This is one of the darkest moments in Kenya’s history since independence. The wanton carnage witnessed at the Westgate Mall will be indelibly etched in the memories of our people – and the world – for years to come.
As we mourn those who lost their lives and comfort the wounded and the bereaved families, this is a moment for serious and sober reflection on the state of our national security.
But let me be clear; this is also not the time to apportion blame over what happened at Westgate. Rather, we need to mine this experience for lessons on our ability as a nation to protect the lives and property of all citizens.
It is time we went back to the basics by asking ourselves what should be done to make our country more secure. Security is a key enabler in Vision 2030, and a foundational ingredient for socio-economic growth. Without security, no investment or development is possible.
There are numerous components to national security – the police, intelligence services, prosecution system, defence forces, immigration services, legal system, and corruption prevention, and there is bound to be significant debate about all by many. I, however, would like to focus on one critical aspect here – the police.
To successfully reform our Police Force, we must focus intensely on revamping the entire security infrastructure. We need to enhance the sophistication of the Force to effectively tackle fast-mutating criminal activity including terrorism, corruption and white-collar crime.
So far, a lot of emphasis has been on enhancing governance in the security sector with the establishment of the Independent Policing Oversight Authority and the National Police Service Commission.
While improving governance is essential, it is insufficient. Investment in police operational efficiency and working conditions has lagged behind.
This has adversely affected the ability of the law enforcement agencies to effectively prevent and tackle crime. Our security infrastructure is glaringly wanting.
For instance, a great deal has been said about the poor working conditions our law enforcers operate in. Most police stations are in a deplorable state. It is not uncommon to see police officers working in dirty offices lacking essential tools such as vehicles and even furniture and stationery.
In some stations, officers live in dilapidated quarters. How do we expect the police to discharge their duties effectively if their work environment is so challenged?
These stations serve as a critical hub of security operations, with the bulk of crime prevention work being handled here, yet we starve them of the basic facilities and infrastructure they require to execute their duties. If the police station as a hub of crime prevention is not addressed robustly, then everything else will fail.
The police station is a key node in a larger chain of crime detection, surveillance and prevention. The Westgate attack, for one, brought to the fore the urgency of investing resources across the whole chain.
I have written before that we need to do for the police and Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP) what we have done for the Judiciary. Resources directed towards our court system have quintupled over the last four years. There must be a commensurate enhancement in resources allocated to the police and DPP.
Crime detection and investigation are crucial to successful prosecution of cases in court. In many instances, our courts have thrown out cases, citing shoddy investigations. So no matter how much we reform our Judiciary, if we neglect the police and prosecutions, justice will remain a mirage for the poor. What do I mean when I say we need to make our Police Force more sophisticated? This means first enhancing their ability to detect all types of crime.
Second, it means that even in cases where crime is actually committed, the police have the ability to investigate and prosecute even the most complex of crimes.
This calls for massive investment in modern training and equipment. This may sound ironic coming from me, but even if we have to re-allocate funds from important Vision 2030 infrastructure projects to beef up our security capabilities, so be it. After all, without security our most impressive pieces of infrastructure will at best be heavily under-utilised, at worst flattened!