NAIROBI, Kenya, May 21 – When four gunmen raided the Westgate Mall on September 21 last year, 67 people died, property worth millions of shillings was destroyed and the country went into shock as questions were raised on Kenya’s capacity to gather intelligence and respond to disasters.
The capacity of the country’s security agencies came to the spotlight as the low number of poorly equipped police officers portrayed a vulnerable situation.
Kenya is still miles away from achieving the recommended United Nations police-to-citizen ratio of one officer serving 400 people but this cannot be an excuse, according to Nyumba Kumi taskforce chairman, Joseph Kaguthi.
An all inclusive approach, Kaguthi says, will be the only remedy for dealing with cases of insecurity and specifically terror attacks. “It’s no longer the business of police and even security guards to maintain our security, but a responsibility of all people living in the country; those bearing citizenship and foreigners.”
“Security is the mandate of every person living in Kenya…not only citizens but also foreigners,” he says. “The first test of security is vigilance.”
Nairobi County Police boss Benson Kibui agrees with him saying police alone cannot eliminate crime.
“Members of the public must ensure they support the police by providing information that can help curb cases of insecurity,” he says.
Kibui laments that most criminals are known to the public, “but either they fear to report them or just want to protect them.”
“This is wrong; we should report the enemies of peace to police.”
On his part, Kaguthi said the lifestyle of Kenyans must change and instead they must become more vigilant as they push on with their daily undertakings.
“Frustrate the terrorist by being vigilant and remember the police lines 999, 112 and on the Internet, Usalama Watch portal. Let our eyes, ears and your intuition be alert,” he says.
On May 4, at least two people were killed and 53 others injured in two bus explosions that occurred within metres of each other near the Homeland Inn on Thika Road and the Thika Road Mall. The previous night, similar twin explosions went off in Mombasa – at the busy Mwembe Tayari bus park, and near a tourist hotel.
These explosions only added to the increasing number of attacks on public places, and nearly a fortnight later several people were killed in twin explosions at the busy Gikomba market in Nairobi. The terror incidents are evidence that the country needs to take proactive measures on safety and security.
Whether a reactive measure or a permanent one, Public Service Vehicles within Nairobi are dutifully searching their passengers before they board. The move has been widely accepted by most Kenyans, accompanied by calls for training of those in charge for them to be able to detect any explosives.
“I don’t find them doing much; they should at least open the bag…it’s a good move but they could do better,” Naomi Muthanga a passenger said.
Margaret Wangui, a commuter in Nairobi, welcomed the move but cautioned that, “You think they (terrorist) are fools to come here to be searched? they normally board the vehicle along the way; every person should be searched whether on the way or at the terminus.”
A visit to the busy Kencom bus terminus showed long queues as people complied with security checks before boarding their buses. It was the same situation at bus stations within the city.