Just as the 9/11 terrorist attack is viewed as the turning point for United States security, so is the September 21, 2013 Westgate raid for Kenya. It is then that the country began viewing security from a different angle, became alert and employed several measures.
Besides reorganising the command and structure of security organs, the government introduced the integrated command, control and communication (IC3) system, a Sh15 billion security project awarded to Safaricom in 2014.
An IC3 system brings together the crucial functions of security, including an emergency call centre (ECC) that handles all incoming and outgoing public trunk calls. That saw the revival of the long-dead 999 and 112 and 911 emergency lines in the National Police Service.
Another was a dispatch centre (DC). Based on emergencies received or operational needs obtained via the system, a commander can deploy personnel immediately through it.
The strategic operations and monitoring suite (Soms), which holds the most integral part of IC3, was another. This is the surveillance and monitoring of public spaces through a video management system that streams live feeds through installed closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras and an automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) control system used in vehicle identification.
It is under Soms that the government, through Safaricom, installed at least 1,800 high-powered CCTV cameras in Nairobi and Mombasa as part of the first phase of the IC3 project.
An advertisement of the IC3, where the President tells criminals to “run and hide”, obviously lingers in mind of many Kenyans.
“Terrorists, criminals, thugs, run and hide because there will be thousands of cameras and millions of pairs of eyes watching you,” the Head of State warns.
On May 25, 2015, Safaricom handed over the IC3 system to the police with the main aim of combating crime in the cities. Last September 18, the police upgraded the system by incorporating the Japanese Nec NeoFace, one of the best facial recognition technologies in the world.
However, the big question Kenyans always ask is this: Is the project good value for money? Did we invest in security in vain?
Before I could open my mouth to explain that 1,000 vehicles have been recovered and emergencies responded to through ECC and DC and muggers arrested in the city centre and its environs, terrorists struck at the Dusit complex, less than two kilometres to a city centre covered by the IC3 CCTV.
Didn’t we learn from Westgate? Yes, we did. Unlike Westgate and any other attack, response to the Dusit emergency calls was swift and the command and coordination of the multi-agency security team fluid.
Deterrence is a strategy in security where crimes are thwarted before they happen. With all these systems, did we have to be attacked again? Is deterrence among our security strategies?
Can the system we so heavily invested in help us in deterrence? Did we forget our declaration, and that of the President, to terrorists and other criminals? Did we blink or close our eyes?
Yes, we invested right in the IC3 system. It was a great step towards modernising our security.
But CCTV should not only be for reference during investigations, after the crime or tragedy, but monitored by humans 24/7 and providing real-time feeds that can help to apprehend criminals and thwart crimes.
The authorities knew about Mahir Khalid Riziki, the Dusit suicide bomber. Nearly all local security and intelligence agencies had dossiers identifying him as a radical with several dots on the radar screen, including after the Garissa University attack in 2015 where 147 people were slaughtered.
They had his photos and names and contacts of his relatives and friends. He was on the watchlist. Yet they failed to stop him from blowing himself up at 14 Riverside Drive.
With monitoring and surveillance of IC3 CCTV, a wanted criminal should be spotted, especially after we incorporated NeoFace into our security system. Riziki and company could have been stopped, and the attack thwarted, the day they entered Nairobi for their reconnaissance missions — if the police were keener.
Now I could have been recommending that we incorporate privately owned CCTV cameras in all public places into the national grid of IC3 system but we are not yet there. The adage “prevention is better than cure”, cannot be truer. It doesn’t matter how well you respond to a tragedy if you failed to prevent it in the first place. The bottom line is, we are underutilising our Sh15 billion security project. Let’s focus on deterring attacks; we can’t be waiting to be attacked so we can ‘respond well’.