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Not enough police in Garissa because it’s a 'punishment zone': analyst

A crowd gathers in Garissa to see the bodies of the attackers exhibited by the authorities on 4 April
A crowd gathers in Garissa to see the bodies of the attackers exhibited by the authorities on 4 April Reuters

The Kenyan government was hit by accusations from mainstream media after the Daily Nation newspaper revealed that the security detail in Nairobi did not arrive in Garissa until some 11 hours after the university siege.


Al-Shebab, the Islamic Somali militia, claimed responsibility for Thursday’s attack that security officials say killed 142 students, three police officers and three soldiers, and injured 79. Four of the attackers were also killed.

The lapse in security and the time lag between the alert and deployment puts into question President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Thursday statement which called for calm throughout the country.

“I also assure the nation that my government has undertaken appropriate deployment to the affected area, and is fully seized of the situation,” he said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka reportedly defended the security forces, saying that their response was “not as bad as Westgate.”

The public is visibly frustrated, says Adam Hussein Adam, an independent analyst in Nairobi who spoke to RFI via telephone. However, moving from the capital to the outer edges of north-eastern Kenya takes a lot of planning, he said.

“To deploy anyone from Nairobi to that area requires a lot of logistical thinking and planning, because Garissa is not a place where you just go,” says Adam. “Although there is a road from Nairobi all the way to Garissa … it is not even safe to go by road.”

The perception of north-eastern Kenya also hampers any swift deployment there. “This is something that has been there since independence, and we continue to view that place [Garissa] as an outlier, and therefore we do not deploy enough state authorities until we have a problem like now we have,” he adds.

Adam said that the logistics of getting to Garissa in order to deal with terrorists show the wide gaps in police deployment in Kenya, especially because Garissa has been considered an undesirable area for police to live.

"That area was more a punishment zone whereby those who commit mistakes in whatever detachment, they would be referred there," he says. "Most of the government officers who would go there would not go there with their families. Most of them would just be on their own, and working from there and only coming back to Nairobi."

The lack of infrastructure also makes Garissa more of a hardship setting, he adds. “So when a problem like this happens, people will find out that it is a nightmare   people begin thinking how to quickly move to that place, how to quickly go there.”

Al-Shebab - who are they?

Meanwhile, Kenyatta defied a High Court ruling Thursday when he ordered 10,000 police recruits to report for training.

The recruitment had been stopped by court order because of alleged irregularities. Using the Garissa tragedy to defy Kenyan law doesn’t make sense, says Adam.

“Unfortunately, every time we recruit, we do not give enough to such areas that are marginalised like the northern part of Kenya, like Garissa and Mandera. We still have very few [police] compared to other parts of the country,” he says.

“Therefore, I don’t think it is right to say that Garissa didn’t have enough security because we did not recruit,” he adds.

As part of an effort to show Garissa residents that the security problem had been taken care of, security forces displayed the bodies of the four attackers who were killed. In Garissa, RFI spoke to Enoch, a teacher who came to see the bodies. He had heard the attack and wanted to view for himself that the assailants had been killed.

“We’ve not been seeing a lot of things happening, so we wanted to really confirm that these people have been killed. You know, like the Westgate incident, we are really not sure whether they killed those people. So as of for now, we are able to define that these people were killed,” says Enoch.

It was important for him to see their bodies with his own eyes. "It is the Kenyan way. With the Kenyan government, we always doubt,” he says.

In Garissa, RFI observed this past weekend that there was no security. Colonel Kamali, the military detachment, said that their work was done in Garissa.

“So far we’ve brought everything into normalcy. So, nothing else. We are back to our camp, the police are outside, it’s the work of the police,” says Colonel Kamali.

Analysts say security will remain an issue in Garissa until infrastructure or a larger police presence becomes a permanent part of the town.

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