By Makau Mutua
I am a worried man; worried by the security challenges that my homeland faces. But none of these challenges are as foundational as the brazen terror attacks by terrorists and assorted thugs.
Last Saturday’s heinous terror attack — by Somali Al Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabaab — at the upscale Westgate Mall struck at the heart of the Kenyan elite.
Sinister killings in Wajir, Marsabit, and Mandera counties beg more questions than we seem to have answers for.
Let me show you my cards.
I was an early and unapologetic advocate of the war against Al-Shabaab. The malevolent terror group is a medieval menace that must be stamped out.
I was thrilled when the Kenya Defence Forces joined African Union forces to wrest control of Somalia from the terror group. I bet every Kenyan was very proud of the great work and sacrifices of the men and women of KDF in Somalia.
It would’ve been foolish for Kenya to play possum, or blind, to the Al-Shabaab menace next door. But everyone knew that the devious extremists — who would return us to the Stone Age — were bound to exact revenge. It was a question of when — not whether — they would retaliate. Now they have.
American President Benjamin Franklin once said “those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither safety nor liberty”. The import of this is that a political democracy can’t exist where fear drives folks to trade away basic freedoms.
The fear of attacking Al-Shabaab — because they would counter-attack — would simply have appeased the monster. Just like a “nation of sheep begets a government of wolves” — to cite the famous American broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow — cowering in the face of a bully simply emboldens him.
Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata had it right — “it’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees”.
That’s why Kenya must fight fire with fire. Methinks Kenya must show Al-Shabaab — and the thuggish marauders in Northern Kenya — who is daddy. No state can survive the sort of insecurity creeping into Kenya.
Which begs the question — what can the Kenyan state do to fully control the country’s security?
Very soon no corner of the country will be safe. I am not advocating a police state. But I am asking for smarter police work, greater and clean security intelligence, and zero tolerance for corruption within the armed and security forces if Kenya is to be secured.
Some reports indicate that criminal and terror rackets may have corruptible moles within some of the Intelligence and security services.
Kenya can’t effectively surveil and deter terror attacks with a porous security apparatus. Effective and credible policing requires uncompromised professionalism within the ranks.
Let me return to the meaning of the Westgate terror attacks. Without doubt, the mall is a high value target for terror groups. There’s no more inviting target than upper class Kenyans and well-heeled expatriates.
The September 11 attacks in the United States taught terrorists one valuable lesson — you could deal a terrible blow to the economy by strategic attacks that strike at commanding heights of the economy, or state.
My guess is that the Al-Shabaab attackers sought to inflict pain on the Kenyan economy by demonstrating the vulnerability of a key economic venue. Scare away the shoppers, and you deal a blow to the economy. But this is what Kenyans and expats can’t afford to do — be scared away.
The government will have to demonstrate that it’s in control — and that shoppers are safe — if the terror group’s strategy is to fail. I suggest that Kenya works with states that have more experience with tracking such groups and preventing terror attacks.
Trans-border terror groups like Al Shabaab target not one country, but all. It’s telling Al-Shabaab simulated the 1998 Al Qaeda terror attacks in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam — by the simultaneous attacks in Mogadishu and Nairobi. That suggests more needs to be done to completely vanquish the group in Somalia.
Kenya must strike back, and wipe the group off the map.
Finally, I think there is a “moral causal link” between the attacks in Northern Kenya and the one at Westgate. The inability to put down the attacks in Wajir, Mandera, and Marsabit has exposed Kenya’s soft underbelly.
It’s given Al-Shabaab and other militia groups the impression that it’s open season. These are alarming developments that could destroy the country.
Kenya faces multiple challenges, but security must now top the list. The security question must be addressed now before it’s too late.
The primary responsibility of statehood — its legitimate claim to sovereignty and independence — is the ability to effectively govern and control its own territory. A state cedes the right to self-governance if it fails this crucial test.