Westgate Mall Attack: Confusion, Ineptitude and Corruption
As Kenyans come to terms with the aftermath of the four-day siege at Westgate Mall by Al-Shabaab militants which began on 21st September 2013, thoughts go out to all those who rescued the hostages. A big thank you goes to the first responders who included the well-organized and armed vigilantes from the Asian community; plainclothes police officers and other selfless Kenyans like Abdul Haji, who used their licensed weapons to stall the terrorists, while they dashed to save the hostages. The Kenya Red Cross team of rescuers deserves accolades for braving the volley of bullets and grenades to rush the injured to nearby hospitals. Some people have suggested that the organization should take over disaster management from the lethargic Kenya National Disaster Operation Centre (NDOC), because of its efficiency.
The Kenyan and international media did a marvelous job by keeping television viewers informed 24/7. Thanks too to the government’s multi-agency security team that dealt with the eventual operation. To all the Kenyans who donated cash and blood to the victims, keep up the unity and care. If the terrorist attack united Kenyans regardless of ethnicity, why then, do they normally maim and kill each other at the command of politicians? Various harrowing narratives which include eye-witness accounts, videos and photographs continue to emerge, depicting how hostages literally dodged death, while some managed to negotiate with the terrorists to secure freedom. Thanks to those who sent blankets, mattresses and other materials to keep the rescuers warm.
There was a group of nine Kenyans who called themselves the ‘Good Samaritans’ and coordinated food distribution to the security personnel and journalists; they were great. The Asian and Somali communities did well by providing food, water and other essentials. Some of them also went on TV to condemn the Shabaab and emphasized that true Moslems would never kill senselessly. There are also accounts of international security officers who rescued their citizens and other Kenyans during the early stages of the attack. For the scores of people from all walks of life whose families, friends and relatives were injured, may they have a quick recovery. For those who ended up fatally, may their souls rest in eternal peace and may their loved ones have comfort during this tragic moment.
Other than the above, there are many bitter Kenyans who condemn the government for neglecting their daily tragedies that come in the form of perpetual road carnage; insecurity ranging from hunger to terrorist attacks; petty and violent robberies, and many other social problems. Whenever accidents happen among the poor, it is the local residents and sympathizers who rescue the victims and rarely the government. Kenyans in the lower socioeconomic stratum wonder why the government never responds in time whenever they are struck by disasters.
Currently, the residents of North Eastern Kenya lament that random shootings, grenade attacks and other fatalities from suspected terrorists, rarely draw the interest of government to the extent seen during the Westgate siege. Similarly, last year’s repeated ethnic clashes in Tana Delta did not attract more than a few statements from politicians and the local media. In addition, the Suguta Valley massacre that cost the lives of over 40 police officers and reservists last November, has not been resolved.
The civilian rescue operation at Westgate was a showcase of how the upper echelon of Kenya deals with disaster. The Asian community was so well coordinated they sent ambulances to fetch the injured regardless of race or religion. They had basic medical materials including disposable gloves that you barely see among Government rescuers. Their vigilantes had walkie-talkies and bulletproof vests, showing their high level of preparedness. But as usual, there were other Kenyans who allegedly robbed victims. For instance, Benson Kihenjo, a police constable, was charged in a Nairobi court with possessing a blood-stained wallet, credit cards, cheque books and other documentations from a Westgate victim.
Informants have claimed that intelligence briefs were made available by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) to all the relevant top security bosses in the country, prior to the Westgate attack. Nairobi Senator Mike Mbuvi alias Sonko made a sensational claim during a senatorial debate this week that two months ago, he furnished NIS with details of impending attacks in Nairobi, but he was ignored. He said that three Asian women who reside in Westlands and Parklands had told him that suspected terrorists who had rented a house in their homes, planned to attack Westgate, Parliament and the Village Market.
The Kenya Television Network (KTN) has also revealed that various security organs were warned twice of an imminent attack in Kenya. A confidential intelligence brief to various ministries and in particular, the National Police Service, warned of a terror attack between 13th and 20th September 2013. The Israeli government also warned that terrorists had planned to launch attacks on Kenyan citizens and key installations between 2nd and 28th September, this year. The briefs were relayed to the Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo, Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph ole Lenku and Secretary to the Cabinet Francis Kimemia, informing of escalating threats of terrorism and plans to launch simultaneous attacks in Nairobi and Mombasa within September, 2013.
It was reported in the Star newspaper on 26th September that an NIS officer had warned his pregnant sister who is a police officer, not to visit Westgate on the day of attack. “She has told police that her brother who is a NIS officer warned her not to visit Westgate that Saturday because she would not be able to run with her bulging tummy.” The Star further reported that: “Two NIS officers who did not want their identities revealed yesterday told the Star that their organisation had given advance warning of the attack to Inspector General of Police Service David Kimaiyo and Criminal Investigations Department director Ndegwa Muhoro.”
