Kenya’s Transformative Strategies and Success in Countering Terrorism

No data was found

On September 21, 2013, gunmen overran the upmarket Westgate Mall in Nairobi massacring at least 67 people, injuring more and initiating a days-long standoff with police. It turned out to be a terrorist raid that discouraged Kenya and the entire region, pressing the state to pour billions of shillings into security agencies. When Kenya’s ex-president Uhuru Kenyatta assumed office in March 2013, the country’s Anti-Terrorism Police Unit was a small derivative of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations that his predecessor Mwai Kibaki had assigned a paltry $207,482 mostly for salaries.

The government profiled and protected its citizens as well as those from neighbouring countries like Somalia, steering in a new era of mass surveillance. “Let me make it clear. We shall hunt down the perpetrators wherever they run. We shall get them. We shall avenge them for this heinous crime,” stated Mr Kenyatta, days after the Westgate episode that came as he settled in office. In his first budget for the financial year 2014/15, Kenyatta raised the allocation to the ATPU more than 10 times to $2.27 million.

Increased spending on the fighting against terrorism, however, went beyond ATPU, which was constructed in 2003 in response to the aggression on the US embassy in Nairobi in 1998 and on an Israeli-owned Mombasa hotel in 2002. The government also plunged billions into overall internal security systems while the need for private security, including guarding, and CCTV cameras also flooded, leading to a business booming as cautious Kenyan households and corporate communities prioritised their safety. 

The biggest inheritor of security spending was the National Intelligence Services (NIS). The vast budget approved by techies has enhanced NIS capabilities for vast phone, email and Internet surveillance operations. The eavesdropping was supported by contentious legislation passed in the wake of the Westgate episode, allowing government agencies to attend to and record phone conversations without court permission.

The attack on the upscale mall, a favourite of Kenya’s increasing middle class and foreign workers, occurred two years after Kenya sent troops into Somalia following a string of kidnappings and raids on its soil. On September 6, 2013, the Westgate assailants bought a Mitsubishi Lancer KAS 575X from a garage in Nairobi which was utilised to conduct surveillance, rehearse and recognise potential secure routes to the mall from Eastleigh.

It is the same automobile that was used to access the mall by four terrorists on the day of the attack, shocking the state. As a result, the state swabbed Safaricom to install a $102 million security surveillance system endowed with thousands of CCTV cameras that relay data to police in real time, recording people and car directions in the bulk of Nairobi roads.

The project involved combining 195 police stations in Nairobi and Mombasa to high-speed (4G) Internet to facilitate communication. The first phase of the surveillance system went live in May 2015, two years after the Westgate raid. Companies and households have also turned to private security as the danger of terrorism remains alive, with active terror compartments in neighbouring Somalia and parts of northeastern Kenya.

“So, after the Westgate attack, before you penetrate any gate there is the deliberate screening of both vehicular and foot traffic,” Jackson Mbuthia, the chief commercial officer at privately-owned SGA Security, stated, noting that this was not the case before when the main role of a security guard was to unlock gates and lift barriers.

The legal landscape has also transformed as the government improved its anti-money laundering (AML) and combating financing terrorism (CFT) framework. This is in line with 2021 taskforce information which showed Kenya’s geo-positioning, commerce interconnectedness, and high fintech use have improved the country’s vulnerability to money laundering and terrorism financing.

The task force estimated that the banking industry carried the highest money laundering vulnerability, tracked by vehicle dealers. The far-reaching changes in estate, money remittance providers, Saccos, legal professionals, and the second-hand motor amendment offered in the Anti-Money Laundering and Combating of Terrorism Financing Law Bill, 2023, including stiffer fines for individuals moving enormous undeclared cash volumes, look developed to tighten checks in these sectors.

Share this page:

Related content

From Tragedy to Triumph: Morocco's Response to the 2003 Casablanca Bombings

From Tragedy to Triumph: Morocco's Response to the 2003 Casablanca Bombings

Throughout the 20th century, Morocco remained fairly unharmed by terrorism. Then on May 16, 2003, the Moroccan economic capital of Casablanca was swayed by a suicide bombing, killing forty Moroccans.…
Counterterrorism Collaboration: Somali Danab's Success at Justified Accord 2024

Counterterrorism Collaboration: Somali Danab's Success at Justified Accord 2024

Elite fighters from Somalia made history at Exercise Justified Accord 2024 (JA24). The Somali Danab is a special operations unit within the Somali National Army, playing a critical role in…
Rwanda's Intervention in Mozambique: A Turning Point in the Fight Against Jihadist Insurgency

Rwanda's Intervention in Mozambique: A Turning Point in the Fight Against Jihadist Insurgency

In April 2021, Islamic State jihadists raided the Mozambican town of Palma, shooting dozens of people and forcing a deadlock between insurgents and hundreds of civilians holed up at the…