THIONGO: Are victims of terror attacks just collateral damage?

I meant to publish this article much later in the year but the recent unfortunate events of 14 Riverside Drive have significantly altered my course of planning and created the urgency to share this much needed information before we quickly move on and forget about the plight of the survivors of terror attacks.

Much of the facts about 14 Riverside Drive terror attack are within the public domain and I dare not add on to the excellent analysis and narration captured by eyewitnesses and documented by our able media houses.

My objective is to change the angle of debate from the multi-sectoral heroic triumph of our uniformed men and women ( whose service and commitment greatly warms my heart ) to a more overlooked area of concern: the plight of the victims of terror.

On October 16th 2011, the Kenya Defence Forces moved into Southern Somalia to pursue the insurgent group Al Shabaab after a series of kidnapping of tourists along the border.

One month later in November, the President made the call to allow the KDF to join the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) to concert Kenya’s efforts with those of AU member states. This in my view, was the beginning of the gaps that are now defining the fight against terrorism for reasons I will give hereunder.

The study of conflict has over the years has equipped us with knowledge that conflict takes place in definite cycle. There are 4 distinct phases of conflict; (a)Trigger – (b)Perception of threat – (c) Anger – (4) Acting out.

The relevance of understanding this cycle is that it enables parties in a dispute plan out their engagement and mitigate risks preempted from the conflict.

In the case of Kenya, before taking the decision to invade Somalia, there was an analysis I presume – of why the country needed to invade Somalia, what perceived threat it was reacting to and the expected response (acting out) that was anticipated from the insurgents.

With this knowledge, the decision to invade must have felt objective and justifiable when the president finally made the directive. There is however one fundamental problem with this planning phase which having examined the Westgate and the Garissa terror attacks is now manifest.

At the acting out stage of the conflict, it was rather obvious that besides fighting the KDF on the lines of battle drawn in Somalia, the insurgents (as can be observed from experiences in USA, Belgium, France and the UK) would fall back on soft targets this being the hallmark of terror based conflict.

With knowledge that retaliation from the conflict would also be directed to innocent Kenyans, then the strategists should have adopted a victim based approach supplemented by military support to win this conflict.

Victim-based approaches to conflict management are anchored on the understanding that the feud may spill over to non-actors and there is need to take deliberate measures to mitigate the effects.

These are the lessons that other terror targeted nations have adopted in combating terror based conflict.

In the case of the recent terror attacks that were faced by Belgium, Hungary, France, Germany, Spain and The United Kingdom, the European Union through the LIBE Committee undertook a study to help develop a more effective victim based approach to terror based conflict.

In the study, the committee concluded that terror is a conflict that is based on ideology and consequently can only be won by strengthening the ideologies threatened by it.

Terrorists attack ideologies such as democracy, human rights and self determination among others. These ideologies are advanced by people, nations, communities and mainly define modern civilisation.

It follows therefore that caring for victims of terrorism is the much needed weapon in the fight against terror. By looking after the victims and ensuring that their needs are met, a message is sent to the terrorists that the values and ideologies they fight against grow stronger under attack.

This is the fundamental departure that Kenya must make if the battle against terrorism is to be won.

Looking back five years ago, the Westgate and the subsequent Garissa attacks are still fresh memories more so for the survivors and their families.

There are many articles that well articulate efforts that the government made towards dealing with the aftermath of the attacks. What I gather from the articles is inconsistency and lack of a clear policy position on the treatment of terror victims.

One of the more outstanding measures taken was the investigation conducted by the parliamentary report on the Westgate attack, which proposed a series of recommendations ranging from repealing of the 2006 Refugee Act and closing of refugee camps.

This report of course was an extreme kneejerk reaction and was charactesized by deeply entrenched stereotypes on religion and community values. As expected, it was opposed by both national and international civil society and as it stands, both the Refugees Act No. 13 of 2006 and the refugee camps are still in existence.

It therefore begs the question, why didn’t this report single out victims of terror as the primary centre of focus for a better understanding of terror based conflict and equipping the nation with information needed to win this ideological battle?

As I conclude, it is necessary to point out that victims of terror are entitled to their needs being met.

In Kenya, our Constitution under Article 28(c) and (d) clearly provides for the protection of the security of the person from violence and torture -both psychological and physical.

With this backdrop, the analysis of the pre- AMISOM entry should have anticipated a direct threat to this right and take measures both in policy and legislation to meet the following needs of the victims of terror:

  1. Respect and recognition,
  2. Support (emotional, physical and financial),
  3. Protection (from secondary victimisation through court processes and media engagement),
  4. Access to justice ( mitigate the cost of pursuing court processes eg costs of being a State witness) and
  5. Compensation ( emergency funds, special pensions and disability support funds).

The deafening silence of parliamentary debate on these needs has left many victims of terror dysfunctional and unable to integrate back to society.

The only hope of compensation and care rests in Article 208 of our Constitution which creates a contingency fund for emergencies.

However, without legislation to operationalise this fund, the victims of terror are at the discretion of the Cabinet Secretary for Finance who at many times is under pressure to fix our budget deficit.

As the country breathes a sigh of relief that the 14 Riverside Drive has come to an end, let us be reminded that a tough and gruesome journey for the victims of the attack and their families has just began.

This is our chance as a country to learn that we are in a conflict of ideology and victim care and protection is our strongest weapon.

Edwin Thiongo is a Managing Partner at Knight Castle and King (KCK) Conflict Mediation Specialists


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