The magnitude of the terror threat facing the country Kenya was exposed on Saturday after it emerged that the US ambassador had requested extra security and will reduce the size of staff working at the embassy.
Mr Robert Godec Saturday, in a statement, maintained that the embassy would remain open for normal operations and there were no plans to close it down.
But an Associated Press report said Mr Godec had sent a letter to the more than 1,300 embassy staff on Friday telling them that he would reduce the embassy’s “overall footprint” in Kenya by reducing the number of Americans in Nairobi. Associated Press is a respected American news agency.
On Saturday, Mr Godec said his foremost interest was to protect American citizens and to keep them informed, which is the most important responsibility of every US ambassador and embassy.
“The embassy is continuously reviewing and updating its security measures, and expects to take additional steps in coming days, to include on US staffing,” said the ambassador.
In the Friday letter, he said Kenyan police officers are fortifying security at the embassy pending the arrival of Marines from Washington next week.
“The United States greatly appreciates the Kenyan government’s rapid response to requests for additional security at diplomatic facilities while it also increases security at public and other critical venues,” said the ambassador on Saturday.
The AP reported that armed Marines were patrolling the grounds clad in bullet-proof vests and helmets and that the frequency of emergency drills that tell embassy personnel to “duck and cover” are on the rise.
“Unfortunately, the US government continues to receive information about potential terrorist threats aimed at both Kenyans and the international community,” Mr Godec said.
Kenya has experienced 12 explosions since last year’s Westgate attack, which have claimed 30 lives.
The British government has evacuated more than 500 tourists from Kenya’s coast after issuing a travel advisory on Wednesday citing an increasing terror threat against its nationals in the country.
The US, France and Australia have issued similar advisories.
However, the latest attacks have raised eyebrows as the Al Shabaab terrorist group has not been claiming responsibility as is the norm.
WEEK TO FORGET
For President Uhuru Kenyatta, this was a week to forget as insecurity swelled while he was still grappling with a public backlash stemming from his order to Treasury to pay Sh1.4 billion owed to two companies, which were part of the infamous Anglo Leasing scandal.
As the Head of State prepared to address a press conference at State House on Friday, twin blasts rocked Gikomba market in Nairobi, killing at least 12 people and injuring more than 70.
Later in the evening, Coast hoteliers announced that they had lost Sh100 million in two days following the travel advisories.
The President’s frustration with the travel advisories was evident when he said such announcements will only strengthen “the will of terrorists as opposed to helping us defeat that war”.
“Terrorism is not an evil that was born in Kenya. Terrorism is a worldwide phenomenon. Many countries are faced with this particular problem. We have seen the ongoings in Nigeria, in India, Pakistan.
We have seen terrorist attacks in London, New York, in Boston. Terrorism is not an issue that is peculiar to Kenyans. This is an evil that all of us around the world must be united to ensure that we are able to fight this particular terror,” President Kenyatta said on Friday. “I continue to urge my fellow citizens to join us in this battle and to ensure we root it out from our midst.”
On Saturday, Mr Munyori Buku, the director of media and external relations at State House, termed the advisories and evacuations as economic sabotage.
“Could somebody be green all the face with envy over the recent visit by the Chinese premier (Mr Li Keqiang)? Well, Kenya as a sovereign nation picks its friends,” said Mr Buku.
The President’s spokesman added that the Coast evacuations were based on nothing tangible noting that some British tourists had complained that they did not understand why they were being asked to go back home.
“This is a straight forward and shut case – economic sabotage!” he told the Sunday Nation.
Quoting a source in the Foreign Office, The Independent newspaper in London reported that the UK government did not take the threats “lightly”, adding that the evacuation had been decided at ministerial level.
“We are aware of the concerns this will cause in Kenya,” said the source. “But the safety of British nationals is our priority and this decision was very carefully thought through.”
It is instructive that both America and UK have never evacuated their nationals unless a country was at war.
In Kenya, the future looks bleak with tourism stakeholders estimating that the direct cost on the economy will be in the region of Sh5 billion.
On Friday, Thomson Airways, the third-largest UK airline by total passengers, cancelled all flights to and from Kenya until October 31.
Tourism netted Kenya Sh96 billion in 2012 and Sh93 billion last year, making it one of the top income earners for Kenya.
Tourism Secretary Phyllis Kandie yesterday appealed to the four countries to withdraw the travel advisories saying terrorism is a global challenge that requires concerted efforts by all to defeat.
“We will work tirelessly with the private sector and our foreign partners to ensure that Kenya remains a recognised commercial hub in Africa,” she said.
With traditional sources now threatened, Kenya could look East although China is still nascent. The largest Chinese tourist delegation to Kenya was a group of 110 holidaymakers last month. In contrast, last year, there were 149,699 tourist arrivals from the UK; the US had 115,636, Italy 79,993 and India and Germany 64,887 and 60,450, respectively.
But despite the high stakes, the government seems to have resigned itself to fate with many Kenyans questioning the viability of the measures put in place.
But the government maintains it is working tirelessly to contain the situation. The latest effort was the move by President Kenyatta to disperse executive powers to the County Commissioners on Thursday.
The opposition has criticised the move as the return of the infamous provincial administration.
Inspector General of Police Mr David Kimaiyo has also issued a directive that cars should not have tint on windows. He said the tints are used by terrorists to conceal their identities.
But yesterday, the Independent Policing Oversight Authority termed the directive as unlawful. “It is completely erroneous and irregular for the police to impound private motor vehicles on the purport that they have tinted windows,” said IPOA chairman Macharia Njeru.
Senior officials at the Interior ministry are also said to be on edge with the directive which they consider as an “unnecessary sideshow”.
A legal opinion sent to Interior Secretary Joseph ole Lenku and his Principal Secretary Mutea Iringo cites a 2012 ruling by Justice Isaac Lenaola that said the rule only affects public service vehicles.
The government has also contracted Safaricom to install a Sh14.9 billion security surveillance system in Nairobi and Mombasa to boost the war on crime.
The government has also been conducting swoops on illegal foreigners who have been blamed for the incessant explosions in Nairobi and Mombasa.
The ongoing operation is expected to continue into the next financial year and Sh3.3 billion has been allocated for it.
Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero has also directed the Inspectorate Department and other security agencies to ensure that people and vehicles entering or leaving public markets and PSVs are screened. “City Hall has taken security measures throughout the county and in particular all public markets to ensure that they are protected,” he said.
Interior ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka on Saturday said the measures will work in due course.
“We are dealing with mistakes of more than 10 years. Cumulatively, all these efforts will work and Kenyans will feel and be safe,” he said.
Mr James Ndung’u, the arms control and policing project manager at Safe World, argues that Kenya’s biggest mistake was deploying soldiers in Somalia without marching that with adequate investment in internal security.
“There is a big systemic challenge in our immigration and policing institutions which have not been well supported to deal with issues of illegal immigrants coupled with corruption,” he says.