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Lessons, tears as France comes to terms with terror attack

By Daniel Wesangula | November 15th 2015
Candles are placed outside the French Embassy to form "Paris" in Berlin on November 14, 2015, a day after deadly attacks in Paris. The string of coordinated attacks in and around Paris late November 13, 2015 left more than 120 people dead, in the worst such violence in France's history. AFP PHOTO

NAIROBI: As the world comes to terms with bloody terror attacks that have for the second time this year caused shock and anger in Paris, parallels can be drawn from what Kenyans have suffered and local authorities can learn lessons on how to manage such emergency situations.

By the time of going to press, at least 128 deaths had been confirmed by official sources.

Specialists will tell you the first step of crisis management is control of information and making sure the message sent out is proper and verifiable.

As soon as the attacks occurred, constant updates were being relayed by the Paris Metro to the public. There was no room for speculation and as the night of terror went on, official data corresponded with eye witness accounts.

There were no grey areas. Something our local law enforcement officers have been known to create from time and again resulting in more panic and uncertainty on the happenings of the day.

For instance, during the Westgate Mall attack in 2013, the number of attackers was not known for a fact with government officials claiming as many as 14 attackers were involved and that some escaped.

Despite the fact that at least five different parts of the city were under siege, French authorities were able to update the public on the happenings in each of these areas complete, sadly, with the increasing death toll.

During the Mpeketoni attack, updates on the final death toll from the attack was left to the Kenya Red Cross and other humanitarian organisations as well as anecdotal evidence as key government players on the ground at the time could not immediately verify the number of dead. Often, the final tally from such attacks is contentious.

Barely two hours after the attacks were first reported, French President Francois Hollande was at the Bataclan Theatre, the scene of the worst attacks of the night where more than 80 people were killed and dozens others suffered serious injuries.

“France needs to be strong. Terrorists want us to be scared. In the face of terror we must be united,” Hollande told the nation.

Horror attack

“It‘s a horror,“ he said. “Two decisions will be taken: a state of emergency will be decreed which means certain places will be closed, traffic may be banned and searches may also take place throughout the Paris region.The second decision I have taken is to close the borders. We must guarantee that no one can come in to commit any act. And at the same time those who may have committed crimes can be arrested if they try to leave the country.“

“I have decided that we should mobilise all the forces we have to enable the neutralisation of the terrorists and to put in place security in all areas that could be concerned.
“I have also asked for military reinforcements. They are at this moment in the Greater Paris area to ensure no further attack takes place.“

He spoke of his thoughts for the very numerous victims, their families, the wounded“ and appealed for compassion and solidarity.

France had to display “sang-froid“ in responding to terrorism,” the president said.

“What the terrorists want is to scare us,“ he added. Barely an hour earlier, Hollande had been at a football match at the Stade de France also a scene of a terror attack.

He however found time to visit the areas affected and see for himself the carnage that robbed many of their lives.
After the Westgate attack, the Mpeketoni killings and the Garissa University massacre as well as the Mandera killings, the Kenyan executive, compared to Hollande, took too long to respond. In some cases, the presidency has never visited the sites to date.

Even before Islamic States claimed the attacks, French officials knew for a fact whom the attackers were and by the time they claimed responsibility for Friday‘s happenings, plans were already underway to neutralise them.

Around June last year, after the Mpeketoni killings, the state dithered in its decision to name Al Shabaab culpable and instead blamed the deaths on divisive regional politics, thus not giving a face to the perpetrators of the heinous acts. Months later, the terror group put out a video through their official online channels that detailed the Mpeketoni horrors.

Cancelled trip

Although only the capital was affected by the attacks, French authorities immediately put the whole nation under a state of emergency and ordered 1,500 soldiers on to the streets of Paris to avert any threat.

In addition, all border crossings, including airports were crossed and schools and colleges within Paris were ordered to remain shut.

When the Garissa University massacre occurred, Garissa County was placed under a dawn to dusk curfew, but business continued as usual in other counties. When the Westgate Mall killings occurred, the military was only deployed to cordon off the scene and help end the siege after four days.

Friday’s Paris siege at the Bataclan theatre ended in two and a half hours as Parisians were urged to stay indoors for the duration of the operation and they were assured that all was under control with Hollande cancelling a G20 trip to Turkey to address his homeland‘s security need.
Late last year as the Mandera attacks happened, President Kenyatta was on an official trip in Dubai. He returned after lasting the scheduled duration of the trip.

To bring closure to a night of pain and misery, French police publicly announced the death of all those directly involved in the killings and the manner in which they died.

Since the 2008 Mumbai attacks, terror has become globalised with radicals from different parts of the world adopting similar lone wolf or small cell tactics to inflict as much damage as possible.

Yet, the responses from governments remain far from similar. Some seem to have their responses down to a workable template, while others still seem to be grappling around for suitable responses.

But in times of such sadness, Nairobi puts her heart out to Paris. Just as it did to victims of Mpeketoni, Garissa and Mandera and hopes that lessons from the innocent blood shed, will be learnt.

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