Tag Archives: Security

April 2015 – Always Remember.

Terrorists walked in to Garissa University College and massacred students who were only there to get an education. Students who were the beacon of hope for their families. Students who, like most Kenyans, were determined to get an education regardless of their school’s location or proximity to their loved ones. You see, the thing is, unless you are well-connected or you come from old money, education is typically the main way through which you can uplift your family and change your circumstances.

Parents and guardians do everything within their power to make sure their children get an education. Sacrifices are made, loans are taken out, fundraisers are held and furniture sold so that children get an education and a chance at a better life. The families that sent their children to Garissa University College are no different from the rest of us. They did what they had to do, with the resources that they have, in order to ensure their children where educated and had the opportunity to get ahead in life.

For these families to go through this…sigh…there are no words. I can’t even begin to imagine the horror they are experiencing as they try to trace their loved ones. The numerous questions that they are asking themselves. The what-ifs and whys. The uncertainty about the whereabouts of their loved ones.

I read the names of the students who were killed out loud. It reminded me of graduation ceremonies and the fact the students won’t get to graduate. They won’t experience that feeling that you get when your name is called on graduation day. That singular moment that reminds you of the challenges and triumphs that got you to that point. Their loved ones won’t get to sit in the audience and cheer them on on that day. They won’t experience the satisfaction of seeing the fruits of the sacrifices they made for the student.

How could this happen? How? All the promise and potential that each of the students killed carried within them…gone. Why would this be allowed to happen? Why weren’t the students protected? Why wasn’t the university adequately secured? This was a preventable situation, so why wasn’t it prevented?

I hope our leaders are awake and alert now. This cannot keep happening. We need an effective security strategy. We need well-trained and adequately equipped security forces. A system needs to be put in place for security personnel to be able to act on intelligence. Paying lip service to insecurity will not keep any of us safe.

#147notjustanumber is a hashtag that was started on Twitter to memorialize the students who were killed. Please check it out. Behind the statistics are human beings who had hopes, aspirations and dreams.

Kenya’s Red Line Train Ride

Hmmm…after the events of this week, I am now convinced the Kenyan government is taking us on a tumultuous train ride to Nowhere Land. They are playing us like the ukulele while at it too. We currently have a digital government whose key security (and everything else really) strategies are speculation and the blame game. I am not sure how they figure they can propel a country forward based on such. How are we expected to continue entrusting them with our lives when they have repeatedly shown they cannot be asked to ensure the safety of Kenyans?

This past Sunday, al Shabaab linked militants attacked Mpeketoni, a Kenyan coastal town, killing at least 49  people and injuring several others. They also set buildings and other property on fire. That attack lasted for hours. On Monday, al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack. According to Mail & Guardian, in a statement sent to Reuters, al Shabaab said, “Commandos last night carried out a successful raid on the town of Mpeketoni.” They added, “Kenya is now officially a war zone and as such any tourists visiting the country do so at their own peril.” The reasons they gave for the attack are the presence of Kenyan troops in Somalia and the extrajudicial killings of Muslim leaders.

Joseph Ole Lenku, the cabinet secretary in charge of interior security, came out with the full force of a circus act, describing the attack as “heinous”, calling the attackers “bandits” and stating that they had crossed a “red line.” Which red line, you ask? Well, guess we might never know since Ole Lenku didn’t display any of Netanyahu’s illustration skills, but I digress. He then claimed that security had been beefed up across the country after the attack, and the attackers had been chased northwards by security forces. Basically, rest easy Kenyans, the government has your back NOT.

The militants called bullshit on this security facade by returning a day later. They must have known what we now know…the government stayed asleep. This time they attacked Poromoko, a village close to Mpeketoni. They killed at least 15 people and set houses on fire. Residents told the BBC that at least 12 women were abducted in the latest attack. They also said that the government did not send in enough forces to protect them after the first attack. Evidence that Ole Lenku was putting on a show. Only he knows who it was for.  Al Shabaab also claimed responsibility for this attack.

