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Westgate Can Be Uhuru Opportunity

Monday, September 30, 2013 - 00:00 -- BY NGUNJIRI WAMBUGU

Last week Kenya went through an awful experience with the Westgate attack. 

The immediate aftermath has been questions: what did the National Intelligence Service know, when did they know it, and what did they do with that information? What did the Kenya Police Service know, when did they know it and what actions did they take? What did the Kenya Defence Forces know, when did they know it, and what did they do with that information? Is there a scenario where the entire incident or part of it, including some of the deaths and injuries, could have been avoided?

Other questions include why the numbers of the dead and injured did not change, even after the building came down. Were there no more hostages or even terrorists in the building at that point? So who brought the building down? Where are the terrorists? Did they escape? Were they captured? Were they killed? Where are their bodies? 

Other (embarrassing) questions include: was there a joint command amongst our security agents during the attack? Was there an incident that led to fatalities amongst some of our security agents from friendly fire? Is there a protocol of engagement, even as a theoretical paper, on how to deal with a terrorist attack? Which agency takes the lead? Where does the buck stop? Who looted Westgate shops? What has been done to the looters? How do we assure Kenyans that the next time something like this happens they can trust the armed forces for their protection and that of their property?

Hopefully our much-maligned Parliament will get us the answers to these questions.

As this goes on there is a silver lining for President Uhuru Kenyatta in this dark cloud. It was President Barack Obama‘s Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel who, during the financial crisis in America in 2008, stated that one should never let a serious crisis go to waste but must use it as an opportunity to do things they could not have done before. US President John F Kennedy also pointed out that the Chinese word for crisis has two characters; one for danger and another for opportunity.

We expect the President to reorganise his security service after this crisis. However, I would like to suggest that he use this opportunity to revamp his entire administration.

As I mentioned to TNA boss nominated MP Johnson Sakaja, it is quite clear that the team in charge of government does not have the same ethos the team that was in charge of Uhuru' campaigns did. Whereas the Jubilee campaign team was united, focused, efficient and effective, the Jubilee government is lethargic, dysfunctional and incoherent in its messaging. This was most obvious as during the Westgate crisis when we had instances where some Cabinet secretaries and security chiefs contradicted themselves and even the President.

 Uhuru now has an opportunity to bring back the effectiveness, efficiency and communication prowess, that was associated with his campaign team.

The Westgate crisis also provides the President with an opportunity to take control of the direction of his presidency. He came into office when Kenya was at war in Somalia, an issue that was clouded by his personal ICC issues. He now has an opportunity to remind Kenyans and the world that our country is at war, and point to Westgate as why we cannot afford to have a President with divided attention. It will make some unhappy, but it is a fact that supports the argument that the ICC cases against him and Ruto must be reconsidered because they complicate his capacity to deliver on the mandate Kenyans have given him.

Finally the Westgate crisis provides the President with an opportunity to take his national cohesion and unity message beyond the Jubilee stronghold areas. One of the most powerful moments during the Westgate crisis was the coming together of the President and the opposition chief Cord leader Raila Odinga as they visited injured victims in hospital, and then shared a podium at State House to speak to Kenya and the world. It was obvious that both Uhuru and Raila have moved on from the March 4 general election. The Cord leader has accepted that Uhuru Kenyatta is President, and the President recognises and respects Raila’s place in Kenya’s politics.

 Now the President can use the momentum of that event to reach out to other leaders across the country and invite them to participate in making that vision a reality despite their political backgrounds. This calls for him to own and build up on the temporary #WeAREOne moment Kenyans were part of after the attack, and make it the foundation of how he runs his government.

 Whatever the case, my plea to the President is: please do not let this crisis go to waste.