What you need to know:
- This scepticism is based on the government’s reactions that clearly show that it either has no counter-terrorism strategy or the one in use is fatally flawed or crippled.
- The terrorists have also scored another goal against our security agencies by turning some communities against them.
Repeated terrorism attacks over a period of two years have left Kenyans in a state of shock.
The latest attack in Mandera has left them sceptical that the government is capable of providing them with the security it promised when it was inaugurated in April last year.
This scepticism is based on the government’s reactions that clearly show that it either has no counter-terrorism strategy or the one in use is fatally flawed or crippled.
In almost every corner of the country, militants of some kind are plotting attacks. They strike in Nairobi or Mombasa at will, not just in Mandera or Baringo.
It is important to recognise that terrorist attacks are not bolts from the blue. Criminals and terrorists follow a process when planning their actions.
Kenya’s security community appears to have been lured into a terrorist lair.
The terrorists seem to be winning as their attacks are discrediting our security agencies, particularly the intelligence and the police, in the eyes of citizens when they are made to appear unable to prevent and combat terrorism and other violent crimes.
The terrorists have also scored another goal against our security agencies by turning some communities against them.
Whenever they hit us, our agencies over-react with measures that alienate some communities.
Terrorists in turn cash in on this alienation to recruit members and seek assistance from these communities for future attacks.
A third score is when the terrorists stretch the government and plunge the country into panic.
Since targets are spread all over the country, it is impossible for the government to protect all public places and facilities.
Repeated terror attacks in Kenya have showed up significant organisational challenges in the intelligence community.
However, this organisational dysfunction is not confined to the intelligence system.
Kenya’s security apparatuses have repeatedly demonstrated that they are incapable of handling today’s threats and opportunities and this is due to the design of the national security architecture.
In the past four years, an increasingly more complex and rapidly placed security environment has magnified those design flaws.
Security departments and agencies generally focus on managing their narrow mandates, rather than on combining their strengths to address national security problems.
This makes them unable to address threats that demand a joint rapid response by departments and agencies with diverse expertise and capabilities.
It is an irony that while terrorists and criminals plan jointly how to carry out their heinous acts, our law enforcement agencies react disjointedly as witnessed during the Westgate siege.
Whenever Kenya is hit by a terror attack or crime wave, the Inspector General of Police demands more money, equipment, personnel and powers to hire and discipline. But is it wise to allocate resources to departments and agencies that are not guided by strategic objectives?
Kenyans have a right to ask why money is spent to maintain an anti-terror unit that is unable to detect, prevent and combat terrorism.
The security apparatus does not seem to understand that terrorism is prevented through information gathering and intelligence rather than reactive, defensive measures.
This was most evident after the Westgate and Mpeketoni attacks when IGP David Kimaiyo rubbished intelligence by the National Intelligence Service as not actionable.
Kenya’s experience of dealing with terrorism and crime over the past year demonstrates that there are strong cultural barriers that inhibit information-sharing across departments and agencies.
While some agencies have enormous amounts of information, with dozens of databases, they restrict access even within the agencies.
On numerous occasions, Kenyans have been treated to a theatre of the absurd when leaders in the security sector resort to blame games after terror attacks.
On its part, the NIS seems unable to cope with the rapid pace with which terrorism is mutating, adapting and transforming itself.
A profile of a terrorist is no longer that of an Arab or Somali but a Kenyan-born Somali or non-Somali from western region converted to Islam.
But most painful for Kenyans is the obduracy of those at the helm of security institutions to take responsibility to stem the spiralling wave of violent crimes.
Why is it that no one in government has ever been held responsible for the attacks at Westgate, Mpeketoni, Kapedo and Mandera that claimed hundreds of innocent lives?
In 2008, India’s Home minister Shivraj Patil resigned after the terrorist attacks on Mumbai that claimed at least 192 lives.
Boston Fire Chief Steve E. Abraira quit after being criticised for his weak handling of the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. This week, Chuck Hagel resigned as US Defence Secretary for the failed strategy against Islamic State and the Bashir Assad regime in Syria.
