Abdul Hajj swings into action to rescue a kid in the besieged Westgate Shopping Mall. Photo Credit: REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic
When terrorists stormed Nairobi’s Westgate Shopping Mall on September 21, 2013, it took the agility and bravity of civilians to evacuate would be hostages. The courage and dedication of Abdul Hajj and company, selfless civilians who braved grenades and gun shots and facilitated the evacuation of women, men and children from the besieged mall, will remain etched in the minds of many. This was commendable. Instead, the government chose to credit the performance of its security machinery, and ice it up with a defeatist “terrorism is a global problem” narrative. How unfortunate.
For fairness sake, it is important to understand the role of the Kenyan government in the Westgate rescue mission. Joining the operation hours later, Kenya Police Service, Police and the Kenya Defense Forces, KDF were unable to secure the lives of hostages. I am sure the Kenyans and foreigners who lost eyes, nails and nostrils at the hands of the terrorists must have doubted the existence of security apparatus in Kenya.
KDF, often oversold to the masses as competent, trained its rocket propelled grenades on the jinxed up market shopping mall, triumphantly collapsing it and burying close to 70 people, an insignificant constituency, according to Joseph Ole Lenku, Kenya’s Interior Cabinet Secretary, in the resulting debris. I developed goose bumps on hearing the technocrat term the victims of KDF’s incompetence as insignificant.
Does this shed light on the government’s resolve in hailing praises at its security machinery for its stellar performance?
“Terrorism is a global problem” is defeatist. On the surface, it plays into the egos of the Mujahedeen, that they are unstoppable. This is exactly what the Al Shabaab, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, and Ku Kux Klan want to hear. Besides exciting terror gangs, this narrative trivializes any localized initiatives to contain terrorism.
In the Kenyan context, it is an “accept and move on” of sorts. It lulls Kenyans into overlooking the gaping complacency of the security apparatus in particular and the government by extension. “Global” here is euphemism for gargantuan, insurmountable.
It reminds me of a folklore popular where I come from in which a squirrel, unable to order its senses in the wake of exposed grain, is crashed under a boulder trap. Before it breathes its last from injuries inflicted on its spinal cord and head, the folklore goes, the squirrel ignorantly reassures itself that what had befallen it is OK, for it also befell the rest of the squirrel squad. Purposed to promote individual responsibility, this folklore lauds the reassurances by individuals when they suffer the consequences of their folly. Just like the folklore, the “terrorism is a global problem” narrative speaks volumes.
What the Presidency and Interior Cabinet Secretary are telling Kenyans is that Kenya cannot deal with terrorism. It would follow therefore that it is natural for the average Kenyan to realize that the government had stunned itself in its response to the terror attack. By the Police hurling teargas canisters in the direction of the clutch gun wielding Mujahedeen, repelling them into the rows of bread and hardware in Nakumatt, they deserved complements.
Importantly, the establishment is telling the populace to understand when the Police, for instance, are complacent. That a distraught citizen can call the Police and, if lucky, learn that he should fuel their Land Rover, should be understandable. Increasing road carnage in Kenyan roads, in this connection, should be understandable.
With this statement, the government is telling Kenyans to understand when it is unable to tame corruption, insecurity, high cost of living, and food insecurity. Together with environmental pollution, these too are global problems. This way, Kenyans should not question when the government unabatedly levies VAT on essential commodities such as sanitary pads, maize flour and milk. Instead, they should accept and move on.
Begging from this is the question on what “local” problems the Kenyan security apparatus deserves praises for solving. Taming cattle rustling and banditry? Protecting politicians from their electorates? Shooting poor Kenyans in post election circumstances? Congratulating them on job well done in any other undertaking is suspicious. It zombifies Kenyans.
Zombified Kenyans cannot think hard when it emerges that the Police were privy to information of the impending terror attack on that Saturday. That the security guards frisking the hundreds of patrons at Westgate Shopping Mall had frantically phoned in vain Parklands Police Station to report on suspicious persons roaming the premises hours before the attack, too, should be easy to understand. This will certainly soil the nation’s public image.
By peddling the “terrorism is a global problem” narrative, the Kenyan government is telling its people that they should understand when terrorists strike again and again killing, torturing, injuring and abducting Kenyans and foreigners in their wake. While Police and the National Intelligence Service trade accusations. While the KDF deploys inexperienced soldiers on the frontline and toys with careless strategies. While the government spews propaganda, supervises all these malfunctions, and pours undue praises, Kenyans should understand.
After all terrorism is a global problem.