Security focus on political ‘enemies’ opens window for terrorist attacks
Posted Friday, September 27 2013 at 01:00
Kenya has gone through a harrowing, tragic time that has resulted in a high death toll, hundreds of injured and traumatised survivors of the terrorist attack at the sprawling Westgate mall in Nairobi.
Many are still trapped in the debris of floors that collapsed, which means the total death toll is not yet known. I would like to extend my condolences and best wishes for quick recovery to the injured and the traumatised survivors of the attack. There is no need to blame anyone for the security lapses because it could have happened anywhere, even if the tightest security measures were in place.
Clearly, this was a professional operation that took a long time to plan and, therefore, the planners knew whatever security arrangements were in place and the weaknesses they could exploit. There must have been reconnaissance for a long time and possibly personnel infiltrated into the building either as workers or tenants.
There must have been a fairly large well organized support network to bring in the arms and personnel, hide them and transport them to the venue without detection. There must also have been someone somewhere who gave the attackers the order to move and attack and to the network members to melt away and be ready to plan for another operation somewhere else, which could be Uganda, Burundi, Ethiopia or anywhere else the terrorists are angry with.
The repercussions do not include any gains to either the al-Shabaab organisation nor to the al-Qaeda but only to express their hatred for Kenya and also to show their capacity and reach. However, there may be collateral damage to innocent Somalis and Muslims, who may be wrongly profiled as looking suspicious during subsequent security operations.
Even ordinary Kenyans may look at them with suspicion. Fortunately, the rather long period taken to defeat the attackers gave an opportunity to Kenyan leaders to explain to the public that the Somalis and Muslims had nothing to do with the criminal activities of the attackers.
The political leaders across the political lines stood side by side in this tragic period and this may help manage any sectarian hostility towards this or that ethnic or religious group imagined to contain possible fifth columnists.
As Kenyans donated blood and money, President Uhuru Kenyatta stood with Raila Odinga, his political adversary, to address the media and I heard someone wonder whether if the tragedy had happened in Uganda, President Museveni could stand with Dr Kizza Besigye to do the same; a sad commentary on the political system of intolerance prevailing in Uganda.
There are many lessons for us to learn from this tragedy in Kenya, the most important being that we should be prepared at all times because these people may strike when least expected. Unfortunately, there seems to be more security concentration on political opponents - the wrong “enemy” that is deemed a threat to regime survival - and this may provide the terrorists, a national security threat, the window to come and kill many innocent people. Even in Kenya, the concentration on the ICC trial of the two top leaders could have been a distraction that allowed in the attackers unnoticed by security.
Meanwhile, operations have started in Burundi, which also has troops in Somalia, to arrest people suspected of sympathising with al-Shabaab and these people happen to be Muslims. Even though Muslims died and suffered like those of other faiths, it seems that no matter the good will and understanding of most people, the attack in Nairobi has created problems for Muslims with security agencies and non-Muslims.
Operational problems have been created for security agencies because al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda recruit only among Muslims and they continue to invoke Allah, the Koran and Sharia law as the authorities for their actions and, therefore, security agencies seem to focus investigations among Muslims indiscriminately. The dilemma for the world is how to live with resurgent political Islam in which the extremist strand breeds terrorism.
Finally, the good news in Uganda is that the teachers’ strike has been suspended for 28 days pending government’s fulfillment of the 20 per cent salary increase promise. The teachers union needed a way out but this means they have lost the battle as it is unlikely that they can resume the strike again soon.
Mr Ruzindana is a former IGG and former MP. firstname.lastname@example.org