Thursday April 2 2015, I heard the news of Garissa terrorist incident on Radio on my way to work – probably like everyone else I know. My initial reactions were ‘not again’. Since April 2 was a busy day of moving around I did not have an hour to hour breakdown of what was taking place. However, around 3 pm I picked wind that the situation was still happening and naturally the ghosts of Westgate were awoken. It was only later in the evening that I was able to have a sense of what had taken place.
Today it is two weeks since the Garissa incident happened. A lot has been written especially on how the security apparatus responded to the incident (mostly the failures). We are now aware that Recce Squad, an elite group within the General Service Unit (GSU) was not able to be on location due to lack of a helicopter to take them to the terrorist scene as early as 6 am when the attack was made aware in their radar. The Police helicopter which would have taken them to the scene was in Mombasa – apparently it had taken the daughters of the air commandant on vacation. Details of this were unearthed by one of the bloggers in Kenya and shared widely on social media.
That as it maybe, it there were few things the security apparatus was able to do right. Their response thought slow was far much better than what happened during the Westgate incident. The Inspector General and the Minister for Interior and National Coordination, both new in their offices were at the scene of the incident fairly early. However, the question raised by most analysts has been what their use was being at the scene early as opposed to the paramilitary who would have disposed of the situation. Developments on this end have been – Recce Squad now has been allocated aircraft – helicopters.
The other notable development has been the civil society involvement in the whole episode, during the Westgate incident the government was more or less controlling the narrative. Especially, events that took place – there was the ‘we are one’ narrative which was pushed by corporates and other big entities. This was enviable and it is still is today. Immediately preceding the incident the government communication machinery came up with the ‘One Kenya’ hashtag. Good as it may have been there seemed to have been a deliberate effort not to remember the students who lost their lives in the terror incident. This is something that is quite common in Kenya – where a phenomenon happens and people either forget or it is swept under the carpet. That is why a group of activists – to be specific, Boniface Mwangi (a photojournalist by profession who now runs Pawa254 Hub) and Ory Okolloh Mwangi (a technologists and a founding member of Ushahidi) came up with the hashtag on twitter ‘147 is Not Just a Number’. Their intention was to remember the 147 mostly students and security personnel killed during the terrorist incident.
The 147 is not just a number picked up pretty fast and overtook the government ‘sanctioned’ hashtag ‘one Kenya’. This has had a snowballing effect to the rest of the world and they went a step further to organize a vigil and a memorial at Uhuru Park. This was unprecedented.
I for once have been trying to figure out what this means – is this a ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ moment? For those not in the know, I think the Boko Haram situation especially the kidnapping of school girls in Northern Nigeria by Boko Haram was the beginning of the end for the Jonathan Goodluck Presidency. The question is, will the insecurity posed by terrorism be the Achilles heel for President Uhuru Kenyatta presidency?
Time will tell but going by the events I noticed while in Lamu for the Lamu Food Festival and sentiments/comments from the Deputy President, we are a long way from getting it right.
The author of this piece is a blogger and a cultural practitioner in Nairobi. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of FES