Friday, September 28, 2012
By Bosire Boniface
People cross from Somalia into Kenya at the Mandera border control post. Kenya's borders have hundreds of unofficial entry points that police are working to close. [Bosire Boniface/Sabahi]
Recent landmine and grenade attacks in Kenya have shed light on serious security gaps along Kenya's borders, according to police officials and security analysts.
The arrest of two suspected terrorists with a large cache of weapons in Nairobi's Eastleigh neighbourhood on September 14th has raised concerns about the level of security at the borders, especially since one of the men was a suspected Somali national.
According to Transparency International's 2012 East Africa Bribery Index, Kenya's police force remains the most corrupt institution in the country.
"Weapons are entering the country because of entrenched corruption in the police force," said security analyst and retired army Major Bashir Haji Abdullahi. "Some of the officers manning security checks receive bribes to let vehicles pass without thorough inspections."
Officers should be aware of the seriousness of their task and fully understand that they are working to protect their country, he told Sabahi, adding that there needs to be a "change of attitude".
"Our borders with Somalia, Sudan, Uganda and Ethiopia may be long and porous, but corruption in the police force further threatens the security of the country," Abdullahi said.
Adow Jubat, a Mandera-based journalist for The Standard news agency, told Sabahi that smugglers find it easy to bribe their way into the country. After arms are smuggled into Kenya from Somalia, they are held in refugee camps or dusty border towns where Kenyan minders receive them for a fee, he said.
Jubat said officers mainly take bribes to supplement their meagre pay, adding that the government should properly remunerate security officers to prevent the vice.
Closing the security gap
Security officials say they have taken measures to intercept illegal firearms, despite the difficulties in policing the vast and porous borders.
Kenya shares more than 1,000 kilometres with Somalia and about 300 kilometres with Ethiopia, North Eastern Province Commissioner and Assistant Police Commissioner Ernest Munyi told Sabahi.
The borders have hundreds of unofficial entry points and there is a largely unmonitored flow of people across them, he said.
"We have put a lot of effort towards patrolling the border," Munyi said. "We now have a special force with the army and the police working together to [stop] the infiltration." Munyi said the special force is backed by intelligence officers, Anti-Terrorism Police Units, Mobile Police Units, Rapid Response Units, Rural Border Patrol Units and immigration officials.
North Eastern Provincial Police Chief Philip Tuimur said the selfish interests of a few rogue officers have jeopardised the country's security.
In response, the police force has held a series of sensitisation trainings to remind officers of their duty and patriotism, he told Sabahi.
"A gun, grenade or landmine does not discriminate," he said. "If anyone takes 10,000 shillings ($120) to ignore the firearms, they may be used to harm their relatives, their colleagues or even themselves. The terrorists will not care that you gave them a safe passage."
Tuimur said police are cracking down on officers who allow illegal immigrants or firearms into the country. Since August, he said, three officers have been fired and jailed for the offense.
Border security also requires a concerted effort from the general population, he said. Thanks to tips from the community, police seized more than 2,000 bullets and six firearms in August alone.
Police have also acquired additional metal detectors to help in their work. "We are stationing the gun detectors according to the needs," Tuimur said. "Terrorists are not static and we try to go with the trend to beat them."
Garissa county Commissioner Maalim Mohamed said people entering the country are also screened in the Liboi and in Dadaab refugee camps, as not everyone who claims to seek refuge in Kenya is allowed to enter.
He said the government has also strengthened its relationship with the community in order to stop the smuggling of arms.
"We have been able to arrest combatants disguising themselves as refugees and seize caches of weapons that could find their way around Kenya," he told Sabahi. "Security officials manning checkpoints have also been warned they will face criminal prosecution if they wilfully let deadly weapons come through their points without action."