On Tuesday morning the NYPD issued a damning statement [full report here] that pointed fingers at the Kenyan government for its handling of the terrorist attack at the Westgate Mall in September. Dozens of people were killed in the attack.
According to the statement:
- Despite conflicting reports from the Kenyan government, “evidence suggests that there were only four attackers, who may have escaped alive.”
- The commander of the police tactical team that went to quell the siege was most likely killed by the KDF. “The police department tactical team entered the mall at 3 p.m., without police markings or identifications, and were fired on by Kenyan soldiers, killing the commander of the unit.”
- The security team “had no idea what the mall looked like internally, and didn’t know they could access the closed circuit television system.”
- The NYDP “didn’t know what had caused the mall to collapse,” but it is likely that “the Kenyan military may have used rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank missiles on the building, and that heat from fires caused by the explosions may have weakened the poorly built structure.”
- And lastly, “the Kenyan military may not have killed any of the attackers, there was “significant” physical and video evidence that they had looted the mall.”
[UPDATE: A reader, @ZiadFazel, just reminded me of the KTN documentary in October that questioned the official line about the attack. Back then the government dismissed the documentary as inaccurate and alarmist and even threatened to arrest KTN journalists. This new statement from the NYPD adds credibility to the evidence previously dismissed by the government]
Westgate is not just an indictment of the KDF (a force that has and continues to sacrifice a lot for regular Kenyans in the north east and in Somalia) but of the entire security apparatus in Kenya. For the longest time Kenyan civilian administrations have obsessed with issues of coup-proofing, maintenance of public order and the suppression of dissent over actual provision of security.* Urban crime, banditry in the north and pockets of rural areas even in the more governed south and latterly the threat of terrorism have exposed the underbelly of the Kenyan security system.
President Uhuru Kenyatta praised the KDF and the police following the botched operation at Westgate. Was this an attempt to boost the morale of the boys or was he simply continuing the tradition of appeasement with the aim of keeping the army in the barracks and the paramilitary GSU and police ever ready to “restore order” whenever necessary?
Whatever the case, it may be that President Kenyatta and his administration have found themselves in an unfamiliar territory. Kenya’s much touted bureaucratic-executive state may have worked well against internal dissent, but can it effectively deal with current security threats? Civilian control over the security apparatus demands for accountability and performance; and whenever there is failure, an attempt at correction. Is the Kenyan system capable of sustaining a civilian-military relationship that is responsive to the public and based on performance and accountability?
Kenyans were told many tales following that tragic Saturday afternoon in September and the ensuing four day siege. But the more Secretary Ole Lenku spoke of “exploding mattresses” the more questions emerged. The NYPD report is yet another reminder that the security system failed Kenyans, and that the civilian administration was unable to stand up to those responsible and demand for accountability.