The August 7 midmorning attack on US embassy in Kenya and Tanzania brought al Qaeda to the limelight. It shaped Kenya’s war on terror and how Kenyans thought about their own security.
The attack was masterminded by Fazul Mohamed, who was killed by Somalia forces in Somalia in 2011. Experts say the blast was an eye-opener to Kenya and the world on the threats of terrorism.
Former Kenya Special Forces officer Byron Adera says prior to the bombing, terror was a new threat. Lack of proper understanding of terrorism bordered on it being regarded as a mythology, essentially meaning the country operated with delusions, what Adera termed “wrong brief, wrong solutions”.
“America had acted firmly by sending troops out to combat terrorism in the Middle East. They had in exchange been warned that counter-attacks would be sponsored on her soil and her interests abroad,” he said.
“Whereas efforts were notched up to protect the territorial America, the embassy in Nairobi sat pensively within a space that suffered myriad weaknesses: a government security machinery that was ill appreciated, prepared and trained, and a lacklustre disaster preparedness and response — without a switched-on mobilisation potential.”
Adera cited a misinformed populace that lacked security awareness as among others gaps that the terrorists exploited to launch the attack.
“The clear lesson was that terrorism, as a threat, had a global outlook. It was fanned by a vast array of societal factors, where conflict was an extension of socioeconomic and political antagonisms. Other factors such as religion were used as generous veils to sanctify criminality and violence under the shadows of acclaimed religiosity,” he said.
TURNING THE TIDE
Martin Kimani, director of the National Counter-Terrorism Centre, said Kenyans were needlessly victimised in a vendetta against the US.
“Twenty years ago, they struck against the Americans and treated Kenyans as collateral damage. Their contempt for Kenyan lives was revealed then and has continued,” he said.
However, Kimani said, the Kenyan people and their government have turned the tide. He said the terror attack awakened and solidified Kenyans’ patriotism and national liberty and resolve to defend the country against invading ideologies promoted by al Qaeda and its affiliate al Shabaab.
“They disrespect African independence of thought and action. They oppose our democracy and our prosperity as shown in their attacks. They are not only the enemies of goodness but of all African people. But we as a country have the ability to successfully fight against global and regional terrorist organisations,” he said.
At the time the attack happened, Kenya was not part of any war on terror, but today it is fighting terrorism in self-defence.
“The terrorists al Qaeda and al Shabaab are aggressors, invaders, with ambition to be our oppressors. But a people that fought a global empire for its independence will not be defeated by terrorists,” he said, adding that Africans had fought worse terrorism in the forms of slavery and colonialism, and that this latest one, too, will pass.
Adera said the twin bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, and later the 9/11 attacks in the US, led to the pronouncement of terrorism as a global threat. This saw countries come out with interstate and interagency cooperation and strategies.
“Central to this was the notched-up training, equipping (resource building) and shored up intelligence-led counter-terrorism operations, refined by better coordination between vital moving parts,” he said.
The paradigm shift from conventional to unconventional warfare made for rapid sharing of vital actionable intelligence, breaking the shackles of routinised hierarchies, he said.
This, Adera said, created a revolutionised legislative structure, such as terror-related laws, and incorporated players including human rights organisations, religious leaders and the public.
In Kenya, legislative, institutional and operational changes to respond to the threats were crafted.
“Today we have our troops in Somalia. This has put us actively in the theatre of international war on terror, which has seen lessened frequency of attacks with the country,” he said.
“Indeed, our efforts and other international forces' campaign in Somalia and elsewhere have hugely degraded the terrorists’ capacity to launch offensives.”
He said there has been a change in leadership in critical agencies like the National Intelligence and National Police Service, all aimed at enhancing security and tackling terrorism.
“There is more refined intelligence. Guesswork has been taken out of counter-terrorism operations. The tranquillity in most spaces within the borders is a testament to proactive measures taken to harness and exact intelligence, a fair exchange for the harmful information pathology that informed yesterday’s approaches,” he said, adding that the there is better formulation, posturing and coordination between different agencies.
WINNING HEARTS, MINDS
Adera said the establishment of the NCTC (National Counter-terrorism Centre) has led to more exacting approaches to the war on terror. There have been soft security measures, too, like the Countering Violent Extremism, launched by the head of state last year to involve the citizenry, he said.
“Winning the hearts of minds of the people within the battle zones and in the country is essential to keeping the populace on our side and denying the terror cells new converts,” he said.
Adera said decentralisation of services and more impactful sharing of the national cake mean that the citizenry feel more engaged. This has reduced the large-scale feeling of disenfranchisement, eliminating chances for recruitment and radicalisation.
“Strategically meaningful and more intense cooperation between the national and county governments make for better sharing of vital information relevant in addressing insecurity. More needs to be done, however, to make the devolved systems work better,” he said.
Kimani on other hand called on all Kenyans to play their role, terming the war on terrorism a collective struggle for safety and security of families, communities and the country in general.
“From those who preach respect for other religions and cultures, to those who nurture young people, who start companies that provide employment, and who willingly provide information to the security services about radicalised and threatening individuals — their efforts are joined to the bravery and dedication of our soldiers, police officers and specialised counter-terrorism personnel,” he said.
“Twenty years after the evil attack of 1998, Kenya is standing tall, wounded but undefeated, taking the fight to our enemies, and succeeding every day in demonstrating our determination to be an independent people free from all extremists, be they colonial ones or those motivated by a warped understanding of religion.”