This is where the circus plot gets lost.

In an address to the nation, President Uhuru decided that this was an opportunity to gain political mileage. He went in on “reckless” and “divisive” leaders hell-bent on creating hate and intolerance. He also said that such leaders make it easy for terrorists to operate in our country. He then stated, “The attack in Lamu was well planned, orchestrated, and politically motivated ethnic violence against a Kenyan community, with the intention of profiling and evicting them for political reasons. This therefore, was not an Al Shabaab terrorist attack.”  Eh…say what!? Wait just one minute Mr. President. Didn’t al Shabaab claim responsibility for both attacks!? Or are they lying to us? If so, to what end? We have had several unclaimed attacks, why would they pick this one out of all of them to claim!? Something does not add up here. Who is fooling who, sir? And while we are on the subject of profiling and evicting people for political reasons…isn’t that the same thing your government is doing to ethnic Somalis?

President Uhuru further added, “Evidence indicates that local political networks were involved in the planning and execution of the heinous attacks.” Ok…you have evidence but yet no arrests have been made? What is being done to ensure that those involved in the planning and execution will face justice? What about the abducted women? Do the local political networks have them? Are security forces looking for them?

Perhaps one of the most disturbing statements that President Uhuru made is. “It is now clear that intelligence on this attack was availed to the security officers in Mpeketoni.” What!? In short, the attacks could have been prevented but they weren’t. Why, Mr. President, why? Why was there no action taken? What were security officers doing? Sitting on the intelligence and hoping nothing would happen? Or do they lack the resources required to act on such intelligence? Just what exactly is going on Mr. President? Or intelligence isn’t acted upon until the “red line” has been crossed? I would assume that the possibility of Kenyans losing their lives would result in action but apparently the government would rather cling to inaction.

Of course the President had to throw in this usual statement, “I am satisfied that for the most part, our security agencies have performed well and thwarted innumerable terrorist and other criminal conspiracies and attempts.” Every time there is an attack, the President makes a similar statement. He makes it seem like the security agencies are on top of their game. So how come they missed all the attacks that have happened!? Why weren’t they able to thwart those particular attacks? If security agencies are performing well, why aren’t some of them acting on the intelligence they are provided with!?

At the end of the day, President Uhuru and the rest of the government, all we want is to be safe. We want to be able to move around the country without fear. Security in our country has gone to the dogs…that is undeniable. Whether the attacks are orchestrated by local political networks or terrorist groups, the bottom line is insecurity is on the rise. It is your responsibility to protect the inhabitants of the country that you lead. We can be each other’s keepers, as you suggested in your address Mr. President, all day every day. But if we have security forces that fail to act on intelligence and a government that couldn’t care less about its citizenry, then how is that useful to us?

When a handful of countries in the West issued travel advisories, our government was up in arms. “We will find tourists elsewhere,” they said. When it became obvious that more countries were unwilling to remain silent as their citizens travelled to our attack-prone nation, the rhetoric changed to “Tembea Kenya.” Domestic tourism is great and should in fact always be encouraged and promoted.  However, it does to not deter attacks.

Now that you have realized that Kenyans are after all not bulletproof, what are you going to do about these attacks, dear government? How many lives have to be lost before you cut the BS and actually come up with an effective plan to put an end to these attacks!?

 

#Digital #Security #In #Kenya

When they told us that it would be a digital government, the dynamic duo was not joking. Other than retweeting praises pelted at it by superfans, the Kenyan government has become the king of #hashtags. Nowhere is this more evident than in the security of our nation. Security in Kenya has officially gone digital, people! Hashtag it and they will get the illusion that we are actually doing something about (in)security seems to be the motto.

