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Bungling officers let President Uhuru Kenyatta down at Westgate

COMMENTARY
By MACHUA KOINANGE | October 2nd 2014

Kenya: President Uhuru Kenyatta missed a golden chance to help redeem his Government and the image of the security forces during the 1st anniversary of the Westgate Mall terror attack recently.

The event at both Karura Forest and what was formerly Westgate Mall was conspicuous for the tears that flowed, the pungent mood of sorrow and the absence of any Government official to join the grieving families.

The anniversary was tragic on so many levels. It was heart-breaking that one year later, the Government is yet to launch a probe to get to the bottom of what happened.

It was also tragic that one year later, there has been no explanation about the fate of the attackers; where they were killed as the Government claims or did they escape?

But even more disconcerting, the Government left the event entirely to the families to plan and execute without offering a hand or, or as expected, taking the lead role.

Westgate marked President Kenyatta's first major challenge in office, having been sworn in five months earlier with a lot of fanfare and the weight of huge expectations on his shoulders.

However, insecurity has remained the Achilles heel of the Jubilee administration and its failures have been accentuated by events in Eastleigh, Garissa, Mombasa and Mandera where terror groups have been running circles around the security apparatus.

Westgate was merely the icing on a bad stretch that exposed the weaknesses of the country's security preparedness which remains unconvincing to date.

Even worse, the causal manner and lack of clear direction to combat terror, with the exception of the occasional warning from the police and the expansion of extra judicial killings of suspects, has left many Kenyans feeling even more insecure.

Mpeketoni (where an armed gang killed at least 60 in a dawn raid) probably best comes to mind.

But nothing illustrates this lackadaisical state of affairs more than the total absence of Government functionaries at events marking that deadly afternoon when wails of anguish, the screams of bleeding victims and smell of death engulfed the upscale mall.

It took the security forces three hours to organise and find a coherent unit to take the battle to the four attackers.

The initial battle was instead ceded to about 10 police officers and reservists with two AK 47 rifles and several pistols to confront the demonic Al-Shabaab attackers.

Conspicuously missing were Cabinet Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku (the man at the centre of the burning mattresses fame), CGS Julius Karangi (whose officers were caught on camera leaving Nakumatt with goody bags) and the Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo.

The hallmark of this embarrassment was watching KDF armored personnel carriers (APC's) driving in a column along Peponi Road with enough firepower to bring down a 20-storey building, all heading to Westgate to take down four terrorists armed with automatic weapons.

Let's face it. Everything about the handling of the Westgate Mall attack brings tears and pain to many victims and their families. Security agencies fumbled while responding to the unexpected.

Yet, the anniversary provided the best opportunity for the President to take the podium, demonstrate leadership and admit that indeed the security forces and the intelligence had let him and the country down.

He would have volunteered that a response unit had been set up and that a probe into the attack would be completed to allow the country to learn from its mistakes.

President Kenyatta had an opportunity to console the families at both Karura and Westgate and declare that under his watch, the tragic events of September 21, 2013 would not be repeated. But it's never too late for redemption.

But something else happened that may offer a glimmer of hope. An epileptic driver lost control of his vehicle and rammed into other vehicles at Langata's Galleria mall. The incident sent shoppers scampering and security agencies fearing the worst. Within minutes, a squad of GSU officers had descended on the mall and taken control.

When the all-clear was given, shoppers were re-assured it was not an attack.

Even better, they left Galleria Mall secured in the knowledge that despite the tragedy of September 21, something good had come out of it.

Our security agencies were now on high alert with a record response time.

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