Westgate Mall Terrorist Attack: Lessons for Kenya
The terrorist attack by Somali-based Al-Shabaab at the up-market Westgate Shopping Mall in Westlands Nairobi, on 21st September 2013 was a brutal retaliation for Kenya’s military operations in southern Somalia, that began in October 2011. The Kenya Defense Forces are part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which is led by the African Union and UN-backed peacekeeping forces. Dubbed “Operation Linda Nchi” (Operation Defend the Country), the initial purpose of the invasion was to pursue Al-Shabaab militants who had been accused of kidnapping several foreign tourists and aid workers in Kenya. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the militant group is actively recruiting Kenyans from different ethnic groups into its terrorist operations. A report by the United Nations Monitoring Group for Somalia and Eritea noted that: “Since 2009, the group has rapidly expanded its influence and membership to non-Somali Kenyan nationals who today constitute the largest and most structurally organized non-Somali group within Al-Shabaab.”
Nicknamed “Kenyan Mujahideen” by Al-Shabaab leadership, these youngsters who have converted to Islam, form around 10% of the group’s overall forces. Poverty is a key factor leading to their recruitment. Moreover, since they have a physical build that matches indigenous Kenyans, they easily blend within the general population without much suspicion. For instance, Elgiva Bwire Oliacha who was jailed for life in 2011 for grenade attacks in Nairobi, hails from Busia, went to schools in Nairobi, and was brought up in a strict Catholic family. Various reports indicate that Al-Shabaab’s goal is to establish a multi-ethnic generation within East Africa. Since 2011-2013, Kenyans in different parts of the country have suffered a number of fatal and non-fatal attacks within bars, churches, mosques and other public places, attributed to Al-Shabaab.
It was revealed that apart from the invasion, the Kenyan government had another plan for Somalia codenamed the “Jubaland Initiative” whose aim was “to be the creation of a Jubaland, encapsulating Gedo, Lower Juba and Middle Juba in Southern Somalia, bordering northern Kenya with a population of 1.3 million. The establishment of Jubaland, according to Kenya’s diplomatic and intelligence bureaucrats, would have two phases. First, it was meant to act as a “buffer zone” to safeguard Kenya from negative effects spawned by the “lawlessness in Somalia” – which included religious extremism, the flow of small arms and contraband, terrorism, piracy, uncontrolled refugees – and to safeguard Kenya’s economic interests. The second phase would seek to establish the roots of a solid Somalia. The “Jubaland Initiative” is supposed to be modelled on the Puntland and Somaliland experience. Puntland and Somaliland are two provinces in northern Somalia that broke away from and declared their own autonomous governments.” (By Wanjohi Kabukuru in New African, April 01, 2012). A politically stable Somalia is important for Kenya’s trade expansion in the Horn of Africa.
Kenyans continue to decry the escalating insecurity that affects their socio-economic fabric. They fault the government for not having forensic laboratories that can record data with profiles of suspected terrorists, their sponsors and sympathizers. Retired Captain Simiyu Werunga, who is a security expert and the director of African Centre for Security and Strategic Studies, maintains that “it would be difficult for Kenya to win the war against terrorism in the absence of a proper mechanism to profile suspects, which creates a reserve of information that security organs can easily refer to.” Nonetheless, the Anglo-Leasing scandal which rocked Kibaki’s government during his first term, is blamed for having hindered the creation of such labs. The National Intelligence Service is also in question for not justifying its huge annual allocations of over Ksh10 billion, in relation to curbing insecurity. During the 2013/14 fiscal year, a total of Ksh1.2 billion has been set aside to erect a National Forensic Laboratory to facilitate criminal investigations in order to get justice for victims of crime.
Another security expert, Dr. Ochieng Kamuthai, asserts that the Kenyan government must have a new approach in fighting terrorism by advancing its weaponry, applying new technologies, gathering intelligence by infiltrating terrorist cells and by being ahead every time. Kenya is a key ally of the West in their fight against terrorism and should seek more assistance in terms of cash and equipment. In October 2012, former president Kibaki assented to the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2012 which is expected to lawfully disrupt the networks of financiers and sympathizers used by terrorists, to conduct their crimes.
