Security experts criticise Kenyan government’s strategy in fighting terrorism

Kenya Defence Forces bomb a suspected Al Shabab hideout at Fafadun township in Somalia. Experts have proposed a number of guides on the way to deal with security threat in the country. [ PHOTO/FILE/STANDARD]

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Experts are faulting government’s strategy to confront the rising terror threat and its failure to comprehensively implement existing security laws.

While some question why the government has not invested in drone technology and instead opted to erect a wall on parts of the Kenya-Somali border to gather real-time intelligence, others say the establishment of a Homeland Security department would be the best bet in securing the country.

“Kenya needs a single, unified homeland security structure that will improve protection against the growing threat of terrorism. This has worked perfectly elsewhere,” says Francis Maina, a security analyst.

According to Maina, the department will guarantee efficient sharing of intelligence among all security-related agencies and ensure immediate response in case of attacks.

The change of tactics from the current “set piece battles”, experts say, is ideal in a conventional war. To repulse the growing insurgency, they say emphasis should go to enhanced intelligence gathering with priority being given to drone technology to flush out militants in the harsh semi-arid terrain in the north.

The Institute of Security Studies analyst Dr Emmanuel Kisiang’ani and Col (retired) Benjamin Mwema, a UN consultant on security in eastern Africa, agree that Al-Shabaab militants have changed tactics.

“Drones collect a lot of information and would be useful even in telling who is involved in wildlife poaching, charcoal and sugar smuggling from Kismayu and other illegal activities that generate capital for the Al-Shabaab,” the don says.

Muema says after Kenya’s successes in stifling the Al-Shabaab in Somalia, the insurgents opted to operate in small groups to prolong the conflict.

“They decided to operate in small numbers. They choose high-value targets and prolong their stay to grab media attention,” he explains.

The first attempt to deploy drones for surveillance in wildlife sanctuaries in 2013 was allegedly resisted by high-profile individuals in government under the excuse that the gadgets would give away incidental information on Kenya’s natural resources.

Based on calculations of a drone owned by Standard Group used to transmit real-time information on traffic and weather in Nairobi, the Sh23 billion allocated for construction of a concrete wall would substantially come down if the government opted for drones.

The drone owned by the Standard Group costs $1,500 (Sh130,000) a piece. With just Sh1billion, the government can purchase roughly 8,000 drones, enough for surveillance along the borders and banditry-ridden pastoralist regions.

Asked about the matter, Internal Security Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery declined to comment on the 700 kilometre border wall.

“I cannot go public about our strategies. Surely! Surely! Surely! Do you expect that?” said Nkaissery.

Experts further say the police force has been left strained in numbers while the authorities continue to overlook legal provisions that would see reserve formations established to boost the service.

“The answer to our national security dilemma is to implement all aspects of our four security laws to include the re-establishment and re-organisation of the Kenya Police Reserves as well as creating genuine organised Kenya Defence Forces reserves,” says Andrew Franklin, a former US marine who now works as a security consultant in Kenya.

“Our complete failure to implement the National Police Service Act, 2011 has left us with a disorganised police force with diminished numbers of trained personnel, especially in the Administration Police,” he states, lamenting the fact that a high number of AP officers are currently deployed to non-critical roles such as VIP protection, cash in transit escorts, bank guards and sentries at government facilities.

Sub-section 110 of the Act provides for the establishment of the National Police Reserves (NPRs), who may among other roles be deployed to assist the Kenya Police Service or the Administration Police in their respective mandates. At the same time, the analyst cautions that lack of an organised reserved unit to absorb Kenya Defence Force servicemen retiring or quitting honourably is costing the country crucial security resources.

“The absence of any organised reserve units in any of the three services (the Kenya Army, Kenya Air Force and the Navy) means that motivated personnel leave because there are no career opportunities,” states Franklin adding “This is not the case in the United States, the UK or Europe; without reservists, the US could no longer project a military force globally”.

He cites the recent court martial proceedings against 26 KDF officers who allegedly failed to resign procedurally but proceeded to take up private military contracts overseas, as the manifestation of poor or non-existent structures.

“If we had properly organised reserve structures and formations, these 26 individuals could be back in uniform either as “weekend warriors” or on short term active duty contracts,” he advises.

Likewise public paramilitary forces such as Kenya Wildlife Service rangers, Kenya Forest Service guards as well as private paramilitaries in some conservancies; all of whom are armed and trained security personnel, could also be easily incorporated into a properly constituted Kenya Police Reserve.

Other security experts recommend arming of retired military, police and other qualified security officers, and having them absorbed into the private security sector as a strategic way to tame insecurity.

Mwenda Mbijiwe, who specialises in counter-terrorism, says this will be a bold approach with minimal risks. “While we appreciate the need to let them enjoy retirement or careers elsewhere, we must equally admit that we have an extraordinary security challenge that demands we exploit all possible options,” he says.

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