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Don't let attack on Dusit hotel break our spirit of resilience

By The Standard | January 16th 2019

After long lull of security, dusitD2 Hotel on 14 Riverside Drive in the capital city was the target of yet another cowardly terrorist attack yesterday. By the time of going to press yesterday, six people had been confirmed dead.

Incidentally, the attack on Dusit hotel - as is commonly referred- evokes memories of the 2013 attack on the Westgate Mall, also in Westlands. On September 21, 2013, 67 people were murdered in an attack engineered by the Somalia based Al-Shabaab militia group.

Two years later, on April 2, 2015, a terrorist attack on Garissa University left 148 people dead. On January 15, 2016, a daring attack on a Kenyan military camp at El Adde in Somalia and another one a year later on a camp in Kulbiyow, Somalia, on January 15, 2017 left hundreds of KDF officers dead.

Al Shabaab justified the attacks as an expression of displeasure following the entry of the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) into Somalia in 2011 in hot pursuit of the militia blamed for growing insecurity along the Kenya Somalia border. The abduction of French tourist Marie Dedieu in Manda Island, Lamu precipitated Operation Linda Nchi.

By taking the fight to their doorstep, KDF has ensured that Al Shabaab has been on the run, almost annihilated. Indeed, dislodging the Al Shabaab from the Port of Kismayu; considered its stronghold, was no mean achievement.

For so many, until yesterday, the threat of a terror attack on the homeland had all but been neutralised. Alas, not so.

The Dusit attack is a stark reminder of the threat of terror lurking in our midst; and that there is still a lot to be done to make our country safe.

While KDF’s efforts have paid off by severely curtailing the activities of the insurgents within and outside the country, it would be injudicious to write off this ragtag militia’s ability to regroup and exact maximum damage, and the attack on Dusit serves to prove the point. To its credit, KDF has been unrelenting in its pursuit of Al Shabaab. It has repulsed the militia countless times.

But then the surprise element in the Dusit attack (as in all terror attacks) underscores a weak link in intelligence-gathering so crucial to forestalling such attacks.

But by any measure and in spite of all else, our disaster response time has significantly improved. The first responders including security services got onto the scene in good time and organised the evacuation of besieged people in adjoining buildings. Yesterday’s actions bore the hallmarks of a rehearsed emergency response. Even the mundane act of recording all those who had walked out alive helped to forestall a situation like in Westgate where it is believed the attackers melted into the crowds.

As usual, the Red Cross was on hand to give a helping hand to the emergency situation. The Red Cross’ response in emergencies has always been impressive and thanks to it, several lives that would have been lost were saved.

That is the Kenyan spirit. That is what holds us together and makes us rise up in the face of adversity. It was the case in the aftermath of the August 7, 1998 US embassy bombing - the first terror attack in modern Kenya where at least 200 people died as it was after the attack at Paradise Hotel in Kikambala where 13 people died and several were injured.

Terrorist attacks on the Kenyan soil cannot kill the Kenyan spirit. From all these, Kenyans have demonstrated that their resilience and sense of brotherhood cannot be broken by a few people chasing an obscure, yet clearly lost cause.

There are those who think that the death toll- almost 300 people from more than 50 attacks- is a huge prize to pay for KDF’s adventure in Somalia.

Their argument is that withdrawing KDF from Somalia would make Kenya safe. Though that view may have merit, it is simplistic and narrow. Pulling KDF out of Somalia will have the opposite effect. Indeed, Al Shabaab militants started attacking us even before our soldiers went into Somalia, where they have made a major milestone by loosening the grip the militants had on large swathes of the war-torn country.

So withdrawing KDF may actually embolden the militants, who may quickly rush in to fill the vacuum. They still have a bone to pick with us, and may want to hit us harder.

The only assurance we can have of peace today and in the future is for security agencies to step up the war against Al Shabaab at home and in Somalia.

Security is no longer a matter of the police on duty along the streets and border points; it is everyone’s responsibility.

Efforts in fighting youth radicalisation in the villages, schools and places of worship should be intensified. The quintessential terrorist is no longer a youth struggling with adolescence and idealism or running away from poverty and want. Among the terrorists are educated young men and women who have fallen under the spell of recruiters roaming around our neighbourhoods. A psychoanalysis to establish the causes behind such behavioural changes in young people who have all along been upright members of society is necessary.

Most importantly, bad times such as these should bring out the best in our leadership. If nothing, a show of unity - from the constantly bickering politicians - in the face of adversity will uplift the spirit of the country and accelerate healing.

Lastly, but not least, the threat of terror attacks should not cause us to suffer the added disadvantage of travel advisories from Western nations. With an economy that is out of kilter, we need them to stand with us in a show of defiance to the terrorists that they cannot have their way.

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