Kenyans and foreigners alike were butchered mercilessly in the name of a liberation movement that seeks not liberty for those it claims to fight for, but theocratic subjugation not seen since the days of the Spanish Inquisition. Al Shabaab fighters, disguising themselves as civilians, held out with their hostages for four bloody days against the combined might of the National Police Service, the Kenya Defence Forces, various undeclared foreign security and military elements, the dreaded General Service Unit and the National Intelligence Service. When the smoke cleared on the fourth day, scores were found butchered by the well-armed and, ultimately (or presumably) suicidal fighters who carried out the bold raid.
There are increasingly loud and portentous voices declaiming on the reasons why the attack succeeded. Ill-tempered MPs claim, without a shred of public proof, that "corruption" is at the root of the "intelligence failure." The National Intelligence Service, the NIS, is fighting back clandestinely; presumably, it is behind the leakages detailing the warnings it has provided to government officials over the past twelve months showing that the attack was coming. Pundits and members of Kenya's voluble commentariat have started a vicious war of words, with lines drawn in the sand either for the National Executive or against it.
If blame is to be assigned, the poisoned atmosphere prevailing today will make it very difficult not to politicise the process. Then we have those who simply will not look at the Big Picture: they have already warned the President and the Deputy President not to take advantage of the al-Shabaab-created chaos to "avoid their obligations to the International Criminal Court." With the National Command Authority otherwise distracted by these and a million other concerns, it is easy to forget that hundreds of Kenyans, perhaps thousands, were victims of al Shabaab and that what happened at Westgate will scar this nation for a generation, just as the 1998 US Embassy bombing did, perhaps more so.
In the fight against al shabaab, it is not the Kenya Defence Forces, Kenya's special forces, the National Police Service, the NIS or Parliament that are the critical tactical element but Kenyans in the civilian population. We demonstrated that when it comes to national calamity that we will give that which is most precious to us in order to save our sisters and brothers, our blood. The Kenya Red Cross recorded the highest volume of blood collected in almost a decade. Safaricom reports that over a million dollars has been collected for the victims of the Westgate attack. Now that we know that we can, and will sacrifice, for our fellowman, it is time we took this to the next level.
For five decades we have been content to be led by the nose by snake-oil salesmen and charlatans of all shades and stripes. The effect has been soul-deadening. In the past fifteen years, more and more of our children have been exposed to the worst amount of violence ever recorded since pre-Independence. Not even the Saba Saba days were this violent. It is time Kenyans said enough; it is time they realised that their choices have had pernicious consequences. It is time that we changed.
The victims of the Westgate attack demand that we change. Their blood is the sacrifice we needed to realise that we cannot be led by the nose any more. Our safety and our sanity - nay, our lives - depend on us changing the equation. Many will resist drawing a line between their choice of political leadership and the Westgate mall, but it is there for those with eyes to see. It is our elected representatives who have refused to allocate resources for the training of a police service we can be proud of. It is our elected representatives' contempt for the rule of law and for due process that has seen national security being equated with police body-guards, at public expense, for nabobs and nawabs who do not need it. It is elected representatives who, instead of asking the right questions, in the right manner to the right people, who will spend the next three months staring at their navels, wringing their hands in despair, and making the wrong decisions for the wrong reasons and with the wrong motives. Until we elect men and women who put us first, and who take our safety as being more important than theirs, Westgate is set to be the first of many al Shabaab successes.
It is not enough that we line up like lemmings to choose our leadership; we must go much further than that and actually hold them to account for their actions in Parliament. Harebrained civil society acts of civic disobedience capture the public imagination but are short term and ineffective. If Kenyans began engaging, actively so, with their elected representatives (and not just to beg for handouts), by demanding answers and solutions to bread-and-butter problems, perhaps we might begin to reverse the tide of public decrepitude that hold us hostage to the likes of al Shabaab. We can change. Or we can die.