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How technology based solutions can help counter security threats in Kenya

Sunday, July 07, 2013

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Recently, at an African First Ladies peace mission, First Lady Margaret Kenyatta noted Kenya host over 700,000 refugees and asylum seekers. This is the largest number in Africa, and is clearly exerting pressure on resources.

The situation has forced the Government to seek out stakeholders for support. Most refugees within our borders are from Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and South Sudan. A whooping 500,000 of aliens seeking refuge in Kenya are women and children. Most of them, are sneaked in through our borders undetected, hence the figure could be higher.

Refugee numbers and the attendant challenges posed by additional mouths to feed aside, the problem of anonymous immigrants is serious indeed. Under the veil of anonymity, it becomes easier to hurl a grenade or direct indiscriminate gunfire on a crowd.

Over the last decade, Kenya has witnessed a rise in violent armed robberies due to proliferation of small arms and light weapons. These dangerous arms trafficked through our porous borders—especially the 700km Kenya-Somalia border—become even more dangerous when in the wrong hands. It is these wrong and deadly hands we must rein in now.

Today, criminal elements conscripted into such insurgencies as the Al-Shabaab have taken to new and lethal ways of visiting terror against innocent people. These methods include using ordinary home equipment like the transistor radios and gas cylinders stuffed with explosives. Whichever way these attacks are executed they leave a trail of unfathomable irreplaceable losses – social, economic and human mainly.

As a result of unwittingly hosting criminals, terrorists and drug lords, many governments the world over, are becoming more responsive to the challenges posed by effects of terrorism, insecurity and illegal immigration. They are now increasingly embracing advanced technologies to deter and or detect cross-border crimes.

The need for authorities to have a versatile databank with the capacity for instantaneous updates that can, at the touch of the button, be available to security and immigration officers cannot be gainsaid. Such a solution should give full credentials of who has come in where and when as well as who has left and to where.

Kenya as a regional hub and economic powerhouse bears the brunt of runaway breakdown of security in some of her neighbours. But this need not put a good host at risk. Around the world, various governments have responded to the challenges of insecurity by putting in place different IT-based measures. They include biometric based border systems. Good examples of this system include the US-VIS IT (United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology) program and IACS (Immigration Automated Clearance System) – Singapore. The US-VIS IT Programme allows fingerprints and facial images to be captured and compared at entry points while the IACS allows for automated vehicle screening and passenger entry clearance (e-Gate System).

The two systems are used for automated entry clearance resulting in safer and more efficient border controls.  Along borders, a country can have its revenue base compromised or harnessed. All legitimate cargo and cross border trade yields revenue for the Exchequer. In the same token, it must always be borne in mind borders can also be ‘choke point’ since they are the point at which the monitoring the arrival and departure of persons takes place. There is an obvious correlation between movement of people, security and trade at the border. This calls for careful security, which manual systems are not competent enough to man.

Many people living along borders tend to share many cultural practices and hereditary imprints.  In Africa for example, where many people or groups live on either side of national borders, it is difficult to put restrictions on their movement since even the within these villages the borders are not clear-cut. Grazing land and pasture is shared among these border communities. Most interstate strife and indeed wars are stoked at the borders. 

As a regime committed to the safety of its citizenry, the Jubilee Government should embark on installing tested border policing technology at all entry points – airports, seaports and border entry-points.   This would ably curb illegal immigrants and blacklisted persons. 

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