When newspapers are closing their foreign bureaus…

…who will report from the desolate border area between Kenya and Somalia?  For now, fortunately — though covering what seems like half a continent — there is The New York Times‘ Jeffrey Gettleman, who reports how easily Somali al-Shaba militants are slipping easily to and from the thinly marked border with Kenya.

The most interesting takeaway from the piece, for me — more so even than the dangers of Shabab recruitment in refugee camps, of destabilization in Kenya, or of the bribery that is rife along the border — is that the region is not going unwatched.

Ever since Al Qaeda blew up the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, killing more than 200 people and wounding thousands, American counterterrorism officials have been watching East Africa warily. But in the areas along the Kenya-Somalia border, it seems that anti-Americanism is still spreading, despite the millions of dollars the American government has spent on a hearts-and-minds campaign.

Take an American-built well in the village of Raya. No one is using it, though Raya is desperately poor and dry.

“The Americans wanted to finish us,” said one villager, Ibrahim Alin, convinced that the American water engineers who built the well had poisoned it to sterilize him.

Bizarre.  I don’t think this shows the futility of “hearts-and-minds” campaigns, but it does speak to their great difficulty, when anti-Americanism is such a cheaply easy political card for regional actors to play.

(image from flickr user doneastwest under a Creative Commons license)