US Plan Aims to Help African Nations Tackle Terrorism, Natural Disasters

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - The United States has launched an initiative to help Kenya improve its capacity to respond to natural and manmade disasters, including terrorist attacks, U.S. Embassy official Leslie Rowe said on Monday.

The project is part of a broader program aimed at helping governments in the volatile region cope with disasters, but experts say African suspicions of U.S. motives are hampering the efforts.

The initiative comes at a time when the East African nation is working on improving airport security and coastline and border surveillance to prevent terrorist attacks.

Kenya is at the heart of the East Africa and Horn of Africa regions, where governments in countries like Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) face internal armed rebellions or are considered soft targets for terrorist networks.

The program began on Monday with a workshop bringing together disaster experts drawn from Kenya and U.S. security agencies.

Rowe said the U.S. government agencies were "very serious" about helping Kenya in this way.

Disaster preparedness experts from the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) will throughout this week join their Kenyan counterparts in laying the groundwork for a five-year plan, according to CENTCOM Disaster Preparedness Branch head Ron Rook.

The plan forms part of the U.S.-led Golden Spear exercises and symposiums, a program initiated in 2000 to develop the capability of 11 Eastern and Horn of Africa countries to prevent terrorist attacks and destabilize terror activities in this region.

Since then, all 11 countries with the exception of Egypt and the DRC had been able to identify specific threats facing them, said Dr. Monde Muyangwa of the African Center for Strategic Studies at the Washington-based National Defense University.

But, she said, none of the target countries had yet reached the goal of being prepared to cope with disasters.

Muyangwa attributed this to African suspicions of American intentions and said the African countries were as a result moving too slowly in pursuing the benefits of the program.

"We need your [African] support and cooperation, because U.S. commitment is not wavering," Muyangwa said. "It is very much there."

Muyangwa said it was crucial for the individual countries and for the broader region that this capacity is developed.

"The geo-political situation of this region - like the wars in DRC, [Sudan and Somalia] - has showed that these disasters transcend national borders."

African governments had a moral obligation to prepare for disasters for the sake of their people, she added.

Kenya has suffered two major terrorist disasters in the last six years, and its ability to contain domestic disasters is restricted by the lack of a well-informed workforce and poor infrastructure and equipment, according to a deputy minister in the president's office, Dr. Wilfred Machage.

In 1998, al Qaeda terrorists bombed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 260 people, including 11 Americans. In 2002, terrorists bombed a tourist hotel in the coastal city of Mombasa, killing 15 people, two of them Israelis.

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