In other words, the Kenyan president holds his political rivals responsible for the massacre. He kills two birds with one stone by doing so. One, he steers clear of the blame of being unable to prevent another terror attack in a country that has emerged the flag-bearer of post-colonial Africa’s politics and economy. Two, he conveniently puts his political adversaries at the risk of being blamed for fanning ethnic hatred. Although the Kenyan authorities have desisted from naming the religious or communal identities of those killed, the site of attack — a settlement of Kikuyu Christians — would lead to the obvious conclusion that a dominant ethnic group of the country was being targeted.
In whichever direction Mr Kenyatta may wish to direct public attention, the result may not be very different from what al-Shabab intends to effect: deepening the religious and ethnic fault lines in Kenya. That militants set free people affiliated to Islam during the mall siege and targeted Christians during the recent killings is evidence of this. Mr Kenyatta may even be right in drawing attention to ‘local’ issues. Without the underlying discord, terrorist organizations such as al Qaida or al-Shabab would not have advanced with such ease in the region.