On AlJazeera.com, Nairobi-based political cartoonist Patrick Gathari laments that Kenyans have learned “nothing” about terrorism since the attack on the Westgate Mall in 2013. Rather, Gathari concludes, the Kenyan government is “still treating security primarily as a public relations issue”:
even as Cabinet Secretary for Internal Security Joseph Ole Nkaissery solemnly announced the number that would make this the worst terrorist attack on Kenyan soil in nearly two decades, questions were already forming about whether this was just the latest in a series of eminently preventable terrorist atrocities that have now claimed more than 350 lives in the last two years.
There were some notable improvements over last time, Gathari suggests. But not too many:
Unlike the attacks in Mpeketoni in June 2014 in which more than 60 people were killed, it did not take more than six hours for the security agencies to arrive. Some reports suggest a KDF unit was on the ground within an hour.
In contrast with the confused response to the September 2013 attack on the upmarket Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, the coordination between police and military units seemed much smoother. Certainly the media statements were much better choreographed. But the differences end there.
Like most other attacks, there was prior warning that this might happen. Along with other universities in Nairobi, the Garissa University College had warned students about a possible attack and police presence there had been doubled to four officers.
A few days prior, the British government had issued a travel advisory to its citizens advising against travel to Garissa, among other counties. Such advisories, which the Kenya government continues to blame for the collapse in the tourism industry, were rubbished by President Uhuru Kenyatta the day before the attack.Further, though it boggles the imagination that four gunmen could hold off our elite counterterror police and military units for many hours while systematically massacring “hostages”, it is hardly unprecedented.
Pretty much the same thing happened at Westgate where four gunmen supposedly kept hundreds of cops and soldiers at bay for four days, apparently taking time off to pray and relax while the security agents looted the mall
I am no expert on Kenyan politics. But I do know that, after the attack at Westgate, the head of Interpol suggested that having a few concealed carriers in the mix might have helped:
Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble said today the U.S. and the rest of the democratic world is at a security crossroads in the wake of last month’s deadly al-Shabab attack at a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya – and suggested an answer could be in arming civilians.
In an exclusive interview with ABC News, Noble said there are really only two choices for protecting open societies from attacks like the one on Westgate mall where so-called “soft targets” are hit: either create secure perimeters around the locations or allow civilians to carry their own guns to protect themselves.
“Societies have to think about how they’re going to approach the problem,” Noble said. “One is to say we want an armed citizenry; you can see the reason for that. Another is to say the enclaves are so secure that in order to get into the soft target you’re going to have to pass through extraordinary security.”
At present, Kenya does not require firearms owners to obtain a permit before carrying a concealed weapon. But it does make it pretty hard to get that weapon in the first place. Essentially, the country has a strict ”may issue” ownership license, which means that permits are given out on the basis of “demonstrable need.” It has a strong background-check system, too. Indeed, in order to obtain permission to purchase a gun — and to keep that gun once bought – applicants have to pass a training requirement, submit to a criminal background check, and undergo a psychological evaluation. And, even if they pass all of these with flying colors, the state can refuse the application for any reason. It will be interesting to see if any of these rules change now that the country has been hit once again.