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Let’s get our act together on intelligence



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Last week was not just a dramatic week in Kenya’s history replete with achievement, bravery, sadness and horror; it was one of the most defining moments in our modern history.

We were hit, yet again, by terrorism, but we showed our mettle. The relevant forces on whom Kenyans depend for their security did a credible — indeed, commendable — job.

It was an interdisciplinary exercise with notable synergy, coordinated way right down to the Red Cross, and the collateral damage and fatalities, though horrible, were contained. It shows that after the bungling of Westgate, the relevant parties went back to the drawing board and got their act together.

Even skilled foreign personnel were involved and their input was appreciated. Terrorism is a worldwide phenomenon and experience gained in tackling it should be shared.

But there was one very notable let-down: Our counter-intelligence is wanting. I will not go as far as to say it failed us, since I am not privy to the full facts. However, in this day and age of shared global security, which Kenya is a party to and big beneficiary of, I cannot believe that our intelligence network did not know more.

If it did not, we need to overhaul it. If it did, then what went wrong? Two things come out clearly. One, a deep hard forensic examination needs to be made of our intelligence network with expertise from outside and weaknesses identified and rectified.

Two, if it was a case of intelligence not being followed up or acted upon, then again that must be worked on.

Let us face it. The threat of multi-faceted terrorism is not going away any day, and we better get on with building up our counter-terrorism network. But that does not mean turning Kenya into a police state, nor infringing upon civil liberties.

We must also focus on the historical causes for such actions. Many terrorists have the common thread of having a history of deprivation. The same applies to many of our thieves. If we invested much more in social capital — in schools and creation of gainful opportunities — the lure to thuggery, thievery or terrorism would reduce.

It does not eliminate them but it significantly reduces them. That means we must work overtime to get the balance back into the development-versus-recurrent expenditure. We have a million children who need education at any one time, but we are just not up to it.

However, education per se is not enough. There has to be a strong vocational aspect to it, so that when students complete their education, they are also ready physically and psychologically for a job.

Are we growing the economy fast enough to create those opportunities? No, we are not. I appreciate higher economic growth may not be the silver bullet by itself, but it is the major ingredient. An attractive framework and environment for people to put their energies and money into is a must.

The lesson from last week is that the way forward is a holistic one, not just a tightening and beefing up of security all round.