This week’s terrorist attack on a shopping mall in Kenya could have a positive influence on relations between the United States and the east African nation, according to a University of Iowa professor emeritus.
Joel D. Barkan, who for more than 30 years taught political science at the UI – particularly on topics involving developing countries, said several recent events have strained the complex relationship between the two nations, including President Barack Obama’s decision to skip Kenya during his July trip to Africa.
“I expect that if anything positive can come out of this horrific event … it would be that the United States and Kenya could get back to a more normal relationship,” said Joel D. Barkan, who now serves as a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C.
“I think some of the anti-American rhetoric might cool down a bit because Kenyans, I imagine, might draw into a closer relationship with us on counter-terrorism issues,” Barkan said.
U.S. ties to Kenya are many, according to Barkan, with numerous American agencies operating out of the nation, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But, on top of Obama’s “snub” of Kenya during his recent visit, Barkan said, Kenyans have became upset with the U.S. for its lack of interference in the International Criminal Court’s trial Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta for crimes against humanity following a 2007 election.
“I think there has been a failure on the part of the Kenyan government to really appreciate the U.S. government,” Barkan said.
Perhaps, he said, a united and reinvigorated focus on anti-terrorism issues sparked by the recent attack at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi could resolve that, according to Barkan.
“On security issues, they need us,” he said. “They need our help very badly.”
Barkan said the four-day terror rampage that began Saturday with armed members of an Islamist group opening fire on shoppers has hit somewhat close to home for him personally. Through his studies, research and work, Barkan has lived in Kenya on several occasions.
“I lived five blocks from this building,” he said. “There is an ATM across the street that I used on a number of occasions. When you read about something like this you say, ‘That could be me.’”
No one Barkan knew died in the attack, which so far has claimed 72 lives and is expected to account for more as officials continue to sift through the rubble. But, Barkan said, his wife knew Kofi Awoonor, a celebrated African poet and author who died in the attack.
“He was there with his son,” Barkan said.
Although the wound is deep and officials are just beginning to assess the full impact of the terrorist attack in Kenya, Barkan said, this isn’t the first time the nation has faced terrorism.
“My guess is in the near term, those malls will see a fallout from patronage,” he said. “But, within five or six months, it will be business as usual.”