Just when Kenya thought it had won the war against terrorism, Al-Shabaab militants struck again — this time at the Dusit complex on Riverside Drive, a few kilometres from the Westgate mall, where a similar attack in 2013 killed more than 60 people and left scores of others injured.
Incidentally, the attack took place three years to the day after the catastrophic attack on a Kenyan-run Amisom military base at El Adde, Somalia, by Shabaab.
The recent attack occurred despite the governments’ heavy financial investment in the security sector.
In the 2018/2019 financial year, the National Treasury set aside Sh142 billion in the budget for national security.
Of that, Sh9.2 billion was for the lease of police motor vehicles, Sh9.0 billion for enhanced security operations, Sh29.8 billion for police and military modernisation and Sh3 billion for border security.
It would appear that such an undertaking would quell the threat of terror.
However, while equipping our security agencies with state-of-the-art surveillance technology and modern weaponry could be a good strategy, the complexity of terrorism suggests a much more sophisticated approach.
It should involve not just countering measures, but also preventive ones that address the pull and push factors that drive individuals to radicalisation and terrorism.
In 2016, Kenya launched the National Strategy to Counter Violent Extremism that seeks to employ a more inclusive approach in tackling terrorism.
This is a sharp contrast to the conventional security-centred approach.
The strategy ropes in government bodies, civil society organisations and faith-based groups, among other actors, and assigns them roles that cut across eight pillars.
They cover training and capacity building, education, security, media and online, legal and policy, arts and culture, psycho-social, as well as faith-based and ideological.
More importantly, the government through the Security Laws and Amendment Act put in place the National Counter-Terrorism Centre, a multiagency instrument that groups security agencies to coordinate counter-terrorism.
Among other things, it facilitates capacity building in checking terrorism, raising awareness on terrorism and developing strategies to counter radicalisation and foster deradicalisation. This is one of the centre’s significant feats.
The Kenyan coast is considered one of the regions most affected by the threat of terror, indeed a fertile ground for recruitment and radicalisation.
This is largely blamed on low literacy, joblessness and drug abuse. The situation on the ground is further compounded by perceived alienation and marginalisation by locals.
Thousands of youth join terror groups with the hope of getting rich, while others seek to have a sense of belonging to a cause.
Whatever the reason, what is indisputable is that terrorism is a complicated vice that requires a multifaceted approach.
Civil liberties are subject to limitations. However, such limitations should be in tandem with the law.
Claims of torture and extrajudicial killing of suspected terrorists, silencing of human rights activists and organisations as well as stigmatisation of communities seem to aggravate the situation.
Survivors, families and even communities from which the suspects come tend to be driven further into terrorism while the trust gap between the government and the people widens, creating an environment that is hostile to sharing intelligence and surrender.
Counties such as Mombasa, Kwale and Lamu have put in place action plans that seek to consolidate efforts of prevention and countering violent extremism at the county level.
This is in line with the national strategy, which calls upon the county leadership to undertake activities that will enhance community cohesion, peace and patriotism while denouncing extremism.
Unfortunately, most of these activities lack financial resources to implement work plans and so end up doing pretty little.
The government should inject into them some of the billions it channels to purchase of weaponry. That will yield more benefits.
Undoubtedly, a change of tack is inevitable. A good starting point would be to implement the national strategy and better support the centre and the county action plans on extremism.
Despite the need to tighten the noose on terror, let us be careful with our approach.
What might seem as the most effective measure may be the most detrimental.
We must take caution lest we dive deeper into the threat of terrorism. We cannot fight terror with terror; observance of human rights is central to this war.
Mr Lusweti is a human rights lawyer based in Mombasa. [email protected]