According to Werunga, some factors affecting the security sector in Kenya include: lack of modernization of the security system and serious lapses of coordination between intelligence, the police and the Executive. Generally, there is no centralized coordination in the security sector. Within the top security apparatus, there is the element of shifting blame and giving excuses such as “I was not aware; I was not informed; we were not given the intelligence; this caught us unawares.” Last year, the former Internal Security minister admitted that the National Police Service lacks sufficient personnel and equipment to combat crimes in the country. There are around 80,000 regular and Administration Police for over 40 million Kenyans. The state security organs are reactionary and not proactive and to a good extent, do not apply early warning systems. Poor governance and the use of security forces by politicians to divide the electorate are also part of the problems ailing the sector. The biased deployment of security personnel by Kibaki’s government within ODM strongholds during the 2007/08 post election violence is a case in point. Additionally, the violent eviction of members of the Maasai community from their ancestral land in Narasha village in Naivasha in July 2013 in the presence of security personnel, clearly showed that the Jubilee government supports inhumane acts against poor Kenyans.
“Kenya’s Presidents have been loath to give up their control over policing; it has always been the surest way for them to gather intelligence on threats to their authority and has forever been a tool for interdicting this threat. Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel Toroitich arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki used the police to stamp their authority in Kenya; but none of them saw fit to direct that policing’s principal purpose was the safety of the public first, and national security, that is, the preservation of the State and its authority, next. As a result, even in the early years of Kenya’s Independence, citizens were frequently at the mercy of bandits and criminals, but the presidency, the State and State authority was always secure.” (In: maunduville blogspot July 4, 2013).
“Crime and corruption are among the biggest concerns of the locals. The city is one of the most dangerous urban areas in sub-Saharan Africa. Although the situation is better than a decade ago, most middle-class and wealthy urban dwellers refrain from walking on city streets after dark, a situation that has led to the popularity of the city’s shopping malls in its rich western districts as quasi-entertainment centers” (In: usatoday.com September 21, 2013).
Simon Tisdall reported in the guardian.com on September 22nd 2013 that: “The attack on the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi by Islamist militants from the Somali-based al-Shabaab terrorist group is a direct product of the long-running failure of western powers and African Union countries to end more than 20 years of anarchy in the “failed state” of Somalia. But it also reflects the outcome of a brutal power struggle within al-Shabaab that has brought the group’s hardline global jihadist wing to the fore.” Tisdall suggests that Al-Shabaab has internal leadership wrangles and that the Nairobi attack was an effort to stamp its authority, despite being weakened by the Kenyan military.
“The Shabab, who have pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda, used to control large parts of Somalia, imposing a harsh and often brutal version of Islam in their territory. They have beheaded civilians and buried teenage girls up to their necks in sand and stoned them to death. But in the past two years, the African Union forces, including the Kenyans, have pushed the Shabab out of most of their strongholds. The worry now, current and former American officials said Saturday, is that this attack could be the start of a comeback.” (By Jeffrey Gettleman and Nicholas Kulish in the New York Times on 21st September 2013).
“The fight against crime cannot be fought alone and fortunately, many countries [including the United States] are placing substantial resources within the borders of Kenya. Stability within Kenya has the potential to create an example for surrounding African nations. While the figures of crime facing Kenya are still some of the worst in East Africa, there is still considerable potential for a stable economy, government, and successful police force. First, the ratio of police to citizens needs to improve drastically. It is extremely unlikely for such a low number of police to actually make a significant difference in Kenya’s security. In addition to hiring more police officers, the salary and living conditions need to improve. Low pay and a lack of public respect breeds a sizeable amount of corruption, which puts a severe damper on the economy. Until the relationship between the police and Kenyan people improves, it is unlikely for crime levels to make any major statistical decline. Furthermore, the court system in Kenya needs a reorganization and overhaul because the utilization of police prosecutors has proven itself to be ineffective and outdated.” (See Crime and Development in Kenya, 2010, Vol. 2 NO. 09 pp1-2).