Reflections from last week’s terrorist attack on dusitD2 hotel, Nairobi

Last week’s terror attack at 14 Riverside Drive was a clear reminder that Al Shabaab is still potent and has the lethal capability to strike at the heart of the country.

Our security officers did a superb job in their handling of the attack that, by the look of things, would have been worse than the one at Westgate Shopping Mall in 2013. 

The quick response and the professionalism shown by the security forces proved that we have learnt from past mistakes. The result was a well-coordinated multi-agency response that minimised casualties.

Still, for the families of the 21 people who lost their lives and scores who were injured during the attack, the gallant efforts of the security officers might go unnoticed. For them, nothing can compensate for the loss of their loved ones and the wounds the attackers inflicted.

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The most scaring part of the attack was how the terror group was able to bypass security agencies to cause so much fear and death. The announcement by Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet that there were more members of the terror group on the loose has only increased this fear.

This is why it is prudent for all Kenyans to remain vigilant and report any suspicious-looking individuals to the police.

However, the question that begs answers is, why is Kenya an easy target for terrorists? I do not want to go for the easy argument about corrupt police officers and porous borders.

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Yes, it might be true that some terrorists could be bribing their way through police barriers, but so do most Kenyans when they are apprehended for even the simplest of traffic offences.

The terrorists

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In my view, the answer lies more in the social context we live in. We now live in difficult times when the youth feel left out of meaningful opportunities.

Recently, at a conference held at the University of Nairobi, the global president of Ford Foundation, Darren Walker, made a passionate appeal for the youth to be given equal access to opportunities. This appeal becomes more urgent in view of the fact that the terrorists at 14 Riverside Drive were young people from communities that previously had less prevalence of radicalised youths.

Mr Walker cited examples in the US where among communities such the African Americans, Latinos and other ethnic minorities, the rate of exclusion from opportunities equals the level of violence.

In an article published a few years back titled, Ignorance is the Enemy Within: On the Power of Our Privilege, and the Privilege of Our Power, Walker wrote: “In the United States, we find ourselves grieving far too often. We despair over the innocent African Americans killed by police and over the killings of innocent officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. As we try to measure the incalculable costs of this violence—and the trauma it expands and extends—we are called to work with greater urgency to connect the reality we see with the solutions we seek.”

Greater urgency

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It is the same situation in Kenya. We really need to reflect on how to look ourselves in the eye and agree on what is causing the youth to embrace radicalisation.

The solution to these issues is certainly not in high-handedness or, as Interior CS Fred Matiang’i put it, “cleaning up neighbourhoods seen as a problem”.

One positive contribution the current Director of Criminal Investigations, George Kinoti, has brought to the police service is elimination of extra-judicial killings, which have seen scores of young people eliminated.

For this, both Mr Kinoti and Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji need to be commended. Whenever terrorist attacks happened in the past, members of the Somali community paid the ultimate price. The security operation that followed the Westgate mall attack led to a vicious crackdown against the community, especially in Nairobi.

If Matiangi’s threat to “clean up neighbourhoods” means a repeat of this, then Al Shabaab will be smiling, knowing that they will continue recruiting new members with ease.

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The solution to violent extremism is not violence. In the words of Martin Luther King: “We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love.”

Compassion and giving opportunities to young people will lead to a reduction in the prevalence of violent extremism. The use of force only creates a breeding ground for further radicalisation. 

Mr Guleid is the executive director of the Frontier Counties Development Council

14 Riverside DriveAl ShabaabJoseph BoinnetDusit Hotel terror attackWestgate Shopping Mall