Nairobi mall attack strikes at Africa's boom image

Nairobi mall attack strikes at Africa's boom image
A policeman and photographers take cover after hearing gun shots near the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi.

JOHANNESBURG - When Islamist fighters from Somalia's al-Shabaab group stormed a Nairobi mall at the weekend, they knew they were hitting a high-profile symbol of Kenya's economic power in booming Africa.

The Israeli-built Westgate mall offering multiple levels of shops, cafes and restaurants epitomized the African consumer bonanza that is drawing foreign investment - from West and East - to one of the world's fastest growing continents.

Like the Algerian gas plant attacked by Saharan Islamists in January, the beige-coloured mall offered a high-impact target for militants to kill dozens and sow panic as they increasingly wage cross-border jihad, challenging Africa and the wider world.

From Mali to Algeria, Nigeria to Kenya, violent Islamist groups - tapping into local poverty, conflict, inequality or exclusion but espousing a similar anti-Western, anti-Christian creed - are striking at state authority and international interests, both economic and political.

John Campbell, a former US ambassador to Nigeria, said he believed insurgents like those who rebelled in Mali last year, the Nigerian Boko Haram Islamist sect and the Nairobi mall raiders were also partly motivated by anger with what he called "pervasive malgovernance" in Africa.

"This is undoubtedly anti-Western and anti-Christian but it also taps into a lot of deep popular anger against the political economy in which they find themselves, in which a very small group of people are basically raking off the wealth," he said.

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