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An African’s View on Osama bin Laden’s Death

Much has been said about the death of Osama bin Laden. We’ve heard reaction from all around the world from Ground Zero to the Arab world. KUNC commentator Pius Kamau has an African perspective of what bin Laden’s death means for his country.

Several years before Al Qaeda’s armies of the night turned their attention to New York's Twin Towers, they brought their death and terror to Kenyans and Tanzanians. As Americans openly rejoice Osama Bin Laden’s death, so do folks in East Africa. I for one have a certain sense of satisfaction; my sister was a victim in the Nairobi US embassy attack in 1998 in which thousands of Kenyans were killed or severely maimed. Bin Laden’s bombs left a huge crater where the embassy once stood – Nairobi’s Ground Zero. Al Qaeda's brand of terror touched thousands across Africa before eventually landing on the American shores.

But Kenyans’ celebration of Osama Bin Laden’s death is tinged with caution. Unlike Americans they are on the geographic front lines of the war on terror. Kenya’s northern neighbor, Somalia, one of Africa’s failed states, has for the last ten years been lost to terrorists. More and more it resembles the Taliban’s Afghanistan. Al Shabaab - a militant offshoot of al Qaeda - is now the dominant poweron the Horn of Africa. Despite Bin Laden’s death, the war on terror is a daily reality across wide swathes of Africa and Asia. I say this not to dampen America’s jubilation, but to ask each one of us to temper our joy with a note of caution.

Still, much has changed between September 11th 2001 and the first few months of this year. As if to reject what Al Qaeda stood for, the Middle East is blossoming with its youthful revolt. Street protests have overthrown dictators; calls for democratic change ring across the Middle East. I welcome these changes and suspect that in many of these countries secular, anti Islamist governments will take root in the future. The antidote to bin Laden’s backward looking call is education, fighting against corruption, enlightenment, and respect for women’s rights and democracy.

It’s the call one can hear loudly in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and Yemen.  As opposed to Bin Laden’s vision of destruction and anarchy, these people want to create, to renew and build. I’m pleased to see that we have joined them in their quest to create a new Middle East. But we can't close our eyes to sub-Saharan Africa. We should take advantage of the new winds of change blowing across North Africa to encourage a more ethical approach towards governance and democratic evolution.

This may sound un-connected to bin Laden's death and Al Qaeda. The fact is the best weapon against religious fanaticism and political radicalization is knowledge and education. The world can best combat extremism and mad men who use terror and murder for their causes not by bombing villages – but by helping to build schools, clinics and roads.  In the long run they are much cheaper and more lasting.


Born in Kenya and trained in Spain, Pius Kamau has been in surgical practice in the Denver area for three decades. He was a columnist for The Rocky Mountain News and has written for The Denver Post. Kamau’s commentaries have also been featured on NPR, in the Huffington Post and other national magazines and newspapers. He’s also contributed to several books and recently finished his memoir.