By Deo Tumusiime
My daughter quizzically asked me a day ago; “Daddy, are you going back to Nairobi?” I asked her back, “Why did you ask that?” She replied, “I just wanted to know if you would be safe”.
Yes, Nichol knows I travel to Nairobi quite often, and the sight on TV of the Saturday Westgate attack by the Al-Shabaab, was indicative in her mind that she could have lost her dad had I been in Nairobi at the time it happened.
And true, Nairobi will continue to smell death for many years because the innocent blood spilled will never completely dry up- but do such incidents teach us any lesson? For the time being, my answer is NO, at least not in Africa.
When terrorists bombed the American Embassy in 1998 killing over 200, everyone was shocked and understandably so. The incident was least anticipated and it bruised everyone’s heart. Fifteen years later, terrorists find their way into a shopping mall in Nairobi still with so much ease and claim over 60 lives in broad daylight.
But just how could they have outsmarted the Kenyan security again? 1998 should have been lesson enough to warrant the meanest security detail for the rest of Kenya’s existence.
In 2010, the very terrorists ‘surprised’ Kampala and claimed over 70 innocent lives of football fans watching the World Cup in Kabalagala and at the Kyadondo Rugby Grounds. At the time, our security too was caught napping. In the aftermath of the attack, security was beefed up at every public place.
Three years later, everyone’s back to ‘bed’ and nowadays not many care about checking vehicles and individuals accessing public places. The armed forces have been replaced by unarmed and hungry askaris- and even when they do check, it is done haphazardly as many people see this as an inconvenience.
Some people even cheaply say that “If it is your day, you can die of anytime”! So, again, no lesson learnt.
I was in Rwanda a few years ago and I witnessed mean-looking military policemen in one town on standby wielding their guns. Rain or shine, day in, day out, they remained in their positions. I did not know of any insurgency in the country at the time.
I asked one Rwandese why all this. She told me that Rwanda learnt hard lessons in the 1994 Genocide, and was unwilling to take any chances at all. These folks today value their lives to the last detail, and the military is on red alert to deal with anyone attempting to return the country to disharmony.
I have said again and again, that people that carryout terrorist attacks are not the stupidest of beings. To achieve their mission, these fellows must be spending several tactical years of planning. So while governments plan their security, the terrorists are also planning; if you guard the gate, they jump the fence.
Most times, they wait until the national security has gone for a nap and they take advantage and strike. Interesting that even when they appear stupid enough to warn that they are about to attack, they still achieve their motive to the letter.
However, it is imperative to note that security is not just about positioning troops at the gates to every supermarket or stadium or church; security also involves carefully avoiding avoidable international confrontations.
Security equally involves national discipline. A country where citizens skip the rule of law and go away with it cannot be said to be security conscious, because anytime the enemy can use the gaps in the social superstructure to infiltrate.
Ask yourself; how did the terrorists cross into the country? Which means of transport did they use to reach their attack destination? Which communications network did they use to achieve their mission? Which schools did they attend? Where did they buy their guns? Which hotel did they sleep in the night prior to the attack? Which woman or man fathered these heartless human beings? And, just what drives one’s son or daughter to go so crazy? One needs to clearly study the DNA of an average terrorist in order to devise scientific remedies rather than threatening to finish and punish them. What punishment can be meted on one to avenge the death of 60 innocent lives?
All the above questions must be adequately answered in order to claim that a country is secure.
Meantime, if say, a country decides to intervene in a conflict of another country as is the case with Kenya or Uganda or Burundi in Somalia, it must do so well knowing that while it points the barrel in the outward direction, four fingers are pointed in the inward direction.
Therefore, such interventions must be sanctioned through a national vote as opposed to mere ego, so that the population takes collective responsibility. National vote, because when the attacks reverberate, it is the innocent civilians that pay the price.
Many must have died cursing why their government ever sent troops to fight in Somalia to cause such provocation.
Well, of course this is not the right time to apportion blame, but having said the very words in 1998 in Nairobi; 2011 in New York; and 2010 in Kampala, I think the time is now to count our losses and say, enough is enough.
If we human beings can deploy armed guards at our home gates with families of two or three; if we fatten tough dogs to keep watch over our homes; if we build perimeter walls around our homes and equip them with barbed wire; if we install CCTV cameras around our offices with a handful of staff; how much must we do to guard facilities accessed by a thousand or more human beings?
Of course in the short run it will be inconveniencing to have to check everyone entering a huge supermarket and there will be huge delays, but all these must be weighed against the price we attach to our lives.
Similar inconveniences will present in all other aspects of our lives where the law is followed to detail, but incidentally that is what it takes to have a sane society. Remember the English saying, “Spare the rod and spoil the child”.
May the souls of the innocent lives lost in the Westgate incident rest in eternal peace; but, in many ways, I believe we did not have to get to this.
The writer is an international communications consultant