Fight against terrorism bearing fruit, more still needed to succeed

While it is true that there hasn’t been any gruesome terrorist attack in Kenya in the past 4 years, when it happens as it did this week on Dusit Hotel in Nairobi, no part of the nation remains unaffected by the militants’ thirst for violence.

While Westgate Mall attack was, in the end, defined by ineptitude and failure; characterized by slow response by police and turf wars between the army and police that led to a botched rescue operation, this week’s Dusit Hotel attack got a different response. The lessons have been learnt.

Admittedly, what is clear from this latest heinous act is that Kenya has made progress on several fronts. And these lessons must continue leading the country in her search for a better and improved counter terrorism strategy, because the country is always a target due to its perceived relationship with the West.

And Kenya has to find a balance between her interests and those of the West on one hand and her security on the other.

Communication was much better this time. There were clear and regular updates by Kenyan police on the situation as it unfolded. This made the nation know what was happening compared to previous attacks in which the public relied on social and international media, which were more emotional and non-factual.

The Cabinet Secretary for Interior, Dr Fred Matiang’i addressed the public to reassure it and to bridge the information gap. Mainstream media was not left behind, having learnt its lessons too.

In fact, local media was constantly positive and gave messages of hope. Kenyans on Twitter were so active that they forced the New York Times to pull down some images it had uploaded from the Nairobi scene. To keep Kenyans updated and advised, local media interviewed security experts.

Security agencies

What was witnessed after the attack was good coordination and deployment of security agencies viewed against other attacks in Kenya; particularly what happened during the Westgate attack. This time, there was clear inter-agency coordination among security agencies that arrived on the ground less than 30 minutes after the attack.

This helped control the situation. Looking at the way the agencies carried out operations, perhaps the biggest lesson was how to conduct delicate operations in a seamless and coordinated manner, and this was witnessed in rescue operations at Dusit Hotel.

The response from police units was quick and effective. Inspector General of Police, Joseph Boinnet kept reassuring the public that he was in control of the operation. While the attack on Westgate lasted for hours, and the rescue operation went on for days, the assault on Dusit lasted for about 18 hours after which President Uhuru Kenyatta declared the operation over, that all terrorists had been killed.

Terror groups

Due to the quick and effective deployment and information which was relayed in good time, the security agencies were able to evacuate over 700 people, thus saving lives. The agencies were better equipped to deal with the situation than before.

The National Police Service (NPS) boasts several armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and other specialised equipment needed by special police units for such situations as well as those deployed along the volatile sections of the country’s borders to counter terrorism.

However, we are still to do more in our identification systems for all Kenyans, especially in the porous sections of Kenya where non Kenyans cross into the country and acquire Kenyan identification documents.

It is also through these sections that the terror groups find space to come into the country and commit murder. Kenyans must continue being at the forefront in working with security agencies to ensure their own safety.

At the national level, Kenya has surely learned some “valuable lessons” from past terror attacks. However, the country has to continue sealing the remaining loopholes to deal with future threats from the terrorist groups operating freely on the other side of the border. This is because there can be no half-way make-shift houses in Kenya’s policies and strategies on terrorism.

There is no denying the fact a number of measures have been taken to make Kenya’s security network foolproof, and many steps must be taken to fully control and deal with the situation. I keep my fingers crossed and remain positive.

Prof Mogambi, Communication and Social Change expert, teaches at University of Nairob. [email protected]

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Dr Fred Matiang’iNational Police ServiceCounter-tourismDusit Hotel terror