By Carsten Ogwal
A few months back, newspapers in Uganda were awash with news of an Al- Shabaab attack on UPDF soldiers in Somalia killing 08 men according to official government records.
Just recently we had two bomb attacks in Kenya in the space of a week; one at the Dusit2 hotel and the other at Latema.
These attacks plus attacks like those that took place at Westgate in Kenya and Manchester in the UK indicates that terrorism is still a problem to reckon with.
The attack at Westgate not only left us and indeed many Kenyans with painful memories but also provoked a lot of statements and opinions. I was perhaps struck particularly more by a statement of the then Uganda Army Spokesman Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda in an article in the New Vision of 08th/Oct/13.
Ankunda wrote that “ the recent attack on Westgate has gone a little too far; not in terms of casualty but the way and style in which it was conducted” This confirmed my greatest fear and thought. The Ankunda was surprised in short by the way and style of the attack.
For most career counter terrorism officers, terrorism is about bombings and in some occasions hijacking and hostage taking. Attacks by shooting are ‘farfetched’ because allegedly terrorist are cowards considering all their bombings are always called ‘cowardly acts’. This also explains why the guards at the malls only check under the cars and boots and occasionally the dashboard.
This attack therefore, brings out a couple of issues;
One that counter terrorism officers are thinking mainly within the box and should start thinking outside the box. You are wondering why the security forces in Kenya took long to respond to the Westgate attack?. Because they did not believe it is possible and were still debating whether these were terrorists or armed robbers because for many, terrorist just bomb.
The other issue is the versatility of the terrorists. Terrorist live on edge all the time and know their vulnerability even amidst their unquenchable thirst for innocent blood.
Consequently they think ahead of time and this is further facilitated by the predictability of state security units. So when a bomb explodes then all places in the country start to look for bombs and forget other methods of attack.
So while you are preoccupied with looking for bombs they take advantage and surprise you with AK47’s. It is therefore, important that counter terrorism officers remain aware of this. I actually think, it is time for the world to start guarding water and food sources because who knows where their interest could be next?
In most countries especially in Africa, security organs are reactionary instead of being proactive. Well, the heads of such units will talk about being proactive but their good officers will do the exact opposite either because they are not interested or most times because the same bosses do not see the point in supporting them until a threat appears.
This has created a big challenge. Without any offence intended, I think we need real and true strategists not just those with pips following and developing trends in terrorist activities, building scenarios and making projections.
Perhaps the biggest issue is complacency. It is common to hear supposedly professional heads of such units assuring us of how we have controlled and defeated the terrorist and how our borders have been sealed that no ants can pass through.
The truth is, we cannot eliminate terrorism, and however, we can mitigate the effects of their activities. Besides, it is important to know that no measure is good enough to contain a problem if it is not closely monitored and assessed to be sure it is working well.
Most security managers in several institutions sit back and watch TV after deploying a few guards at the various entry points with gadgets that the guards may not even know how to use. It is important that persons and equipment deployed to control access are regularly checked on and assessed to be working well.
So how do we mitigate the risk of terrorism when the Mall owners are only interested in their rent from the tenants and do not care what the tenants do after that? Or when delivery trucks still deliver goods without anyone inspecting? Or when cars are still accessing all the major malls without being checked and all that the guards do is to remind you how hot the day is and how they would do with some water from you? A terrorist would be more than delighted to give you even a carton of water.
It is therefore, important that sniffer dogs are provided to help with delivery trucks because it may not be practical to offload all goods at the gate for checking. But well trained and well used sniffer dogs can detect any unusual deliveries.
It would also be better for Mall owners to profile their tenants and be interested in what they do with the room they rent just to be sure their houses are not being misused. They could also occasionally send a staff on unannounced checks just to make sure all is well.
Security managers and supervisors of the various premises should be interested in the performance of their guards whether contracted or company owned to avoid predictability and routine.
State functionaries need to be more proactive and avoid complacency. However, it is also important that they be supported in their work logistically in order to perform better. It is interesting as JB Kakooza noted in one of the weekend papers how the Police have details of how a terrorist moves and which buses they use but cannot arrest the terrorist. Is it because we do not want to close cases because then the taps will stop flowing? The truth is terrorists will always be there and there is no need to worry about the tap; it will keep flowing just catch the terrorist you can for now. Who knows, it could be your child’s school next.
The Author is a Security Consultant and can be reached at email@example.com