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How lessons from 2013 attack saved many

By Sabina Akoth | Jan 31st 2019 | 3 min read

Making mistakes and learning from them should be a part of life. This is not always the case especially within our Kenyan leadership. Corruption and tribalism for instance remain our greatest challenges as successive government either neglect or openly refuse to address them.

There is conclusive proof that terrorism acts are a by-product of our corrupt and divisive nature. And that it is now hitting closer home than we imagined. The Kenyan leadership and especially its security apparatus, was wholly blamed for the horrific Westgate Mall terrorist attack in 2013.

Uhuru was blamed

It was felt then, that our leaders had done little to save lives and protect the sanctity of our borders. Few, understandably, blamed President Uhuru Kenyatta for this lapse despite the fact that he had only spent a few months in office.

Another attack later however, it is apparent that the blame games and finger-pointing bore fruit.

As troubling as it was, the attack on the 14 Riverside Drive Complex, brought to the fore a more organized and committed security apparatus.

Kenyans appreciated the coordination that went into saving hundreds of lives on that fateful day.

Anti-terrorism initiatives

As the President made his reassuring statement an hour after the horrid occurrence, it was clear that his intention was to enable a favourable environment for the fight against terrorism.

This included providing the right infrastructure and encouraging the right mentality that would ensure that responses like that at Westgate doesn’t recur.

In particular, the government has recommitted itself to its anti-terrorism initiatives.

This now includes instituting the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC).

The NCTC, established under the Security Law Amendment Act 2014 is a multi-agency instrument comprising of security agencies that are mandated to enhance the counter terrorism coordination.

Although it came to force after the Westgate massacre, the NCTC has become a vital component in our war on terror by using both offensive and defensive measures.

Kenya now has an anti-terrorism unit specifically charged with intelligence-gathering, detection and the neutralization of terror threats.

NCTC is also running anti-terrorism programmes to counter violent extremism, deradicalization and rehabilitation of potential and repeat terrorists.

To reinforce their activities, a special command unit of the Administration Police, General Service Unit’s Recce Squad, Flying Squad and Kenya Police was formed for the rescue operation at the 14 Riverside Drive complex.

In essence, the success of this counter-terrorism operation lay in the fact that our leadership understood the enormity of the task which lay ahead after the debacle of Westgate.

It required a holistic approach and a complete revamping of the way we fight terror.

Key lessons that have been learned and are being taken into consideration by the NCTC include that we need a greater and broader understanding of terror and it enablers.

We need to be in tune with the thinking and strategies of terrorist groups if we are to emerge victorious in that fight.

Why it worked

Speed, tact and inter-agency coordination must also be key in our counter-terrorism initiatives and these must reflected in our day to day engagements on the ground. Indeed, if our enemies are never successful, they are likely to lose enthusiasm for future attacks.

It is every Kenyan’s hope that we will never have to deal with another terrorist attack.

It is our hope that we will never have to lose our young men and women at the hands of radicalised forces.

The business community is equally hopeful that the losses they have registered thus far due to terrorism will be compensated over time.

Ultimately and in the words of President Uhuru: “We have dealt with the threat decisively and shown our enemies and the world that we are ready to deal with any threat to our nation.’’

Ms Akoth comments on social issues


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