We cannot win war on terror through reflex

Arming private security guards in a couple of malls and a hospital may not be such a great idea after all... How easy will it be for the terrorists to simply shift focus elsewhere? Very.

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By Ahmednasir Abdullahi, SC

The country is smarting from yet another terror attack and remains at a loss on how to permanently deal with the problem. And while quick solutions are needed, it’s of uttermost importance that we exercise patience and sobriety when dealing with the issue. Calm in the face of peril is the ultimate show of resilience.

But, we cannot talk solutions without appreciating the problem. While it may seem obvious that all Kenyans want is to feel and be safe, the truth is that oftentimes when crises have presented us with opportunities to rethink our society, we have dealt with the symptoms rather than the actual disease. Grand corruption, ethnic strife, poor leadership and impunity in the new constitutional dispensation, the invasion of Somalia and threat to close Dadaab, the profiling of ethnic Somalis in the wake of previous attacks and infringements on individual freedoms are some of those times.

Why Kenya is under attack is what we should all be grappling with, not how to protect ourselves. Although cross border attacks in the north by Al Shabaab have been a fact of life for a decade, they were largely innocuous. In fact, according to some estimates, the overall threat from al Shabaab declined in the year leading to the 2012 invasion only to skyrocket afterwards, at great cost in human lives. The attacks became frequent, large scale and became focused inland. We mustn’t forget that the incursion into Somalia was spurred less by the threat of al Shabaab and more by geopolitics and political dynamics.

In retrospect, perhaps Nairobi shouldn’t have invaded Somalia. An honest approach to problem solving would have been the tightening of border security and the strengthening of immigration laws – in fact, anything but a full scale war that could not be justified by any cost-benefit analysis would have sufficed. Unfortunately, for the umpteenth time, when by tragedy we are presented with the opportunity to correct this error, hardly anything is mentioned about an exit plan.

Is arming guards the solution?

This debate has simmered for several years now, and not just in Kenya. In many places, it’s not just a security issue but an ideological and business one as well. For every research that proposes armament, there is another that concludes that guns do not reduce crime.

A proper law reform process, such as proposed by Private Security Regulatory Authority CEO Fazul Mohamed, must benefit from a thorough research in this area. Depending on their hypothesis (that guns will help) they must among others, identify a research type, the method they shall employ, the tools required, both local and international, conceive a plan, as well as identify and consult the relevant stakeholders who are not limited to security enforcement agencies. The idea of the process is for the policy owners to tell us with certainty who will be affected by the regulations and how they will be applied and monitored. Properly done, such a process should take years, not the six months suggested!

While proponents of the idea may have it in mind that Kenya can benefit from the Uganda experience, he ought to be reminded that the Kenyan situation is unique. Arming private security guards may not be a successful in a country that shares a long porous border with Somalia where the enemy resides.

The law reform process

Once developed by the relevant agency, the policy must obtain Cabinet and Parliamentary approval. The policy only gains formal approval once it has been accented to by the President. Roadside declarations and knee-jerk speeches are politics, not policy.

Once in place, the policy must be sent to the Kenya Law Reform Commission for consideration. It is for the Commission to interrogate the policy and advice on the best way forward. Some policies, such as the one contemplated, may require an amendment of existing laws, others merely need to be rolled out as they are self-executing while others may require the creation of new laws altogether.

What government is likely to discover if it undertakes a rigorous reform process is that arming private security guards in a couple of malls and a hospital isn’t such a great idea after all. How easy will it be for the terrorists to simply shift focus elsewhere? Very. But it could also be that the Authority’s mind is already made up.

Lest we forget, operation Linda Nchi was never about securing Kenyans’ lives than it was about protecting the interests of the West. While it is true that al Shabaab is mainly concerned with foreign nationals who mostly frequent certain places, it is also true that in many occasions they have attacked “ordinary places”. What will be done to make sure that the small man in such places feels safe?

Why don’t we begin by arming traffic police officers – already trained and vetted – to be able to offer response? (

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