August 14, 2012
The war against al-Shabaab in Kenya can only be won through community co-operation and vigilance, top Kenyan security officials told Sabahi.
Acting Internal Security Minister Yusuf Haji said communities across Kenya should join forces with the government to address security issues in the country.
"There is a wrong perception among most people that the government is solely responsible for addressing insecurity issues in the country," Haji told Sabahi. "Everyone has a role to play to control the violence."
Haji held a town hall meeting at the Nomad Palace Hotel in Garissa on August 5th, the first community meeting by a high-ranking government official since al-Shabaab threats emerged after Kenya began fighting the militant group in Somalia last October. Religious leaders, women, youths and political leaders attended the meeting.
Haji told citizens that simply increasing the number of security officers and police stations is insufficient to address terrorist threats, and urged the entire community to actively participate in security efforts.
"The fact of the matter is that the terrorists live among us," he told Sabahi. "Some people are harbouring them, but soon they will realise that the terrorists have no permanent friends."
Haji said the country needs laws to effectively tackle terrorism and urged civilians to support pending legislation to provide an anti-terrorism framework for law enforcement.
Minister of Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs Eugene Wamalwa will next month re-introduce the Prevention of Terrorism Bill in parliament, Haji said. Lawmakers are expected to discuss proposed amendments and vote on the legislation before the end of the year.
Some of the bill's provisions include life in prison and property seizure for any person or organisation associated with terrorist activities.
"Since 2004, the government has been seeking to enact laws to deal with terror threats, but there are people who are throwing around tribal and religious emotions to discredit the government's effort to deal with terrorism by claiming that the bill targets the Muslim community," Haji told Sabahi.
Since June, the Association of Muslim Organisations in Kenya has requested several amendments to the bill before it is signed into law, saying they want to protect Muslims from harassment, after originally supporting it fully.
Groups opposing the proposed bill are hiding behind human-rights issues to further their own interests, but the law will benefit the entire population, Haji said.
Residents in Garissa welcomed the government's security efforts but requested more police stations to be established in the North Eastern Province.
"Garissa is a fast expanding town and the only police station, which was established some 50 years ago, cannot cope with the demand," said Garissa resident Ibrahim Issack Adan, 54.
"We are asking the number of police officers to be increased and the patrols to be beefed up because we want a sense of easy accessibility so that we feel secure when reporting some of the terrorists who could be dangerous," he told Sabahi after the meeting.
Mariam Adan Mirre, a 32-year-old resident of Garissa, said she is closely monitoring her two teenage brothers to ensure they do not fall into the hands of militants. "There is no honour in having links with terrorists," she said.
Garissa District Commissioner Maalim Mohamud said the government has identified at least three areas in the town of Garissa where new police stations will be established.
He said security officers have been trained to treat any information they get from the public with the utmost confidentiality and seriousness.
He told Sabahi that religious leaders have an important role in ensuring public safety and encouraged them to continue to preach against violence and expose criminals. "The terrorists do not belong to any ethnic group or religious identity and Kenyans should be cautious of them," he said.
Mohamud urged Kenyans to remain vigilant at all times as militants employ new tactics to carry out attacks. The terrorists are always devising ways to counter the government's move to improve security, but residents should be on the lookout and be ahead of the militants' evil plans, he said.
He said the government has taken necessary steps to ensure civilian safety at public events, but requested that communities organising public events consult with security forces to ensure everyone's safety.
"We are approaching the next general elections and there will be public campaigns and forums. We have requested organisers and candidates to seek security advice," Mohamud said.
In addition, security officers held a seminar on August 8th for Garissa church ushers to teach them how to carry out security checks at places of worship.
Haji told Sabahi the Garissa town hall meeting was successful and he expects to continue to engage Kenyan communities in security efforts. He said he will soon hold a similar event in Mandera.
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