NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 29 – Armed with a Power Point presentation, video testimonials and a list of, “possible questions,” the Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces Julius Karangi set about defending his men’s honour on Tuesday.
Flanked by the Cabinet Secretary for Defence, Raychelle Omamo, Karangi tackled one-by-one the questions raised over the conduct of his men during the four-day Westgate mall siege.
But Omamo first set the scene by explaining what it was the KDF were doing at the mall in the first place. “Article 241 (3) (a) of the Constitution requires that the defence forces shall assist and co-operate with other authorities in situation of emergency and disaster, the defence forces therefore have no choice,” she argued.
Karangi was however unable to satisfactorily explain why his men not only assisted but took over operations within the mall despite President Uhuru Kenyatta putting the Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo in charge.
The bulk of the KDF presentation however focused not on the command structure of the Westgate response team but on the charge that they are made up of ‘lootenants.’
Drawing from YouTube, Twitter, newspaper articles and even caricatures, the KDF information officer Colonel Cyrus Oguna worked systematically to discount the tarnishing portrayals.
CCTV footage of soldiers walking out of Nakumatt with paper bags and then stopping by a mobile phone counter being perhaps the most controversial.
“There was a dead body,” is how Oguna explained it with Karangi saying yoghurt and packet of crisps from an abandoned shopping bag is what they’re seen taking from the scene.
Oguna went on to explain the footage of a KDF soldier trying to open what appeared to be a jewellery safe as “sanitisation.”
“It was not a safe but a water dispenser in a pantry and the officer was only trying to establish whether there was someone in there because we had rescued people from all sorts of strange places and a child can fit in there,” he said.
He went on to play video testimonials from Barclays, Diamond Trust Bank and Nakumatt staff to support their contention that they repatriated Sh300 million back to the Westgate mall business owners.
“When we say repatriated we don’t mean we took the money and held it at our headquarters only returning it when the business owners raised alarm, we mean the business owners came to the mall on September 27 and transferred it out themselves,” he said.
They were however unable to explain the Sh1.9 million Barclays said was missing and accused the General Manager of Millionaires Casino of being responsible for the theft of the Sh1 million he claimed was missing.
The apparent contradiction as to what caused the second floor parking lot to collapse was also dealt with; Karangi maintained that the building was brought down by mattresses the terrorists burnt and not the anti-tank gun they used to expose the terrorists.
As for the four days security agencies used to secure Westgate mall, Karangi described it as “record breaking,” despite being forced to re-sanitise some areas on reports of hostages.
Something the Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo says they are now sure was not the case, “the terrorists were not looking to take hostages, they were looking to kill.”
Despite their best efforts however, the CDF admitted that there is a possibility that some terrorists got away when those first rescued were being led away from the mall.