Sunday, September 22, 2013

WESTGATE: KENYA'S DARKEST WEEK

This week is one of the darkest in Kenya's history.

If there is any country in Eastern and Southern African that has suffered the most from international terrorism, and continues to be a key target of modern-day bandits, it is Kenya. We have shed innocent blood, suffered eonomic melt-down as a result of the many travel advisories issued by Western nations; and, consequently, we have been put on a permanent state of alert.

Before the American Embassy attack in 1998, 20 people were killed at the Norfolk Hotel bombing. Thirteen perished at the Paradise Hotel in Kikambala in 2002. Minor attacks have also taken place in local bars, a small shopping complex on Moi Avenue and several other points in northern Kenya where casualties were recorded. These attacks have taken place despite government measures to deal with terrorism.

I was saddened though that some Kenyans took to the social media to lash out at the government for what they said was a failure by authorities to prevent the attack. They did this at a time when ambulances were still shuttling people to hospitals and the thugs still holed up with our hostages at the Mall. I feel the hasty blame-game was premature and insensitive. I am happy, however, that most Kenyans have contined to support out security forces.

I am sure many wish the government could have done more to stop the attackers who, we now know, are members of the Al Shabaab. But no country, not even the most vigilant nation in the world, has been able to prevent attacks from modern-day terrorists. International bandits have become more adept at plotting more secretly, and are far more cordinated today than they were a few years ago.

The speed in which our security forces moved in to take charge of the situation was commendable. Also coming up for praise are the dozens of volunteers who worked hard to shepherd people out of danger zones, carried helpless children to safety and collaborated with the Kenya Red Cross to save lives. We must also thank those who continue to come out in their thousands all over the country to donate blood, and those who continue to offer food. This type of unity, devoid of political, racial or religious consideration has never been seen before in Kenya. It is a good start towards unifying our people in the wake of the many challenges facing our country.

But people expect the government will do much more in future in terms of securing our country. Going forward, the government must review its security manuals and re-train its forces. It must go for the terrorists where they are instead of waiting for them in Kenya. I agree with our leaders that the terror group must be pursued at all cost and punished appropriately. That effort must start immediately. We have too much work to do and cannot afford to be distracted by cowardly attacks by destructive forces.

However, the first line of defence is Kenyans themselves. Intelligence must start with us: in our own homes, in our work places and in entertainment joints. We must report suspicious activities to authorities without fear.

The weapons used at Westgate must have been transported into Kenya by public transport and stockpiled in our own localities. Someone must have noticed something. Our motto should be: report something when you notice something. The government cannot succeed in wiping out this menace without our help.

Finally, we have gone through similar difficulties before, and we rebounded. We are a resilient people, and we will overcome this one too. Our enemies must know that we will not be cowed by any such acts of violence.

And that is my say.