Westgate: We cannot, and must not just move on



The recent terror attack on the Westgate mall was one of the lowest moments of our nation’s history. It was a painful experience for us all and even more traumatizing for those who were injured and those who lost their loved ones in the attack.

Once again, I thank all the Kenyan people for the resilience that we displayed in the face of heinous attack on our people and our way of life. Even though the misguided individuals caused us much pain, they didn’t shake our core. The unshakable Kenyan spirit was on display for the whole world to see.

In the past though, the recognition of our unity and resilience has usually been followed by the urge to ‘accept and move on’. But on this particular issue, we cannot and must not just move on. However long it takes us, we have to stop and take stock. Especially knowing what we now know, it behoves us to seek answers on why this was allowed to happen and what guarantees we have that it will not happen again.

When we lose lives in circumstances that are not inevitable, we must require that those responsible be held accountable. The deaths and the pain we suffered must not be in vain; surely human life must count for something. We must ensure that those who failed in their duties are held responsible for their actions or the lack thereof. Heads must roll to reinstate public confidence in security agencies.

Towards this end, the President’s decision to form a commission of inquiry to probe the failures of our security system in the face of the attack is welcome. To the extent that the commission to be formed will unearth the truth and its report acted upon, it may be a starting point for ensuring that such attacks do not happen again. Away from the practices of the past, the commission must not be a diversionary tactic. We owe it to the departed souls to uncover the truth and to protect those that they left behind.

It is the responsibility of the state to protect its citizens. Therefore, while we must commend the bravery of the men and women who put their lives in harm’s way to save unarmed citizens who were trapped in the Westgate all, we must surely hold our security agencies to a higher standard.

The essence of a functional anti-terrorism framework is that it forestalls attacks before they occur. In the case of terrorist attacks, where the enemy is determined and willing to die for their cause however misguided, the odds are heavily stacked against reactionary tactics by even the most skilled security forces. In dealing with terrorism, our security agencies must be proactive rather than reactive. In this regard, information gathering must be driven by the need to prevent and to counter criminal activities against the people. Information should be held until after the event has taken place.

Going forward therefore, our intelligence agency must be more apt in the gathering and sharing of intelligence information so that we can prevent such incidences from recurring. Coordination and mutual respect between the agencies must also be improved to ensure that intelligence reports are acted upon. This will be particularly critical if an unhealthy rivalry between security agencies indeed contributed to the delayed response of our security personnel during the attack.

It is shocking that even at this time we still don’t know with certainty how many terrorists attacked us, who they were and how many of them were killed, if any. Do we have any in custody or are they roaming freely amongst us? The state owes us a truthful account. It is embarrassing when we only learn that some of our soldiers were missing after we discover their bodies in the rubble. Will we ever know what happened to the hostages towards the tail end of the operation? Were they all liberated and if so, where are they?

As we now know that there was widespread looting during the rescue operation and that some members of the disciplined forces may be culpable. It is inexcusable that the very people that are expected to keep us safe and protect the property of Kenyans are also involved in crimes while people are suffering. These acts of looting must be investigated thoroughly and the culprits must not go unpunished.

As patriots, it is our duty to require the state to provide answers to us on these matters because without identifying the root causes of the problem, we can never be guaranteed that it will not happen again. Without the whole truth, we can never be safe. In the words of scripture, we need to know the truth that will set us free.

As I have often stated, our security must never be negotiable. Security is paramount for the survival and health of any state. If we are to succeed in the long run, we must get security right because without it we cannot attract the much needed local and foreign investments to grow our economy, feed our people and create jobs for our youth.

(E-mail: me@peterkenneth.com)

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