Thought and Ideas
Westgate attack: How prepared is Uganda’s security system?
Posted Sunday, September 29 2013 at 01:00
Last weekend in broad day light, suspected armed al-Shabaab terrorists attacked Westgate Shopping Mall from the front and rear entrances in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.
Reports indicate that the ill-armed security guards at the entrances were overpowered by the militants before they gained entrance. The militants then started hurling grenades and shooting before they took control of the entire building.
Earlier reports from security officials pointed at armed robbers who had attempted to run away with money but when they took hostages, then the story changed. Other reports suggested that the attackers had for long operated a shop in the mall and the incident was one waiting to happen.
It was a terror attack, a situation which the private security guards could not handle.
An extra hand was needed and the police came in; so did the General Service Unit and then the military that managed to contain the situation that left, according to reports, more than 67 people dead and several others injured, after a four-day battle.
No doubt Ugandans or their security agencies wouldn’t like to experience what the Kenyans have gone through.
That is why the police sent liaison officers to Nairobi to study the situation with the objective that in case the al-Shabaab ever attempted to carry out a similar attack in Uganda, they could handle the situation better.
The biggest question now is whether Uganda is capable of handling such an incident in case it occurred.
Although Gen Kale Kayihura, the Inspector General of Police, says they have tried to prevent terrorists from attacking Uganda, he concedes that security matters need luck prayers and vigilance.
“When such a thing (terror attack) happens, Uganda becomes so active. After a few days when you tell citizens that we may be attacked, it is as if you are from another planet. People shouldn’t live in fools’ paradise. Even the most advanced nations are attacked by terrorists. The incident has happened [before] we need to learn lessons,” Gen Kayihura says.
Like Kenya, Uganda has a problem of porous borders and lacks advanced equipment like scanners to detect explosives.
Terror incidents around the world have shown that most terrorists are from well-to-do families, highly trained in different fields and they are well financed.
So the well-trained terrorists have to match with our security officers most of whom get basic security training in terrorism detection and prevention.
Mr Moses Matsiko, the director of Pinnacle Group, a security provider, says the Westgate Shopping Mall attack was complex and nobody can be fully ready for it.
“But with increased vigilance and awareness of the public and security officers, where everyone knows what to look out for and how, then the situation can be prevented,” Mr Matsiko said.
In modern urban security challenges, nearly every private or public company has private security guards that are the first line of defence dealing with initial violent and minor challenges at workplaces and when they fail, they refer them to the police.
Mr Matsiko says with challenges of terrorism growing by the day there is need for change of atitude on security issues among people.
“Many people dodn’t want to be checked or walk through metallic detectors while entering a building because they think it is inconveniencing, but I see it changing. I now see more people willing to be checked including ministers, police and military officers,” Mr Matsiko says.
He concedes one of the biggest challenges of private security firms is their clients who don’t want to pay for standards quality and quantities stated in their site security survey report.
He says if a private security firm suggests in their site survey reports that the buildings will require 10 guards, they will say that they can only offer payments for five.
“The client is the boss and it is a big problem. Many clients will choose the firm on whom they will spend less which may compromise security,” he says.
President Museveni’s directives after Westgate Shopping Mall attack are geared at addressing exactly this.
Gen Kayihura said President Museveni ordered that every building and mall, especially in urban areas, be profiled to understand the people operating in it, the security situation and how the private security guards can coordinate with government security agencies.