Security in the aftermath of Westgate attacks

(An opinion article by 'Funmi Olonisakin and Godwin R. Murunga)

Nairobi, Sept 30, GNA “ The tragic events at Kenya's Westgate Mall that occurred from Saturday, September 21, 2013, which lead to the deaths of at least 61 civilians, including Professor Kofi Awoonor, are a harsh reminder of the vulnerabilities of states and societies in responding to peculiar threats from actors that have nothing to lose and that kill or maim as public spectacle.

The events underscore the need for new and prospective thinking about security. Such thinking must be anchored around a dire need to prevent the kind of terror attacks at Westgate through other means.

This focus on prevention, however, requires a fundamental shift in security thinking and practice in a number of areas.  First, we need a vision of security that acknowledges but also moves beyond traditional defence of the state.

Twenty-first century threats, particularly those of the Westgate extraction, require deeper knowledge of society and its dividing and connecting lines. They also demand an appreciation of the asymmetrical nature of new security threats, the fluidity of both the operational environment and the tools that magnify and multiply those threats.

Furthermore, they require capacity to counter the threats through a radical shift both in the narratives that mobilise and unify society against impending perils, and in the constituency of actors that must cohere to eliminate those threats.

Second, is coherence in thinking and approach across the security establishment that in turn enables a coherent development and application of security strategy. In this respect, security strategy is derived from a clearly articulated vision by a leadership that demonstrates commitment to transforming security discourse from a closed traditional perspective.

Third, there is a need for shared understanding and coalition-building across regional lines. Ideally, this will be facilitated by leadership that is interested in coherent thinking about security in the region with a shift away from old rigid approaches to security.

Fourth entails mobilisation of citizens and generating security consciousness in ways that build unity around a common vision of security without polarising society and deepening cracks along religious or ethnic lines. It is important to mobilise society against the ˜us™ versus ˜them™ dichotomy in security thinking.

While state actors or decision-makers need to reflect on a process of transformation along the above lines, societal mobilisation “ nationally and regionally “ around a new relevant approach to security requires its own organic process. Let us highlight three elements of this process.

The first is a new security literacy and consciousness. What we need is security literacy and consciousness that will necessarily characterise societies that effectively seek to insulate themselves against attacks of an irregular and asymmetric nature “ the kind that groups like Al Shabaab, AQIM and Boko Haram depend on for survival and reproduction.

Second, this security literacy requires that a critical mass in society is, at a minimum, well informed and educated about basic security, about threats to security and about creative approaches to countering them. The aim here is to moderate the secrecy in which security processes tend to be cast. Much of the secrecy that surrounds security thinking and planning must be jettisoned for the greater good of society. A more open communication of security to citizens will enhance the creation of the critical mass required to upscale security literacy and consciousness across the whole of society.

Third, security consciousness needs a large part of society to understand and take basic measures to protect themselves individually and collectively. Such consciousness kept societies mobilised to survive nuclear attacks in Europe at the height of the Cold War. In other words, society played its part. This consciousness also came to play in British populations™ alertness to IRA bombing threats from the 70s until the Good Friday Agreement in the 90s.

Thinking and planning effectively for security across African societies will require an inclusive and organic process that goes beyond pure military measures. Invariably, the secrecy associated with security thinking and planning must become more measured and open to better oversight by Parliament and citizens. Oversight cannot be always a bad thing.

Our societies must develop their own innovative home-grown approaches to their peculiar security challenges while seizing the advantage that technology and lessons of experience from elsewhere have to offer. Effective communication of a clear vision of security to citizens who rally around to make it real constitutes one path toward adaptation to the 21st century security environment; and dealing with chains of terror presented by groups like Al Qaeda, al Shabaab and Boko Haram.

Capturing citizens™ commitment to a well-articulated security vision requires increased security literacy and consciousness. But there remains a dearth of knowledge about security across African societies. Kenya is not an exception despite its very active civil society. Altering this scenario must be part of the process of mobilising society for security transformation.

To effectively address these and many questions, there are many knowledge institutions that can lead this thinking and debate. At the African Leadership Centre, for instance, we have created intellectual space to think through and bridge some of these gaps. Our mission is to transform security and development discourses in Africa and to train a new community of leaders generating cutting edge knowledge on peace, security and development on the continent. We do this as a joint partnership between the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Nairobi and King™s College in London.

Our commitment is to think systematically about this security problem. But we also recognise that there are many professional networks in Africa that seriously complement this work. Drawing from such professional network in Africa like the African Security Sector Network, which convenes security sector scholars and policy practitioners along regional lines, will greatly enhance the development of a new vision for security studies in Africa. This is certainly a surmountable challenge if effort is multiplied and targets are set.

* (Dr. ˜Funmi Olonisakin and Dr. Godwin R. Murunga are at the African Leadership Centre, a joint initiative of King™s College, London, and Institute for Development  Studies, University of Nairobi.)


Source: GNA Story (
Published: 2013-09-30 17:31:59
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