Westgate Attack 6 Years On: Kenyans Revisit Uhuru's Broken Promise

  • Abdul Hajji saves a child after gunmen attacked Westgate mall on September 21, 2013. On the sixth anniversary of the attack, Kenyans have expressed anger at the president's decision to backtrack on a promise he made in the aftermath. Twitter
  • Saturday, September 21, 2019, marked six years since the Al-Shabaab terror attack on Westgate Mall, that claimed 67 lives and exposed Kenya's shaky security apparatus during the dramatic three-day standoff that followed.

    To mark the sixth anniversary of one of the country's darkest days, Kenyans revisited promises President Uhuru Kenyatta made after claims of a looting spree by the Kenya Defence Forces and the ridiculous explanations given by the then Interior CS Joseph ole Lenku. 

    Kenyans were unsatisfied with the information shared by the government even after the sharp-witted Cyrus Oguna (then KDF spokesman) took over, forcing Kenyatta to order the formation of a commission of inquiry. 

    Former Interior CS Joseph ole Lenku flanked by several government officials during a press briefing on the Westgate Mall siege.
    Former Interior CS Joseph ole Lenku flanked by several government officials during a press briefing on the Westgate Mall siege. He came under fire for the lack of clarity, consistency and coherence in the information he released to the public.

    The Daily Nation on October 1, 2013, reported that the president said the commission would seek to unravel the security lapses that may have led to the attack, during an inter-religious prayer service for the victims. 

    Reports at the time indicated that the National Intelligence Service had warned that Al-Shabaab was planning to attack the country, but the information was not acted upon to prevent it.

    The president's promise was, however, not followed by a timeline within which the commission would be formed or its supposed membership.

    Cartoonist and media critic, Patrick Gathara revived this six-year-old controversy on Twitter, in a satirical cartoon bearing the pseudo-title 'Westgate, Accept, Move On, Forget, Don't Ask, Positivity', summing up the betrayal felt by the families of victims and survivors since then. 

    A day before the first anniversary of the attack, on September 20, 2014, the Sunday Nation, reported that President Kenyatta's promise was shelved after his advisors warned him of potential repercussions the revelations would have on the country's confidence in its security chiefs, with the war on terror ongoing.

    General Julius Karangi was the chief of defence forces, Michael Gichangi the NIS director-general, and David Kimaiyo the inspector-general of police under the leadership of then-Interior CS Joseph ole Lenku.  

    Former IG of police David Kimaiyo (Left), former Interior CSJoseph ole Lenku (Centre) and former Chief of general staff Julius Karangi
    Former IG of police David Kimaiyo (Left), former Interior CSJoseph ole Lenku (Centre) and former Chief of general staff Julius Karangi during a press briefing at Oshwal Centre on September 23, 2013.

    "Mr Lenku, in particular, came under fire for the lack of clarity, consistency and coherence in the information he released to the public during the siege.

    "Mr Gichangi was blamed for NIS’ failure to provide operable intelligence before the attack, while Gen Karangi and Mr Kimaiyo have been criticised for failing to properly coordinate the fight and rescue operation at the mall, that involved police and KDF," an excerpt from the Sunday Nation's report reads. 

    Gathara stated that Uhuru's decision to backtrack on his promise made him culpable of complicity in the cover-up of what really transpired over the three-day siege, while taking a swipe at the media for what he termed as shallow reporting. 

    "That clearly implicates the president and his mandarins in a cover-up. It was criminality, not just incompetence, on show at Westgate. But these are the sorts of stories Kenyan media is happy to let die while, blind to the irony, it reproduces US media investigations on Trump," Gathara opined in a hard-hitting Twitter thread.

    Legal experts intimated to the Sunday Nation how presidential advisers may have foreseen the loss of executive control on the public's access to the sensitive revelations from the commission, since the findings would have been tabled in Parliament and accessible to everyone. 

    This would have included the public grilling of security chiefs whose possibility, according to the publication's report, was a source of anxiety in security circles. 

    In an in-depth report titled 'Close your Eyes and Pretend to Be Dead' on Foreign Policy, Tristan McConnell echoed speculations by the Kenyan public on the duration of the mall attack and the triumph by KDF. 

    "Far from a dramatic three-day standoff, the assault on the Westgate Mall lasted only a few hours, almost all of it taking place before Kenyan security forces even entered the building.

    A satirical graphic created by Journalist Patrick Gathara to embody the betrayal felt by relatives of victims and survivors of the Westgate Mall attack after a commission promised by Uhuru to investigate the security lapses that led to the attack never materialised.
    A satirical graphic created by Journalist Patrick Gathara to embody the betrayal felt by relatives of victims and survivors of the Westgate Mall attack after a commission promised by Uhuru to investigate the security lapses that led to the attack never materialised.

    "When they finally did, it was only to shoot at one another before going on an armed looting spree that resulted in the collapse of the rear of the building, destroyed with a rocket-propelled grenade. And there were only four gunmen, all of whom were buried in the rubble, along with much of the forensic evidence," he claimed.

    Kenyans on Twitter took from Gathara's cue to express their dismay at the lack of follow-up on the potential security vulnerabilities that would probably have helped avert the 2015 Garissa University attack, that left 147 dead and several others with life-changing injuries. 

    One Kenneth Maina wrote, "Well, yes an inquiry would unearth some of these, but to expect one from Uhuru's government?! Hawa ni wakora."

    "Extremely disappointing why there has been no conclusive investigations into the happenings of Westgate...We saw KDF looting property and disagreements before the Recce Squad moved in. The Government of Kenya owes Kenyans an explanation," another Eng Mose weighed in.

    "To pinpoint who exactly at the top is criminally liable for the entire debacle and a series of blunders would be hard in my opinion. They bury their incompetence very deep to unearth, that even when you do, there are different versions (and) one can't authenticate what is factual," another tweep added.