The creation of the Nairobi Metropolitan Command of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) has raised fears that it could operate like the dreaded Black Mamba squad of the Ugandan military.
When he announced the formation of the new command early this month, President Kenyatta cited “the current threats in the country emerging from terrorism, drug trafficking, proliferation of small arms, and crime, among others, that tend to flourish in highly urbanised areas like Nairobi”.
However, it is not clear how the new command will work with various units of the National Police Service.
“Kenyans need to question the real responsibilities of this new command. It might end up being like the Black Mamba of Uganda,” said a source in Intelligence circles.
Without a clear-cut mandate, some top security officers, who spoke to the Sunday Nation on condition of anonymity, fear that the command could be fashioned to operate like the elite intelligence squad within the Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UPDF) that gained notoriety for operating as a law unto itself and ignoring other security agencies.
In 2005, the team besieged the Ugandan High Court and captured five suspects facing treason charges.
Following the incident, the elite squad was disbanded after protests from lawyers and human rights activists. In September, sections of the Ugandan media reported there may be plans to reassemble the Black Mamba to protect the country from terrorist attacks similar to the one on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall. However, UPDF Spokesperson Lt-Colonel Paddy Ankunda dismissed this as speculation.
The Department of Defence (DoD) has been cagey about the actual terms of reference for the Nairobi Metropolitan Command.
DoD spokesman Bogita Ongeri has for the last two weeks told Sunday Nation that his bosses at the Ministry of Defence will “soon” hold a press conference to explain the mandate of the new Command, but this is yet to happen.
“My boss wants to have a small team of journalists to explain the mandate. I will get back to you with the details,” said Mr Ongeri in a telephone conversation on Wednesday. However, he had not contacted us by the time of going to press.
KDF ACCUSED OF BUNGLING OPERATION
During the Westgate attack, KDF took charge, but the soldiers were accused of bungling the three-day operation. They were alleged to have looted and bombed parts of the building. KDF later announced that three soldiers had been dismissed over the looting.
President Uhuru Kenyatta vowed to name a commission of inquiry into the attack. But later through his spokesman Manoah Esipisu, he said the priority was on the forensic audit which is yet to be completed almost three months after the September 21 attack.
Although the KDF Act allows the military to intervene in internal threats to national security, the formation of such a command is seen by the police and human rights groups as a move to usurp the role of the police through the back door.
“The law allows collaboration between the two institutions (KDF and police). However, there is a danger the police could be denied resources on grounds that some work will be done by the new command,” said a top police officer, who requested anonymity to avoid antagonising powerful people in the military. He said the police were in the dark about the new unit.
However, after the announcement, Defence Secretary Raychelle Omamo defended the formation of the command, which will be headed by an officer of the rank of major-general. KDF has two other commands — Eastern and Western — also headed by major-generals.
She insisted the command would not take over policing. “The command will assist to co-ordinate security matters in the targeted areas. This will help the military achieve their constitutional mandate,” Ms Omamo said.
In an article published by Saturday Nation two months ago, Lieutenant-General (rtd) Humphrey Njoroge, one-time Commandant of Kenya’s National Defence College, said the military lost the plot in the Westgate siege.
He cited a broken command structure, poor screening of people fleeing the mall and outright incompetence, which may have handed the attackers the upper hand.
Lt-Gen Njoroge, an alumnus of the US Army War College, had in the 1980s recommended in an academic paper that the Kenyan police and the military should train together in order to handle situations in urban areas. But there was a caveat.
“The Army must also be trained to be able to live and fight under urban conditions to avoid undue harassment of children, women and the aged and the looting, which comes about when an inexperienced Army is exposed to these things,” he wrote.
The same fears were expressed by security officials interviewed by the Sunday Nation.