Corrupt police and other government employees willing to break rules for bribes are weakening Kenya’s ability to prevent a new rash of terror carried out by attackers with links to Somali militants, officials and analysts say.
Kenya has seen a long string of deadly attacks this year, including grenade blasts and homemade bombs deployed against buses, in markets and at a beachside hotel. Security officials fear another Westgate Mall-style attack — an assault by four gunmen in September that killed at least 67 people — could be coming.
“Corruption — systemic graft — is at the heart of the state’s inability to respond to insecurity in general,” said John Githongo, a former Kenyan government adviser who exposed millions of dollars in government corruption.
Grand theft by the country’s ruling elite has allowed an attitude of “if he can do it so can I” to permeate the country’s lower ranking security apparatus, he said.
“We are paying the price in blood,” Githongo said.
Two senior Kenyan police officials who insisted on anonymity for fear of reprisals said police officers, customs officials and immigration officials are easily compromised because of low pay and bad working conditions. One of the officers said there have been multiple instances of police arresting a suspect and setting him free for a bribe and it later turned the suspect is a terrorist.
Corruption has a long history in Kenya. A decade ago a series of security contracts dubbed Anglo-Leasing that were supposed to improve the country’s security infrastructure with the purchase of police helicopters, communication systems and a forensic laboratory instead saw money by senior government officials plundered, Githongo said. No one has served any prison time for what is believed to have been a loss of tens of millions of dollars of government money.
“National security has always been the last refuge of the corrupt in Kenya. Security sector contracts were always subject to unconstrained predatory treatment. The chickens are coming home to roost and it hurts,” Githongo said.
Government funds were also squandered in the 1990s, when the police force was supplied with vehicles “of a caliber lower than any you would get on the road,” said Samuel Kimeu, who heads the Kenyan chapter of the of the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International. “It was an unmitigated disaster,” he said.
Kimeu noted that after the Westgate attack, which saw a huge section of the mall catch fire and collapse, FBI forensic experts helped to identify the remains of the attackers. Had the Ango-Leasing scandal not happened, Kenya could have done that work itself, he said.
“We had to seek foreign forensic expertise that we should have were it not for the corruption riddled procurement over 10 years ago,” he said.
Al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab militants have vowed to carry out revenge attacks in Kenya because the East African country sent troops to Somalia to fight the extremists in 2011.
Kimeu said there are too many illegal aliens in the country who have authentic Kenyan identification documents, an easy way for a terrorist from Somalia to get into the country. After Westgate, the government fired 15 customs agents for issuing government documents for bribes.
Kenyan authorities have reacted to the wave of terror attacks by carrying out sweeps on illegal aliens in Somali enclaves in Nairobi. At least 3,000 people have been arrested and nearly 400 deported. The operation has drawn heavy criticism from rights groups who accuse police of extortion and bribe-taking.
The Kenyan activist group InformAction, in a YouTube video titled “All in a Good Days Work,” posted a video of a police officer with someone in custody letting the woman go after handing money to the officer.
The man in charge of the force is Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku. During a recent graduation ceremony for new recruits Ole Lenku called the accusation that police were demanding $60 bribes during the security sweep a “distraction.”