BLOG: Five lessons from terror attack on Westgate mall
On this day — September 21 — three years ago at 12.30pm, gunfire and explosions broke the tranquillity of a calm and serene Saturday noon as gunmen attacked Nairobi’s Westgate Mall.
By the time this calamitous mêlée was over, at around 10pm, on September 24, after putting the nation and the world through 80 hours of nerve-racking agony, 67 innocent lives had violently been snuffed out at the shopping mall.
They say life is the worst teacher because it always gives you the test first and the lesson afterwards.
So, three years later, what lessons has the country, its citizens and security agencies learnt from the Westgate terror attack?
Lesson One: Need for better inter-agency coordination among security agencies. A chain, they say, is as strong as its weakest link. Looking back at the Westgate rescue mission, it is clear that the coordination among our security agencies was greatly wanting.
The biggest lesson our agencies learnt from Westgate was how to carry out delicate operations in a seamless and coordinated manner; instead of competing for recognition, each agency puts its best foot forward, leveraging on its core competence.
The country has since had successful multi-agency security operations in such areas as Boni Forest and parts of the former North-Eastern Province.
Lesson Two: The central role of an intelligence-led approach to fight terrorism. In his treatise, The Art of War, written around 490BC, Chinese army general Sun Tzu says: “To neglect the use of spies and intelligence (in war) is nothing less than a crime against humanity.”
This is a lesson Kenya’s security policy makers have learnt and taken to heart very seriously since the Westgate attack.
The appointment of Mr Joseph Boinnet — a seasoned intelligence officer — as Inspector-General of the National Police Service (NPS) in December 2014, was one of the most visible illustrations by President Uhuru Kenyatta of his government’s realisation that there was a need for a paradigm shift in the management of the country’s security apparatus with an emphasis on intelligence-led operations.
As a result, there has been enhanced real-time coordination between the NPS, the National Intelligence Service (NIS), Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) and other security organs.
Consequently, the security agencies have been more successful in thwarting and disrupting plots by terrorists before their evil schemes could be carried out.
Lesson Three: Faster reaction time saves lives. Early in his leadership, President Kenyatta noted that investment in security had been minimal or neglected for many years.
The Westgate attack was the real wake-up call for the government to fast-track the modernisation of the security sector.
Today, the NPS boasts several armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and other specialised equipment required by special police units deployed along the volatile sections of the country’s borders.
The refurbishment of the Police Air Wing’s Mi-17 helicopters and the purchase of additional choppers has greatly enhanced reaction and deployment time of the police to deal with any major security crisis in any part of the country.
Lesson Four: Security is a shared responsibility. Since the Westgate attack, the government has put more emphasis on the concept of Nyumba Kumi as a means of empowering citizens in the management of local security.
Mr Joseph Kaguthi, the chairman of the National Committee on Implementation of Citizens’ Participation in Security (commonly known as Nyumba Kumi) and his team have traversed the country helping communities to set up Nyumba Kumi clusters.
This has helped to create security awareness in rural and urban areas, with more wananchi participating in securing their neighbourhoods by reporting suspicious individuals or actions.
Lesson Five: Surveillance and vigilance are the hallmarks of security. In today’s world, a country that does not leverage on technology as a tool for enhancing security leaves itself open to all manner of risks and attacks.
One of the government’s biggest investments in the security sector since Westgate is the installation of an intelligent security surveillance system in Nairobi and Mombasa.
This has significantly boosted the ability of the police to monitor and take immediate remedial action when a crime occurs.
The police have been able to track and recover stolen cars within a very short time, courtesy of the security surveillance system.