Of Indisciplined Forces and the High Cost of CCTV Cameras
(AllAfrica Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Comedy tends to follow tragedy in Kenya like a dog on a leash and the aftermath of the Westgate terror attack has proved to be no different. Days after the siege ended, tales of heroism and selflessness still abound but they have been tempered with a less-inspiring subplot of how the Kenya Defense Forces, tasked with "neutralising" the attackers and freeing hostages, pillaged the high-end mall of its pricey loot.
Traders who were allowed in this week said that their cash tills had been emptied and their jewellery and electronics stolen. Anything that wasn't latched down was for the taking in this free-for-all.
One optician, Tariq Harunani told reporters that his store was missing "dozens of frames and pairs of sunglasses" while a salon owner said that she was "missing a few wigs".
Looting is bad enough but it's just the half of it. From the reports of "floors strewn with empty bottles of beer and spirits", it also looks like the soldiers found time to inebriate themselves with some of the hooch. So much for the 'disciplined forces'.
After the story of the rescue-turned-looting mission at Westgate broke, our deer-in-the-headlights-eyed Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku wasted no time in promising that things will be put to rights;
"We wish to affirm that the government takes very seriously allegations of looting and that those found to have engaged in looting will be prosecuted," he said. Good luck with that.
It's ironic that Ole Lenku is talking about holding people in our security apparatus to account for the imbroglio that is the Westgate terror attack since it seems - at least on our frenetic online message boards - that most Kenyans think he should be among the first to get caned.
After the former hotelier's frankly underwhelming CV started doing the rounds online, Kenyans mined it for its comedic worth. Choice pickings include, "Suddenly the term kitchen cabinet makes sense", "NSIS probably did their job, it's not their fault that Ole Lenku and 'intelligence' don't mix", "This is what happens when the CVs for the State House cook and Cabinet Secretaries get mixed up".
It would be easy to chalk this down to righteous indignation but the man hasn't helped himself. In the heat of the Westgate crisis, he committed one of the most atrocious verbal slips of recent years by saying there was an 'insignificant' number of hostages still held in the mall. The tick-tock is on for President Uhuru Kenyatta to sack him before the month is out.
Talking of our fearless leader, the President this week dusted off the old we-will-leave-no-stones-unturned routine by promising to establish a commission of inquiry to probe the Westgate attack; "I will set up a commission of inquiry to see where there were lapses and how we can avoid them in future," he said.
Those familiar with the trajectory of a Kenyan scandal must be chuckling to themselves. To the uninitiated, this is how it works: Scandal, public outcry, hand wringing in Parliament, President placates an angry public with a commission of inquiry which will produce a boilerplate final report that will be met with a few tut-tuting op-eds about our 'collective amnesia' and then 'crickets' as we wait for the next scandal.
Commissions of inquiry are any Kenya President's favourite rabbit-in-the-hat magic trick. Now you see the scandal, now you don't. Cynicism aside, you have to hand it to young Kenyatta, he has shown a real knack for rallying Kenyans to show common cause. It helps that his delivery on the oratory front is not too shabby.
Of course none of his predecessors -Kibaki being a pitiable case- are tough acts to follow but you have to give him some points for raising the bar off the ground.
Talking of scandals, one seems to be brewing over the project to get Nairobi's streets fitted with CCTV cameras. This is after it was revealed that the government had spent Sh437 million to buy 42 cameras from a Chinese firm Nanjing Les Information Technology. Those are some expensive cameras.
According to Metropolitan Development Secretary John Maina, you can't put a price on security; "We are not compromising on security. The system will capture anyone committing a crime in the city. The operators will do a radio call to the police officers designated to the particular area who will swing into action," he said. Hope you are feeling very safe, Nairobi.
Let's end things on an uplifting note. Two brothers, John Akula, 89, and Juma Omolo Swangi 83, got reunited this week in Nakuru -where Swangi lives -after spending more than 70 years apart. Akula had all but given up hope of finding his younger brother after spending decades looking for him.
Swangi, who had disappeared from his childhood home in Siaya in the 1940s, said he was happy to lay eyes on his brother after so long; "My blood is his blood and his is mine," said Swangi who now speaks fluent Kikuyu.
Hope is scarce in these parts sometimes, as some of the news snippets in this very article amply demonstrate. But if two siblings can meet in their dotage after more than 70 years apart, then call me a sucker but I'll remain a believer for a little while longer. I just hope we can turn things around a little faster.
Copyright The Star. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).
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