NAIROBI, August 7 – It was a dark unexpected day – August 7, 1998. A sad morning that Kenyans regarded in utter disbelief and fear, because before that day stories of terrorism were tales associated with Iraq, Iran and other countries, but never Kenya.
Reality hit on that fateful Friday morning. Two loud terrifying and confusing explosions plunged a cloud of smoke in the air, as faint voices of people calling for help slowly spread everywhere, from Nairobi, to the rest of the country, and across the globe.
Yes, it was a bombing! It was a terrorist attack that left the government worried and baffled.
Kenya, a country with wide welcoming arms, had to seek help from overseas to understand what terror is and how to fight it.
But should a similar disaster occur today, is Kenya in a position to manage it fully?
Capital News looked to the Government Spokesman Dr Alfred Mutua for answers.
Q. Looking back at the terrorist attack in 1998, the Kikambala bombing and now, a main terror fugitive Fazul Abdullah Mohammed is in the country, why is Kenya becoming a hub for terrorism?
A. Kenya is not facing an imminent danger of terrorism. Yes we have been victims more than once and so have many other countries been. For a long time Kenya has faced challenges of terrorism because of our proximity to some countries that are insecure. What is happening is that Kenya is on a high alert and we take the issue of terrorism very seriously. We work closely with our international partners to root out any criminals that may use Kenya as a centre for their operation.
Q. What is the government doing to clear its name from being associated with terrorism?
A. It’s very important for Kenyans and especially those who are residing in those communities where their children have been confused or went to fight with militant groups in Somalia, to come out openly instead of criticising the government by saying that we need to clean our house! Why are they letting their children, their sisters, their brothers and their associates to put us in this trap?
Q. How is Kenya prepared for disasters?
A. We have faced challenges in responding to disasters because of the breakdown of our systems. But over the past five years we have improved these systems. Actually we formed the Special Programmes Ministry to deal with disasters together with the Office of the President and we have trained sections of the Military, the Police, and the Fire Brigade. We have also trained sniffer dogs and we continue being on high alert at all times. We have learnt from the past and if anything happens we will respond much faster and in a more organised way. We have also special equipment to be used in evacuation.
Q. If a disaster occurred today, can Kenya handle it without seeking external assistance?
A. When disasters happen; that is the time when your friends come to you. No country can be self-sustaining. But we are self-sufficient enough such that if there is help, it is coming to supplement but not to take over the whole operation.
Q. Your words in summary Sir.
A. The best way for overcoming a disaster is to make sure it does not happen. What our security is doing and what we are calling on everybody to do is community policing, to discuss how to prevent and to be vigilant so that we are not talking of a disaster, but we have prevented it from ever occurring.