The NIS also gives President Uhuru Kenyatta intelligence briefs; meaning that he was aware of the impending attack. But being engrossed in his ICC “personal challenge,” he must have taken it for granted. When people were urging Kenyatta to postpone his presidential ambitions until he had resolved the ICC case, he thought they were not happy with his quest. Now that he has to juggle the presidency and ICC proceedings, the trophy seems too heavy for him to bear. His deputy Ruto is equally overwhelmed and must be regretting why he championed the “Don’t be vague, go to The Hague” mantra. Former presidential candidate Martha Karua asked voters many times whether they would employ a “hyena to herd their livestock.” Choices have consequences and currently, Kenya’s governance is under siege because of these two men bound by their ICC destiny. Having rubbished the court several times during the presidential campaigns, they have realized it is a force they just have to bow to.
In yet another sensational report in Uganda’s Redpepper newspaper, 24th September, the country’s Chief of Defense Forces General Edward Katumba Wamala, has claimed that the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) leader Jamil Mukulu, could have been behind the Westgate siege since he wants to establish his authority as Al-Shabaab’s regional leader. General Katumba said that Mukulu had to account for the funds he was given by Al Qaeda, thus the attack. “Other terrorist cells linked to Al Qaeda like Al Hakim in West Africa and the Al Shabaab in Somalia have given their accountability and that it’s Jamil Mukulu who has not given accountability for the monies he receives from his funders,” said General Katumba.
It is emerging that there were cracks in the chain of command among the security agency bosses during the operations at Westgate. Rivalry and disputes among officers of the Kenya Police and Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) delayed the rescue mission. The Nation newspaper received information that a team from the General Service Unit’s Recce Company had earlier in the attack cornered the terrorists into a section of the building. However, the team pulled out when their commander was shot dead by a KDF soldier. Other policemen and armed civilians also pulled out, leaving a vacuum which the terrorists used to regroup and deploy high-powered machine guns, killing many hostages. State House announced that police boss Kimaiyo was in charge, yet the soldiers and their commanders only responded to KDF boss, General Julius Karangi.
The confusion in communication was also noticed when Ole Lenku gave contradicting information on the number of hostages and the dead. It was the same with Foreign Affairs Secretary Amina Mohamed who claimed in an interview that a British woman Samantha Lewthwaite, (the White Widow) had led the attack, yet the government denied it.
In an analysis of the Westgate attack, Giles Foden reported in The Guardian newspaper on 23rd September 2013 that “behind the terror is rampant corruption.” He sees a nexus between corruption and crime, amidst an expanding economy challenged by a vacuum of governance. He asserts that “money that should be spent on security and other aspects of infrastructure has been disappearing for generations.” No matter how much focus is placed on the transnational challenges of Islamist terrorism, without adequate investment in appropriate security in Kenya, there will be no success, he argues.
According to Foden: “In Kenya crime and terrorism are deeply linked, not least by the failure of successive Kenyan governments to control either. Indeed, the Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta (whose nephew has been killed in the attack), and the vice-president, William Ruto, both face charges of crimes against humanity in relation to their alleged role in co-ordinating election violence – Ruto’s trial at The Hague has been adjourned for a week to allow him to come home to deal with the crisis.” What value has Ruto added to the Westgate attack apart from wasting taxpayers’ money by traveling from The Hague? He should have remained there to defend his case.
In Kenya, political leaders hardly take responsibility for their incompetence or blunders that harm the country and citizens. The culture of impunity is rife and will continue because those who lead have always been recycled from the same pot of crooks. Up to now, nobody has ever revealed the real persons behind the assassinations and mysterious deaths of prominent politicians like: Pio Gama Pinto, Argwings Kodhek, Tom Mboya, JM Kariuki, Ronald Ngala, Robert Ouko, George Saitoti and Mutual Kilonzo. Over the years, all presidents have used security organs to intimidate and harm their political rivals in order to maintain leadership. Further, they have not shown concern for Wananchi and their insecurity.
Intellectuals like Dr. Micere Mugo and Professor Ngugi wa Thiong’o fled the country during dictator Moi’s era of terror, because they were perceived to be awakening citizens with their teachings. Currently, some Mpigs have criticized the Jubilee government for using public resources to bully Raila Odinga and his associates, yet terrorists have a free passage through the porous borders, bringing in illegal weapons. As usual, Parliamentary committees are now rushing to investigate Westgate. Equally, president Uhuru will soon constitute a commission of inquiry and when the report shall be ready, nothing will happen. Meanwhile, as our security bosses waste time wrangling and passing the buck, Al-Shabaab has promised future attacks on key installations and human beings.