By Samuel Karanja
In June last year, a historic convergence took place at the Humanitarian Peace Support School in Embakasi, Nairobi.
Over 350 officers drawn from the Kenya Defense Forces, Kenya Police Service, National Intelligence Service, Kenya Prisons, Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Forest Service, National Youth Service, National Disaster Operations Centre and the National Counter Terrorism Centre came together in what the first-ever congregation of all of the country’s security units. It wasn’t an assembly without a cause.
The teams were here as participants in the first ever Multi-Agency Rapid Response Capability Exercise, meant to ensure cohesion in dealing with terrorist attacks and other security emergencies.
It was an idea inspired by Wanjiku’s tears. The terrifying Westgate and Garissa University terror attacks remain fresh in our memories. In between those two terror episodes in 2013 and 2015, dozens of other heartless attacks across the country had left the citizenry bloodied and traumatized.
No one seemed to have an answer to the death merchants. Our security agents could not prevent attacks, and their disjointed rescue efforts bordered on afro cinema. Before our very own eyes – on live television – our army and police forces at Westgate appeared to be reenacting the building of the Tower of Babel in the name of responding to one of deadliest terror attacks in the country’s history.
As victims were buried across the country, the opposition politicians roundly demanded that President Uhuru Kenyatta and his security chiefs resign over roaring insecurity. To the Jubilee government – this was not just another teething problem – the bloodletting had to stop. And somehow, amid the growing pressure, the president managed to craft a formula that would conquer terrorism.
Uhuru directed that the security forces adopt a multi-agency approach that would see the agencies work together in detecting, preventing and disrupting the operations of terrorist groups and other criminals. The approach has made Kenya safe again; the threat of terror, among other crimes, has gone down.
And this is why it is shocking when NASA flagbearer Raila Odinga, without any effort to substantiate, claims the same agencies have been mobilised and are being trained at the Embakasi Barracks to help rig the coming elections.
When the teams met in the same neighborhood last year, Raila conveniently sought to ignore it all. When the teams jointly burn the midnight oil in hotels, abroad, or even in treacherous forests trying to protect Kenyans, it goes without his notice.
It can’t go without mention that last year’s exercise in Embakasi was attended by who is who in Kenya’s defense circles, among them the Defense Cabinet Secretary, the Chief of Defense Forces, the Vice Chief of the Defence Forces, the Kenya Army, Kenya Air Force and Kenya Navy commanders as well as chiefs of other security organs.
I would presume this was one of their many meetings, but Raila never raised a finger. The elections were nowhere in sight and such absurd claims had no alarmist juice. But it is now June 2017 and stakes are higher. Security agencies can no longer converge without the leader of opposition crying wolf, and accusing them of harboring ulterior motives. He made similar unfounded claims in the run-up to the 2013 elections.
Does it mean security ceases to be a priority, or that it takes a backseat, merely because it’s election time?
These are the agencies we entrust with the safety of aspirants and their supporters on the campaign trail.
These are the agencies charged with ensuring the polls are free of violence. One of the main reasons given for the protracted 2007/08 post-election chaos was that the security agencies were ill prepared for such an ugly turn of events. Major General Hussein Ali, who was in charge of the police force at the time, was charged at the ICC as part of the Ocampo Six for failure to stop the violence.
Why would anyone cry foul when the security agencies learn from past mistakes and try to do better. And why wouldn’t Raila table evidence if he is convinced there is something fishy cooking?
It is not a secret that the country is already polarized, and such speculative statements are bound to provoke violence, making a tense situation worse.
By claiming that some security officers will be used as polling officials, the former Prime Minister will only succeed in triggering animosity against the very agents meant to maintain law and order. They will no longer be seen as the neutral, professional and apolitical figures they are supposed to be.
Such a scenario would make a perfect recipe for anarchy, which knows no tribe, party or one’s standing. Mr Odinga, unless you are a chaos peddler, kindly consider your dear country and countrymen before you move your lips.