Last week, the president gave his first State of the Nation address in which he stated that the government had launched two major new security programs. One of these is the Nyumba Kumi Initiative, a community policing program geared towards ensuring that communities participate in their security matters, or #NyumbaKumi. Public participation is important in any society. However, I find it curious that the president considers the initiative a major security program. Getting residents to discuss their security challenges and share these concerns with the police is great. But, does it really count as a security program especially if the police, which happens in most cases, don’t do anything with the information? The police in Kenya, as we have come to realize over the years, are ill-equipped, poorly trained and simply unresponsive. Mr. President, we can talk our heads off about insecurity and obsessively share information with the can’t-be-bothered police but does that really a security program make!?

A cursory look at #NyumbaKumi on Twitter shows that it has become a hashtag space for anything ranging from jokes to finger-pointing to genuine concerns about its practicality and efficacy. The government and its don’t-you-dare-criticize-jubilee-because-they-can-do-no-wrong staunch believers continue to promote #NyumbaKumi as the light at the end of the insecurity tunnel. You know what they say about that light though – it could be an oncoming train.

Not to be stopped there, there is now #UsalamaWatch. This hashtag, according to the official government of Kenya handle for reporting crime @UsalamaWatchKen, is meant to address issues of insecurity through allowing Kenyans to report suspicious activities directly to authorities online. Who monitors its feed and hashtag? Is it monitored 24/7 or just sometimes? What is the response time from initial reporting to police acting, if at all they do? Is there a procedure in place to authenticate the suspicious activities reports? How effective has #UsalamaWatch been? What happens in cases of emergencies? Are people expected to just tweet and cross their fingers that police will be dispatched immediately?

Then there is the Rapid Results Initiative, or #RRI/#RRI14, that the president launched in February. According to the official twitter handle @RRIKenya, the initiative is a method of gaining community input and decision-making on a focused topic in a short amount of time. A vague description if you ask me, but nobody’s is asking me…ha! As per its Facebook page, RRI as a strategy provides an opportunity to re-examine ourselves and to review our approach to security. Also on the FB page, the RRI also seeks to discuss the continued evolving cases of crime in the country and possible ways of eliminating them. The Official handle for the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government in The Office of the President, @InteriorKE (sounds like a home design company but that is neither here nor there), tweeted that the RRI’s thematic areas are crime reduction, streamlining the process of issuance of national identification and travel documents. Hmmm shouldn’t these be handled by different departments? What does crime reduction have to do with streamlining the unnecessarily tedious ID and passport acquisition process? There also seems to be many a discussions about insecurity. What is being done with the information that comes out of these discussions? Are the voices of Kenyans even being heard? Or are they lost behind the hashtag Olympics that the government seems to have going on?

And of course you all know it would not be complete without #SecureKE which, according to @InteriorKE, should be used for immigration, police and issues affecting you which need to be addressed by the government of Kenya. Or basically what all the aforementioned hashtags are supposed to be used for.

Clearly this digital security is not working out for us. In the past month, gunmen attacked a church in Likoni killing four and injuring more than a dozen others. There are claims that police were informed of the impending attack but they didn’t act on that intelligence. This past Sunday a suspected suicide bomber died while assembling a bomb in Nairobi’s Eastleigh area. On Monday three explosions killed six people and injured dozens others. Today, Wednesday, bomb experts detonated an explosive device that had been buried outside a residential area near Eastleigh. Meanwhile the government stays pushing these hashtags like goody goody.

Dear Mr. President, we, as a nation, cannot hashtag our way out of the insecurity. You globetrotting isn’t going to do it either. Practical measures need to be taken to address insecurity.  Have we not learnt anything from Westgate? What will unresponsive, poorly trained and ill-equipped police officers do for us? How will a security force that seems to have no clue what to do with intelligence help us? What will the overzealous arrests of individuals accomplish? Isn’t your government creating a society that lives in fear of the police and neighbors? How are these hashtags going to change anything?

 

Westgate Revisted

It’s been six months since the Westgate Mall in Nairobi was attacked by four gunmen affiliated with Al Shabaab. We still have as many questions as we had when the attack happened. The government’s handling of the matter does little to help.

