BY MWENDA NJOKA
One of the challenges that came to the fore following the Westgate shopping mall terror attack last Saturday is that the country needs to urgently rethink and upgrade security surveillance, communication, command and control systems.
For the last 19 years, the country’s National Police Service- the first line of security and defence for civilians – has operated under what is known as Analogue Microwave Trunked Radio Communication system. This is the system that the National Police Service uses to convey voice and data across the country and border points.
However, with the advance in communication systems, Analogue Microwave Radio communication systems have become obsolete to a point and manufacturers no longer make spare parts. This means that the backbone of the country’s civilian security is currently operating under a communication system that is constantly disrupted by breakdowns, which essentially makes the system erratic and unreliable.
Sometimes in 2006, the government started a process of trying to upgrade the Police Communications systems from analogue to digital.
To get the project rolling, the Government set up a steering committee comprising public and private stakeholders. These were: the National Police Service, Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK), Telkom Kenya Ltd, Safaricom Ltd, Airtel Communications Ltd and Nairobi Central Business Association.
The mandate of the steering committee was to study and come up with recommendations for a secure, efficient and reliable police communications system.
The steering committee came up with a communications system that would improve security surveillance in all major towns and cities in the country through installation of ultra-modern CCTV cameras and enhanced speedy countrywide communication for the National Police Service.
Therefore when then President Mwai Kibaki visited China in May 2010, he discussed the police communications project with the Chinese Government, which expressed an interest to provide a concessional loan facility of about US$100 million to finance the project.
However, the process of upgrading the Police Surveillance Communication Command and Control system has been faced with myriad challenges. What had been envisioned as a straightforward security project got mired before the completion of the procurement process.
And as a result of the project getting bogged down, the country has so far been denied ability to upgrade its security surveillance and communication system, a most vital component in ensuring security of Kenyans.
In retrospect, one could say almost categorically that had the National Police Service Surveillance Communication, Command and Control System been in place before the Westgate shopping mall terror attack, chances are that the system would have assisted the police to nab the terrorists before they committed their heinous attack on innocent Kenyans and foreigners.
And now even as Kenyans mourn the loss of their loved ones, there has never been a better time for all the players who may have played a role in causing a gridlock in this project to think patriotically and help remove the barricades preventing its implementation.
It is in the interest of all Kenyans that this project moves forward in hope that it will in future act as the much-needed bulwark against people bent on disrupting peace and security in the country. There could never be a better tribute to those who lost their lives at the Westgate shopping mall.
(The writer is a communications advisor in the Ministry of Interior & Coordination of National Government)