By Jillo Kadida
Ever since a bunch of terrorists lay siege at Nairobi’s upmarket Westgate mall, resulting in a three-day-long standoff, Kenyan security forces have been working hard to bury their shame in an avalanche of messages promoting national unity. But three factors show they slept on the job.
During the operation there were glaring missteps, which in my view contributed to loss of life due to the prolonging of the hostage situation.
Firstly there was no clear chain of command to coordinate efforts of the various security agencies called in such as regular police, a special unit from the general service unit and the Kenya Defence Force.
The officers could not agree on which wing should lead the operation and even as they haggled over this, reports indicate they shot each other dead. Their disorganisation was exhibited in full glare of the terrorists who were inside the mall watching. At some point the forces had to get out of the mall so as to agree on who should command the operations leaving the terrorists all the time to kill more civilians.
Secondly the terrorists who held Kenya on standstill rented a shop at the mall where they stored arms. They monitored the entire mall for months, figured all the entries and looked at the day and time when they could get many people at the mall.
Reports indicate also that they rented an apartment nearby and lived there as they familiarised themselves with the area. Question here is how come no one noticed this? And if it was known who slept on their job? The national intelligence service is on record saying it gave information to the inspector general of police, David Kimaiyo, and the criminal investigations department boss, Ndegwa Muhoro, indicating that Westgate mall was a high-risk target for a terror attack.
But no action was taken to avert the terror attack. In fact the police response was poor as they took some time before reaching the mall. Worse still, at first they thought it was a robbery, which leaves one wonder how would the police force, which has information that the mall is top on the list of buildings targeted by terrorists, fail to think of a terror attack at first instance.
The third reason is lack of proper manning of our very porous border points, aggravated further by corrupt police and immigration officers. In Kenya police officers will let you get away with anything so long as you bribe them.
The police have managed to keep the trophy of being the most corrupt institution in East Africa several times as indicated by the Transparency International corruption index. In short money talks and there is nothing like patriotism or professionalism. This coupled with incompetence makes the situation worse. Let me give an example of what happens on the road to northern Kenya where I come from. To the north Kenya borders Ethiopia and Somali, both very porous for smuggling anything from arms to goods.
On the road to northern Kenya there are several police road-blocks at which the passengers are vetted. These check-points, even though they are good, don’t help much because the officers are obsessed with asking for people’s national identification cards but not checking their bags, which beats logic. For those who are found without a national ID card they are questioned for a few minutes and let go after they part with something as low as $2.50.
Then after paying the bribe they return to the bus and the journey to the capital city, Nairobi, continues with no one inspecting the luggage and their contents. Why do they ask passengers for their ID card when they don’t check if they are smuggling hand grenades or arms to the capital city? So is this incompetence on the part of the police officers or is it that they don’t care? Having said this my suggestion is that the government and the public have their jobs cut out for them and should work together if this war on terrorism is to be won.
The government ought to put its house in order, ensure the boarders are manned, any luggage getting into the city or the country needs to be thoroughly checked, pay the police forces well so that they are able to cater for their needs and are not vulnerable. And whoever slept on their job regarding the Westgate mall attack should be held accountable.
And Kenyans also need to take it upon themselves to know who their neighbour is and report any suspicious person to authorities. And it is only then that we will stand together and fight war on terror and win.
Jillo Kadida is chief court reporter with The Star newspaper in Nairobi.