Most people don't pay much attention to political news, most of the time. So they just think whatever the news story they happen to see (or hear) tells them to think. So they see there are monsters in our world, but they are often mistaken about how monsters are made.
There was a massacre of civilians, most of them students, in Kenya this last week. A few members of the Somali organization, Shabaab, killed nearly 150 people at the Garissa University College in Kenya on April 2, 2015.
It was a crime, a war crime, and a crime against humanity. It was about as terrible of behavior as humans can conduct, at that scale.
To understand what happened, how some men born as innocent (and potentially deadly) as anyone else ended up assigned to kill these innocent students, and accepted the assignment, and carried it out, it helps to know a little history.
I started paying attention to Somalia around the time of the Black Hawk Down incident (aka Battle of Mogadishu) in 1993. So let me refresh your memory.
When the Cold War ended the leaders of the U.S. concluded that they might as well run the world. Somalia in 1993 was not run by anyone. It was a chaotic landscape of rival clans and their war lords. Largely devoid of resources that could be exploited by industrialists and the corporate security state, Somalia nevertheless was and is geographically important. The U.S. and allies tried to take over Somalia in 1993, but were defeated by the most powerful of the warlords, Mohamed Farrah Aidid. Despite that victory, General Aidid was unable to unite Somalia under his command.
A tiny group of men eager to take money from the U.S. declared themselves the national government in Mogadishu, but war lords continued to rule in reality.
In response to the rather unpleasant situation, at the grass-roots level Somalis started setting up local courts to try to cut down on rampant levels of crime. These were based on traditional local courts, which in Somalia, a mainly Islamic area, were Sharia courts. They were popular, spread, grew in strength, and became known as the Union of Islamic Courts. By 2000 they were the closest thing to an effective government Somalia had. By 2006 they had defeated most of the war lords.
At least a couple of the warlords had been on the U.S. payroll. Recall that in 2006 the U.S. was still fighing both in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Al Qaeda was Public Enemy Number One. Al Qaeda had sent emmisaries to the Islamic Courts. But they were not in positions of power. Their attitude was contrary to the Courts goal. The Courts were working for peace and unity in Somalia. As to Sharia law, they were quite moderate in their use of punishment. They varied locally, but mainly practiced a civilized, somewhat modern form of Islam.
Nevertheless, the U.S. security state (then with George W. Bush as a figurehead) reacted very negatively to the words "Islamic" and "Sharia." The Union of Islamic Courts was declared to be a terrorist organization, a bunch of rebels against the U.S.'s hand picked government in Mogadishu. The U.S. bombed them and paid Ethiopia to invade Somalia in 2007.
At first the Ethiopians, who were much better equiped than the Somali people, did quite well on the battlefield. But they were hated, and so was the U.S. puppet government they protected in Mogadishu.
Within the Islamic Courts movement, suddenly the main goal became kicking foreign troops out of Somalia. That requires a different type of leadership and operations than trying to bring peace and justice to a country. Who new how to fight Ethiopians? Why, the Al Qaeda operatives. Quickly training young, enthusiastic volunteers in their brand of Islam and mayhem, Shabaab was born (naturally, this description is a simplification of complex infighting).
The original Shabaab was also different than today's Shabaab. Despite its authoritatianism and religious orthodoxy, it was reasonably popular and became the de facto government of most of Somalia. Ethiopia was unable to control the countryside, and eventually could not even hang onto Mogadishu.
So eventually the U.S. paid a whole bunch of nations to invade Somalia. Troops poured in from all over: Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, the Ethiopeans again. Meanwhile U.S. battleships shelled coastal towns, drones assassinated whoever they could find, and U.S. Special Forces unleashed their own kind of mayhem on the countryside.
Shabaab no longer controls much territory. It is a guerilla group now. Only the most fanatical members remain. Only those who love to kill remain. It's like a whole organization of special forces guys.
It is sad that ordinary Kenyan students had to pay the price for the government of Kenya's decision to invade Somalia. It is also bad strategy on Shabaab's part. Had they assassinated Uhuru Kenyatta much of Kenya would have not minded. But indiscriminate killing is uniting Kenyans against Somalis, just as the invasion united Somalis against Kenya.
If the U.S. had not paid for the destruction of the Islamic Courts, there would have been no Garissa University College massacre. Maybe the Bush/Obama team had some sort of grand plan I am not seeing. But it looks like the plan never amounted to more than giving stupid people too much money, too much power, and too many weapons.
Note: Shabaab is also spelled out as Shabab and Al-Shabaab