Let’s go after the bomber, not the bomb

Tuesday July 24 2012

By GILBERT MOGIRE

The recent incident in which two police officers were killed after being ambushed by suspected members of Al-Shaabab in Garissa is a continuation of a worrying trend that has dominated debate over the past few months.

Here were two officers, armed with fairly sophisticated weapons, felled by criminals carrying inferior pistols. Could this sad incident be a microcosm of our sorry state of preparedness as a country?

We are at war with a faceless enemy. Our borders, particularly with Somalia, are as porous as a sieve, yet our key installations are largely unmanned. Our security alertness is, to say the least, an unmitigated disaster.

It was Isaac Newton who once said: “If I have been able to see further, it was only because I stood on the shoulders of giants.”

And, indeed, the time has come for our security chiefs to stand on the shoulders of giants and learn how to tackle this worrying security challenges.

As security experts have pointed out now and again, it is much easier to combat a strong, modern army than “a lone wolf”. This is because that lone wolf can come from any direction, at any time, in any manner — bombs, fires, even biological and chemical weapons.

Which takes me back to my earlier worry: Now that there is demonstrable evidence that these Al-Shaabab irritants are keen on bringing our country down, how secure are our critical infrastructure installations such as railways and bridges?

How safe are our essential facilities like Kenya Pipeline reservoirs and critical water masses like Ndakaini and Sasumua –—dams that supply 80 per cent of Nairobi’s water requirements? How about Kenya Power sub-stations countrywide?

Power and water are essential elements of our economy and life, and are, therefore, attractive targets to terrorist groups such as Al-Shaabab.

It’s a fact that our security forces cannot man every facility, but is it not prudent to, at least, police the most critical whose disabling can cripple the country?

These are not alarmist suggestions, but legitimate concerns. Public train transportation systems have been a soft target for terrorists elsewhere in the world.

We are clearly exposed, and our spell of sheer luck might not last forever. A recent discovery of a half-mile long tunnel running from inside a house in drug baron-controlled Mexico, straight under the border with the United States, into a warehouse in San Diego, made me ask myself: how far can these terrorists go if they wanted to bring down some of our prized possessions?

It’s easy to dismiss this as a misplaced comparison. Al-Shaabab in Somalia and the battle-hardened drug lords of Mexico are clearly worlds apart, but what can stop the militants digging tunnels, albeit on a smaller scale, to gain easy entry into Kenya?

And back to the shoulders of a giant. What can Kenya borrow, for example, from Israel, which is perpetually under threat of attack?

Internet sources show that, in Israel, security is geared toward identifying and stopping the perpetrators long before they can act.

That approach requires reliance on intelligence and targeted profiling. They go after the bomber, not the bomb.

Mr Mogire is the News Editor, Taifa Leo.