With such unlikely terrorists, we need to be more vigilant

Friday January 18 2019


GSU police officers arrive at Dusit complex in Westlands where there was a terrorist attack, on January 16, 2019. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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I love Nairobi. The city has many annoying things, like traffic, rude drivers and crazy slay queens with guns and flak jackets, but it is like no other in the world.

I have dined at a restaurant in the Opera House in Sydney with spectacular views and pretentious waiters re-enacting something called “silver service” from my university days in Yorkshire.

Students were trained to serve as waiters for big houses, walking with their noses in the air and trays held aloft with the tips of their fingers.

I have been received (among a million other editors attending a conference) in the Kremlin by my dear short friend, Vladimir Putin, been fed there and attended an orchestra and some Bolshevik theatre-type shows.

Moscow makes London look like Karatina; it is an impressive city. I have eaten heavenly steak in LA and Paris.


None of these experiences gives more pleasure than sitting at the Garden in Dusit D2, bickering with my daughters, or having couples dinner in the restaurant with my pastor and his wife.

Heck, D2 is heaven for meeting sources too, especially the kind you don’t want to be seen with. They have these long chairs into which the source can disappear.

It is places like D2 which make Nairobi a lovely and familiar home for all of us; places we visit for work and pleasure, to eat, talk and decompress.

I watched the CCTV footage of the Tuesday terror attack with the same ugly feelings I go through every time militants come to kill us.

The same shiny, cheap wood of the AK-47, the same scarf, the same green ammo harness, the loose limbed gait of the camel herd.

And I think the same thoughts: This fellow has come a long way to kill people he does not know in a dispute they have nothing to do with.

Maybe he thinks he is killing in the name of his religion, which has been discounted many times over.


Ali Salim Gichunge from Isiolo appears to have been an affluent militant.

He could afford to fly his girlfriend to Mombasa to celebrate their first anniversary, having been together as a couple for a year.

He was trained to fight in Somalia in 2015 and only God knows what other ugly things he had planned for us.

His girlfriend, Ms Violet Kemunto Omwoyo, is long gone. She fled before the attack and most likely crossed into Somalia through Mandera.

It appears that Mr Gichunge and his lovely girlfriend were not planning to die just yet: They put on sale their expensive household goods and prepared to live in Somalia or probably abroad — she had been applying for resettlement in the West — after Mr Gichunge went into D2 and possibly slaughtered hundreds of innocent people.


I don’t know whether a sane person can slaughter innocent people in the fashion that these characters do.

But I am sure no sane human being would prepare to go on with their lives after such an act.

And I ask myself, how did Mr Gichunge, the son of a soldier, get there?

What journey did he travel from his windy, dusty hometown through the chaos of Somalia and to the parking lot of Dusit Hotel on Riverside Drive?

When did he go wrong? When and where was he radicalised?

How quickly we understand what’s going wrong with young people will determine our success in spotting the bad ones before they can do harm and reform them or remove them from society.


The Dusit attack could have been worse. It is a good thing that the building is well built and the security forces responded with the smooth coordination that they did, saving almost a thousand people.

But the fact that these fellows were able to mobilise, plan, arm and drive across the city with guns and grenades is a worrying reminder that we are not there yet.

Part of the solution is with us. I presume we will have to be more vigilant and good at identifying and reporting suspicious people and the security forces will have to do a better job of responding and acting on that information.

And then we can try and not be so corrupt; we shouldn’t take money from people who have come to kill us.

Anyone who loves and is proud of our country — its corrupt politicians and chaotic ways notwithstanding — would not get into the bus to Somalia to be brainwashed into killing their neighbours.


Any person who loves themselves would find it difficult to summon the fury and hatred of others that is required to senselessly, randomly slaughter people.

Extremism starts with self-hatred and an empty soul. It is into that hole that hatred is poured by equally soulless teachers of doom.

Our lives, simple but slightly more affluent than the hardships of Somalia, may not be all that but there are those who would tear everything down and kill all of us given the chance.

I am not going to demand that we pull our forces out of Somalia, though I am not sure what they are still doing there. But I know that I love this city and I demand that we do better to defend it.

To the politicians who showed up with puny hand guns, you looked rather silly.

To Director of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti and his band of brave men, responders, all fighting units and the ladies who made tea and mandazi for them, those who gave blood and comforted anxious families — thank you.

And I am very sorry for those who were hurt, lost loved ones or agonised for hours hiding from the killers.