Take closer look within in fight against terrorism

Whether from a moral or political standpoint, the matter of terrorism in Kenya is a sticky issue. In 2014 when the government carried out a security operation in Nairobi’s Eastleigh estate, Members of Parliament of Somali origin cried foul, claiming the government was stereotyping a whole community for the ills of a few miscreants.

Eastleigh is densely populated by members of the Somalia community doing honest business, yet this made it easy for militia from the Somalia based terrorists group, Al Shabaab, to blend in without raising suspicion. As far back as 2011 when terrorist attacks began to intensify, the government had its focus on Eastleigh. Granted, it would be grossly wrong to brand faithfuls of the Islamic faith terrorists because, as the joke goes, all Al Shabaab are Muslims professing the Islamic faith.

But truth be told, the 2014 security operation in Eastleigh achieved something. Viewed together with the earlier entry of the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) into Somalia in 2011 in pursuit of the Al Shabaab, Kenya has enjoyed relative calm; until the attack on Dusit D2 hotel on Riverside Drive, Nairobi, happened on Tuesday. Incidentally, the attacks on Kenya between 2013 and now happened when we were distracted by divisive politics.

In 2014 when opposition Coalition for Democracy (CORD) was on Jubilee’s case,  and following several terrorist attacks at the Coast, there were attempts by the government to blame the state of insecurity in the country on CORD. Having come after the 2012 attacks on a church and bus stage, the Westgate Mall attack in 2013, and other attacks in early 2014, a bewildered government reeling from the shock needed to deflect attention from itself, and the opposition was conveniently standing by.

Been distracted

The Dusit hotel happened in the midst of infighting within the Jubilee party over 2022 Uhuru succession politics and claims by a section of leaders from Central Kenya that Uhuru had ignored the region in terms of development.

We have been distracted, and because our security services are more an extension of the Executive, it would seem not much attention has been paid to security matters lately.

While the response of the security services in the Dusit Hotel attack is commendable, it was still reactionary if the allegation the police were notified of the attack in advance turns out true. This type of speculation is fanned by the economy of truth coming out of the police headquarters.

Perhaps constrained by the Security Laws (Amendment) Bill 2014 , patriotism or simply being guided by  ethical practice, the media has exercised a lot of restraint; not venturing its own opinions as opposed to relaying information as seen or communicated by relevant authorities.

Too often, the media has been bashed for the acts of insensitivity, omission or commission, rightly or wrongly, by the public.

Country’s security

While our media acted professionally, the New York Times went ahead to print a gory picture of the attack, completely insensitive to the feelings of the relatives of the deceased. Why didn’t it publish the gory details from the Paris, Hebdo attack, for instance? Whatever explanation the paper later gave for its action holds no water; it was insulting and demeaning to the dead, injured and Kenyans.

In his message to the nation after the Dusit incident, President Kenyatta vowed his government would pursue the financiers and planners of the attack wherever they run to. Later, the Director of Criminal Investigations (DCI) said two suspects of the attack had been arrested in Ruaka and Eastleigh.

Yes, it goes back to Eastleigh. This raises fundamental questions: What needs to be done about this area? Is another security operation in Eastleigh long overdue? How effectively are border points on the Kenya- Somalia border policed? Are all visitors to Kenya from Somalia vetted before entry is allowed? Are a few corruptible police officers at checkpoints sacrificing the country’s security on the altar of bribes? More importantly, what became of plans to build a wall along the Kenya-Somalia border?

Another issue that comes to mind is the threat by leaders from Garissa, among them Garissa Town Member of Parliament Aden Duale to expose financiers of terrorist activities in the region if they did not own up within 30 days of the attack on Garissa university on April 2, 2015. That attack claimed 148 lives. Such statements should not have been taken lightly.

In an unguarded moment, those leaders could have inadvertently betrayed what they knew and must be taken to task. Dismissing it as empty political rhetoric is defeatist and detrimental to the country’s security.

The government needs to take the issue of community policing seriously. The Nyumba Kumi concept was a good one, but little has been done to make it workable. With training and at a nominal fee, the government can create groups of reliable informers in high security risk areas.

Mr Chagema is a Correspondent at The [email protected]

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