Much has been said about the terror attacks in Garissa and throughout the country by politicians, religious leaders and Security organs in the last couple of months. However, I still feel the need to voice my opinion and concerns regarding the state of our national security.
Prior to the elections in 2007, Kenya had witnessed a spate of violence arising from organised groups that actually threatened our internal security. What we know, is that the Security apparatus took decisive action that eliminated this threat. Of course, we also know that the police was later accused of engaging in extra-judicial killings. However, I am not here to debate the legality or illegality of such actions. It was formidable to learn that our Police had the ability to identify these criminals even in their own back yard.
I begin with this analogy because for me it signals that our security intelligence is well versed with what is happening on the ground.
Secondly, I am concerned that with the rise in frequency of such attacks, Kenyans will begin to become desensitised to the violence. We may begin to rationalise the attacks and to accept that so long as we are engaged in the war against Al-Shabaab, there is going to be some ‘acceptable’ form of retaliation. This mentality should never be allowed to crystallize.
Terror attacks, whether originating from Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab or mere sympathisers should never be allowed to become a norm. They are a threat to our national freedoms including the freedom to express ourselves religiously, the freedom to gather, the freedom to associate, the freedom to own property etc. Anything that severely limits such freedoms is detrimental to the prosperity of Kenya, and to our ability to achieve our economic goals. For a country like ours, which is determined to achieve middle income status, such attacks should be viewed as an affront to not only our sovereignty but also to our economic pursuits.
As a citizen of Kenya and a businessman, this is what I would like to see happen going forward.
It is not enough for us to hear public declarations about restoring security from the highest echelons of this government. This being an election year, Kenyans are more likely to view such declarations as a political statement rather than a force to contend with. Additionally, in as much as we enjoy the freedoms that have come with our new Constitution, and their ability to remove the veil that has shrouded most decisions… we want more than parliamentary dissection of this challenge.
Ensuring national security should become the primary duty of our government going forward if it isn’t already so. It would be nice to hear this reassurance directly from the National Security Council. We would like to get assurance that when our politicians speak at the scenes of such crimes, that the security apparatus is aware and fully involved in the implementation of any action points.
We want to know that there is a National Security Strategy that specifically addresses terror and how to combat it. As we are all aware, security risks do not have the same impact or significance on all targets. We want to know that there is a policy in place that determines the sort of actions that need to be taken to avert all levels of security risks. For example, the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit and their counterparts should have more leeway to use excessive force if they have identified a viable security threat that will potentially have massive impact on the Kenyan populace and their businesses.
We want to know that soft targets with the highest likelihood of being attacked are very well guarded and to feel the presence of security that deters any opportunistic threats.
We want to know that our government will continue to empower the NSIS in intelligence gathering and to allocate it the resources needed to achieve its mandate. We want to know that our government is willing to form strategic alliances whether with neighbouring countries, western nations or private firms to ensure that there is peace within our borders; free from external threats.
Outside of this strategy and as we undoubtedly refocus our attention to politics, I would ask Kenyans to pose these same questions to any Presidential candidates. We want to know that our national security is prioritised even as they show us what their vision for Kenya is. We should not elect into power anyone who does not have a sense of urgency and attention to national security.
Most importantly, I would like to call out to fellow Kenyans to stay observant and to perform their civic duty faithfully. It does no good to provide the police with clues in the aftermath of death and destruction, when you had the opportunity to avert the same disaster beforehand. If any person and action perpetuated by such persons seem suspicious to you, you have every right to walk to the nearest police station or police officer on the street and to share your fears with them.
Of course, such fears should be reasonable and not alarmist. Remember, in matters of national security we would rather be safe than sorry, so trust your gut instinct and play your part in ensuring Kenya remains safe.