• Irũngũ Houghton

Rule of law sure bet to taming terrorism

Updated: Jan 21, 2019

After a two-year lull, Al-Shabaab has managed to hit our capital city hard again. Tuesday’s attack on the five-star DusitD2 hotel and office complex offers another opportunity to know our real friends. It also forces us to relook at our counter terrorism capability as a nation if we are to be safe in future.


The 3pm attack on January 15 indiscriminately struck several Government agencies, digital development start-ups, public relations and multi-national companies. By the time the dust settled a day later, at least twenty-one people were dead, scores injured, 700 evacuated and several explosive devices safely exploded.


It is often forgotten that Al-Shabaab’s attacks on Kenya preceded the 2011 Cabinet decision to roll out Operation Linda Nchi in Somalia. A series of cross border attacks on Kenyan soil brought fundamentalism and violence to Kenya’s doorstep. It is also true that since we have intervened to prevent lawlessness and human rights violations and support the establishment of a civilian elected Government in Somalia, the attacks increased. For most, Tuesday’s attack brings back nightmarish memories of the Westgate Mall (2013), Mpeketoni, Lamu (2014) and Garissa University College (2015) attacks among others.


Media reports suggest that Al-Shabaab were responding to the controversial US Government’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's new capital in May 2018. Most have asked what this has to do with us and why were we attacked. In this column on May 27, I challenged our Foreign Affairs Ministry moral compass on this very issue. Instead of joining the African Union to condemn this inflammatory action, our Acting High Commissioner joined a handful of others to drink cocktails at the US Embassy opening.


While this does not justify in any way the indiscriminate horrific attack on unarmed civilians and property this week, it is also important to know this background. Perhaps this could prompt a reconsideration of our one-sided support to the Israelis and a return to the two-state solution to resolve the Palestinian question.


The country’s response to the Tuesday’s attack felt different this time. Our military and intelligence agencies responded swiftly, professionally and in a coordinated manner. Unlike previous operations, there seemed to have been a centralized command that coordinated military action, intelligence gathering and public information led by the Interior Ministry.


An obvious missing for me still is where was the Health Ministry? From the para-medics, ambulances, hospitals to the mortuaries in which the bodies now lie, the entire response was a private emergency medical response. Imagine if the military exercise had been managed the same way. We need to ask new questions of our public emergency health response capability in the wake of the attack.


The sight of individual women showing up to feed the security officers, media and paramedics with food, milk, bread and tea will always be for me the true spirit of Kenya. Not the neighboring five-star hotels and million-shilling restaurants but informal, humble kiosk owners and individuals. Despite the lack of real support for them, small businesses save this country every time.


With exception of the photos from the New York Times and a few others, it seems the national and international media managed the balance between real-time reporting, accuracy and respect for the dignity of the victims. Hundreds of thousands of netizens shared, analyzed and discussed how to respond to the attack. This time, social media groups shared advice, information and encouragement to the 700 endangered men and women, armed civilians and security services to end the peril we all faced. Before the discussions subside, perhaps we must assess all our buildings for escape routes, wake-up our disaster marshalls, undertake emergency drills and keep those life-saving emergency numbers close.


It is also worth remembering two other points in the wake of DusitD2 attack. High levels of hopelessness, lawlessness, inequalities and exclusion fuel terrorism. Terrorism is also a form of maladjustment to the power of a democratic and open society. We must continue to sharpen our constitution, the rule of law and the swift application of justice as the primary weapon against violent extremism.


As someone once said; “For the wise, our fears are not there to scare us. They are there to remind us that there is something valuable worth protecting.” My condolences to the deceased’s families and best wishes for holistic healing of the survivors.


With courage, solidarity and calm resolve, Kenya will always prevail.


First published Saturday Standard, January 19, 2019. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group





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