Remembering Westgate: Tackling the shared threat of terrorism

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BY CHRISTIAN TURNER

One year ago this Sunday, armed men entered the Westgate shopping mall and conducted the most atrocious terrorist attack in Kenya’s recent history. They killed 67 innocent people and injured many more. Al Shabaab claimed responsibility as retribution for the Kenyan military’s deployment in Somalia.

On this most terrible of anniversaries our hearts go out to all Kenyans, particularly those who lost loved ones in Westgate. The scars will take a long time to heal. We feel your pain: we lost 6 British Nationals in the attack. We in the UK have experienced more than our fair share of terrorism over the years – from the IRA bombings during the Northern Ireland Troubles to the London tube bombings of 2005. We share Kenya’s resolve that such crimes must not go unpunished.

We are clear that terrorism is a global problem, and an effective response requires close collaboration and partnership between nations. As we have seen in Nairobi, Mombasa, Mpeketoni and elsewhere, the threat is serious.

That is why the UK is working extremely closely with the Kenyan authorities in order to reduce the threat. We provide an extensive and ongoing programme of counter-terrorism assistance to the Kenyan government which includes training, technical advice, and critical equipment. We are working with the National Police Service to build up the capacity of its Anti Terrorism Police and Rural Border Patrol Units, and supporting its reform agenda through the establishment of a Strategic Leadership Command College and support to civilian oversight bodies. We are helping to improve security at Kenya’s airports through the provision of equipment and training: last Monday I was at JKIA handing over 13 Improvised Explosive Device (IED) training kits specially designed by UK military experts to respond to new methods of concealing explosives. And we have contributed towards Kenya’s maritime security through the provision of two state of the art patrol boats, among other activities.

We are also working together with the Governments of Somalia, Kenya and other regional partners to tackle the threat from Al Shabaab at source. Our Sh8.6 billion per year programme of Defence Cooperation with the Kenyan Defence Forces supports their heroic efforts to restore stability to Somalia, and through the EU we are supporting the African Union peacekeeping mission, AMISOM.

We recognise the unique challenges that exist in Kenya, and we certainly don’t have all the answers. But through bitter experience we have developed a robust approach to countering terrorism in the UK. One lesson we have learnt is that winning the trust of communities is a critical part of the fight against terrorism, and that tactics which violate the rights of those communities risk fuelling alienation, resentment, and recruitment to the extremists’ cause. That is why we are funding a Sh27 million programme at the Coast aimed at building trust between local communities and the police and fostering inter- and intra-community dialogue. We are also providing technical support to the Judiciary and Directorate of Public Prosecutions to ensure that terrorists are caught, tried and brought to justice in accordance with the rule of law.

The UK along with many other countries has been forced to make difficult decisions about our Travel Advice. We are acutely conscious of the economic impact of this advice, including on tourism, in which British businesses have also suffered. The vast majority of the country, including Kenya’s national parks and safari destinations, are not affected by the travel advisories. Changes to our travel advice are not driven by economic or political factors. Our advice reflects solely our objective assessment of the security position, an assessment shared with our colleagues in the Kenyan security agencies. We keep this under very close review.

The Kenyan security authorities have sacrificed much in order to keep this country and the wider region safe in extremely challenging circumstances. Last year’s attack on Westgate only stiffens our resolve to work together to tackle the threats. The difficult and courageous work being done by AMISOM troops, including Kenyan soldiers, is a fundamental part of that. The UK will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Government and people of Kenya as we work to build a safer, more secure, and prosperous nation.

(Dr Turner is the UK High Commissioner to Kenya)

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