Kenyans are wondering how many lives must be lost and how deep should the economy sink before heads roll?
The political leadership in Kenya should be held responsible for a failed security strategy.
When the Jubilee coalition was campaigning in 2013, it made many promises on security matters. For instance, it promised that the Jubilee government’s “first duty” would be to keep Kenyans “safe and secure from harm.”
It specifically promised that the NIS would be shaken up and the capacity of the Anti-Terrorism Unit enhanced “to tackle groups such as Al-Shabaab.” Jubilee would also “create a new Border Security Force to protect the nation and provide additional security support to border counties.”
Compared to our neighbours, security in Kenya is poor because we have created an environment in which people, institutions and other agents do not respect each other and are not willing to operate in accordance with the law.
Security is embedded in rules, values and norms, and if these values are undermined, security will be difficult to achieve. When a police force is widely regarded as the most corrupt institution in society, then security is imperilled.
Recurring incidents of terror attacks accompanied by escalating levels of insecurity point to a sad reality that Kenya does not have a security strategy. Such a strategy should have at least four components: Identification of current and future threats to national interests; Means and resources to address these threats; Measures that may be taken to address the root causes of future threats; and capacities needed to enhance national security.
Such a strategy should foster coordination across departments and agencies through alignment of resources, adaption of the education and training of national security professionals, and clarification of authorities. It should also emphasise the importance of collaborating with communities on the borders, in villages, slums, and public places.
Most importantly, security will ultimately be achieved only if various agencies in the “security community”, that is the police, military, and intelligence service coordinate their activities, integrate special operations plans and cooperate in collecting and sharing information.
The response to the Westgate terror siege was an eye-opener that left a lot of egg on the face of our security community.
After Westgate, Kenyans expected the government to go beyond the “Nyumba kumi” initiative. A comprehensive review should have been carried out to avoid a repeat of the embarrassing response to this attack.
Such a review should highlight how each security agency should respond to terror attacks based on each one’s comparative advantage, the need for joint exercises to be carried out and involvement of local communities in the security architecture.
BUNGLED POLICE REFORMS
Insecurity can also be traced to bungled police reforms. Vetting was a big sham and shady characters made their way back into the force for reasons many Kenyans have understood.
The poor integration of the Administrative Police and the regular police has turned into a fiasco with repeated armed confrontations between the two units, and greatly contributed to insecurity. To compound matters, the police work in horrendous and demoralising conditions with poor equipment that makes them vulnerable to criminality.
The Kenya Police Service’s reaction after a terror incident is the excuse that it lacks resources although Internal Security receives the second highest budget allocation every year. Kenyans are justified to question where the money goes, if it is used to purchase junk equipment and pay for ghost personnel. The veil of secrecy in the guise of “national security” should be lifted from the security budget.
Kenya has yet to learn lessons from her neighbours. Ethiopia has a larger Somali population, a longer shared border with Somalia and has repeatedly intervened and maintained a presence in that country but it has not experienced similar terror attacks.
Kenya could also learn from Uganda how policing strategies work by closely with the Somali community, and from Tanzania how communities can be used to gather intelligence.
The Uhuru administration must now implement these recommendations to create a transformed national security system capable of dealing with the challenges.
Solutions to problems in the national security apparatus can be found by, first, aligning resources with strategy through generating a budget that reflects the country’s security needs and how the money will be spent on national missions and other outcomes that cut across departments and agencies.
Second, by training national security professionals for future challenges and adopting an inter-agency personnel system, providing the right incentives, training and education. Third, by establishing clear authorities and responsibilities between security teams to be deployed to prevent and combat terrorism and other forms of crime.
And fourth, by ensuring that a strategic approach is applied to security challenges.
The Uhuru administration will ultimately be judged on how it solves the problems of our troubled national security system and creates the modern capability the nation so desperately needs.
Trevor Ng’ulia is a security expert consulting for private companies and governments.