NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 15 – Reports that militants who attacked Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall last September entered Kenya by road have heightened concerns that the government has failed to bolster security adequately at the country’s borders.
At least 67 people were killed and hundreds of others were injured in the attack by members of al-Shabaab, a Somali group with links to al-Qaeda.
An unnamed Western official told the BBC in November that four Islamic militants entered Kenya from Somalia in a car in June 2013 via a standard border crossing.
Kenya shares its northern borders with Somalia, Ethiopia and South Sudan, with all designated entry points manned by a combination of staff from the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF), the General Service Unit (GSU) and the Administration Police (AP).
Bashir Abdullaih, a retired Major-General who used to serve with the KDF in northern Kenya, says the government should have invested in new surveillance technology to monitor the borders.
“If you want to control our borders – because the threat is there – let the government deploy the border security system,” Abdullaih said.
“Without that, the normal policeman and immigration man will not help. On the borders, there are technologies that can be deployed even if some points are not manned. We can get border surveillance systems – they are very costly, but nothing is as costly as losing lives.”
In June 2013, the government released funding of Sh67 billion (nearly $800 million) to the National Police to boost national security.
Of that amount, Sh4 billion was earmarked to buy security equipment. A further Sh4.5 billion was intended to enhance security operations across the country. But nothing was allocated specifically to improve border security.
Other concerns centre on widespread corruption, which could be allowing foreigner nationals and weapons to enter the country illegally.
According to Abdullaih, the problem is particularly grave along the border with Somalia.
“Corruption has come to play a great role in the illegal entry of people to Kenya,” Abdullaih told IWPR. “There is lawlessness in Somalia, (and) people who do not understand the rule of law and order corrupt their way to Kenya.”
A GSU officer who spoke to IWPR on condition of anonymity said he witnessed a massive influx of illegal goods and immigrants while working at the border in 2009 and 2010.
He said rivalry and mistrust between the three security institutions manning the border made things worse. People trying to enter Kenya illegally often colluded with corrupt border officials.
“There are a lot of betrayers in the police force, especially the Administration Police. They tell (offenders) where (the border) is being manned, so they avoid coming through where we are. They know the route they should use, they say ‘use this route, don’t use this one because the security is there’,” he said.