•I have deeply reflected on the war on terrorism particularly how Kenya can boost her capability.
Since the 1998 bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya has suffered numerous deadly terrorist attacks leading to loss of hundreds of lives, thousands of people injured, as well as massive damage to property and infrastructure. In the last two decades, terrorism has emerged as perhaps the single biggest threat to Kenya’s security and economic stability.
As a survivor of one of these attacks thanks to the heroics of our gallant men and women in uniform and civilians of goodwill, I have deeply reflected on the war on terrorism particularly how Kenya can boost her capability to fight and defeat this deadly enemy.
In this regard, I was excited at the news of the signing, last month, of a historic counter terrorism partnership between Kenya and the United States, which will see the creation of a Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTFF), the first of its kind involving Americans to be established outside of the US.
The JTTF, spearheaded by the Kenya Government in collaboration with US State Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) that will be based in Nairobi, will significantly boost Kenya’s ability to combat terrorism and enhance security within its borders.
According to the US Embassy in Kenya, the overall objective of the JTTF is to promote terrorism investigations and prosecution, enhance the country’s ability to respond to terror crises as well as boost border security.
To achieve this, an initial team of twelve Kenyan counter terrorism experts will undergo specialized training at the FBI Academy in Virginia, US, covering investigation and prosecution of terrorism cases, among other aspects. As a multi-agency force, the JTTF will also focus on managing counter-terrorism intelligence, crucial to building stronger surveillance and deterrence capacity.
The setting up of the JTTF is timely as it comes in the wake of the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) 2019 which ranked Kenya 21st among countries most impacted by terrorism. This is evident in key sectors of the economy like tourism which have suffered the disruptive effects of terrorism resulting in loss of thousands of jobs.
Terrorists have also triggered insecurity in several parts of the country most notably North Eastern Kenya where Al Shabaab is blamed for a spate of attacks on schools, shopping centers, quarries and security installations leading to many fatalities. In the coastal region, Al Shabaab staged an attack on the KDF Military Base on Manda Island in January this year killing three American military personnel and contractors.
Although through military intervention Al Shabaab fighting capability has been seriously degraded, it remains a threat as evidenced by sporadic attacks by the group against innocent Kenyans in recent months.
There is therefore value in concerted effort by Kenya and her international partners in the war in terrorism in combating criminal groups like Al Shabaab. More importantly, we need to move as a country from a reactive to proactive approach to counter terrorism. This is crucial in identifying, disrupting and defeating terrorist elements and the criminal networks that offer them financial and logistical support.
The JTTF therefore heralds a new phase in Kenya’s war on terrorism by providing a platform for collaboration with a strong international partner (US) while building local capacity to tackle the threat posed by international terrorist networks.
Kenya will also benefit immensely by strengthening local capacity in investigation and prosecution of terrorism cases under the JTTF framework. This is a vital cog in the delivery of justice to victims of terrorism and their families. Inadequate capacity to handle terrorism cases - complex and risky in nature – has always been cited as a missing link in the justice system, with suspects walking scot-free due to bungled investigations and prosecutions.
In a nutshell, the JTTF lends considerable impetus to Kenya’s quest to eventually eliminate terrorism as a security and economic threat. In addition, I see it as an important milestone toward preventing recurrence of tragic events like Dusit and setting the country on the path to greater security for her citizens. And from personal experience, neutralizing the enemy before it strikes is the ultimate weapon in the war on terrorism.
Mwachinga is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya. [email protected]