From the get go it was clear that we, as a country, are ill-equipped and completely unprepared for such attacks. Initially there was a lot of misinformation both from the government and the media. The government claimed that there were about 15 gunmen in the mall. It turns out there were only four. The siege lasted four days. In those days, the Kenyan forces oscillated between cornering the gunmen and not cornering them. Senior security officials tweeted that they had control of all the floors in the mall. However, the operation was only officially declared over more than 30 hours later. Post-attack reports shed light on the infighting that was going on between the police and the army. There was no clear chain of command, a lack of communication and ego clashes between the two groups. This level of disorganization could only have worsened the situation. Here is one of the more comprehensive day by day accounts of the attack.

A more recent news article based on interviews with some Al Shabaab members shows that the attack had been carefully planned for three years. One of the members had this to say, “One thing that the media does not tell is some of the weapons had to be sneaked inside Westgate before the attack. Everyone has to be searched by security. There was a connection that helped get the weapons in.” He added that the reason the attack was so successful and lasted so long is that other members of al Shabaab were already positioned inside, having infiltrated the Westgate as vendors, bribing police and mall security to look the other way. He further claimed that bribes were paid to both private security guards at the mall and Kenyan police — “no less than 100,000” Kenyan shillings (about $1,156) all together — to get the weapons through.

People, security forces at that, were bribed to look the other way. Bribed to collaborate with Al Shabaab. Bribed to get the weapons through. Makes you wonder what they were thinking. Did they imagine the mall was simply being used as a weapons storage facility? Did it not occur to them that something more sinister was being planned? Did they simply not care? Were they just desperate for money? We know how our security forces are severely underpaid. Bribes are usually a side income generating hustle for a good number of them. Whatever their logic and reasoning was it is scary and disturbing. Where else are they going to accept a bribe and look the other way? Which other terror group are they going to work with?

Perhaps this helps explain the level of looting by Kenyan security forces that took place in Westgate Mall during the siege. This footage shows empty alcohol bottles on tables and the bar at Artcaffe, one of the restaurants in the mall. According to reports, the only people who had access to it were security forces. So, as Kenyans were anxiously waiting both inside and outside the mall, the security forces were sampling beer and liquor? Clearly they had time to kick back and relax. Why then did it take them four days to end the operation? Why didn’t they arrest the four gunmen? Shopkeepers and store owners reported that laptops and money had been taken from their properties. Of course the security forces took the deny, deny, deny approach. However, just recently, a police officer was charged with possession of goods suspected to be stolen from victims of the Westgate Mall attack. Read more here.

An investigative piece by a Kenyan journalist showed members of the Kenyan army walking out of a supermarket with healthy shopping bags. In other scenes they are seen rummaging through drawers in stores. After being exposed, they claimed that the shopping bags contained water. Really!? After many a Kenyans had been continuously donating water and other beverages to be given to the security forces as they carried out the operation? People came out in their numbers to give and support them. They were really trying to tell us that it wasn’t enough and they had to get more from the supermarket? If that was the case why didn’t they send two or three of their members to ferry the water in a shopping cart to the rest of them? Wouldn’t that have been easier than many of them going to do the same thing? Hmmm…they really must think we are some kind of dumb. Oh and they were rummaging through drawers looking for hidden threats, apparently. Huh? That’s how people look for threats? OK…yeah…sure.

The government promised an official inquiry into the handling of the attack. Not holding my breath for this one. We all know how official inquiries work in Kenya. Investigations will be conducted, people will shed light on happenings, a report will be written and we will be given the highly sanitized version. Finally, nothing will happen…well…the wrongdoers will probably be rewarded. Just look at Goldenberg and Pattni.

One would hope that our security forces would have learnt from the Westgate attack. But that hope dwindles when you see such – “Kenyan police failed to realise that a car that they impounded from a Somali man and stored outside their anti-terror unit offices for a week was packed full of explosives already attached to a Nokia detonator.” …sigh…no comment.

Of all the questions many of us still have the key one is…where are the missing people? What happened to them? Authorities had initially said 61 people were missing and then revised the number to 39. Is there a search operation for them?