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Musings on security in East Africa

by Ruth Aine - 29 November 2013

Security has become the talk of the continent. We live in fear of the unknown. Every time that I think of what transpired at the recent Westgate attack in Nairobi, Kenya; my heart beats faster. It is very scary. What happened could happen in any part of the continent. And we would never see it coming. And even if we did, we can never be prepared for the aftermath. The physical and mostly emotional torture thereafter is immense: the impact that it leaves takes a long time to wear off. That all depends on how one is affected. For some, they never get over the ordeal; even if they do it takes longer for some than it does for the others.


*Tom (name changed) was a victim of the December 2010 Al-shabab bombing on the Kampala Coach Uganda bound bus in Nairobi, Kenya. He was with his girlfriend then headed to Jinja in Uganda for holiday. He ended up in hospital with severe injuries. His girlfriend was hospitalized for over 6 months. He lost his job, a lot of money and also time to hospital. Early this year, he was successful in raising funds to go to India for corrective eye surgery that was as a result of that occurrence. Nearly 3 years after the bombing and over 5 operations later, he can well say that he is better. Tom was very lucky. Much as he was affected, he had the capacity to live through it and today he lives to tell the story.

How much of this recent wave of terrorism are we prepared for? What does it take for us to be secure and to learn to look out for each other? But also, what is being done by these governments to ensure that the future for most of us is not one of fear and regret? The two most significant variables that have influenced crime rates in the past, and are expected to be highly influential on future rates, are macro-economic factors and demographic factors. The former include: strength of the economy, unemployment rates and consumer spending levels. Demographic factors, in particular the number of males in the crime-prone age group have made their mark as well. The one other factor that may have had the most significant impact on crime rates in recent years is technology. It will, in all probability, continue to greatly influence the nature of crime. The more connected with each other we are. The more crime is on the increase.

Now, Technology plays a very significant role in crime. A look again at the West Gate attack and we see that it will either help to solve or complicate heightened security situations. Advances in technology will continue to provide criminals with the tools to facilitate the commission of traditional crimes. For example: fraud, theft, money laundering, and counterfeiting are all very widespread because of technology. Technology itself will be the target of criminal offenses. Also an aspect that remains prominent is the theft of telecommunications services and the spread of viruses. Government websites continue to be hacked by unknown people. We see that technology is a significant arena.

And so I ask: is it possible by even the smallest degree that we could be able to work towards preventing crime in society? Are our systems capable of handling these attacks? Have we made any efforts towards this? Can people like Tom be able to trust their governments and states with their lives ever again?

Surprise is an enduring factor of not just humanity but of crime. The competitive advantage conferred by confounding an adversary as to ones' true capabilities and intentions means that there are powerful if not natural incentives to deny, confuse and deceive one's enemy wherever and whenever is suitable. This will explain as to why it is important that intelligence over the years has existed not just as a discipline but as a profession as well. If we knew everything about everyone's intentions, their plans and what they are capable of, there would be no need for spies, spy satellites and all the 'intelligence' gathering mechanisms that have since evolved.

Intelligence services are something though that I think our African governments are lagging behind in. We seem to be more 'reactionary' than predicting and putting in place early warning systems for crime. These newer kinds of sophisticated crime, often dubbed e-crime, is the new battle ground. Terror, crime and insecurity cannot be fought with huge militarized armies. Planning and direction, leading to collecting and collation of data which would then lead to analysis and production of findings before dissemination, are paramount. Law enforcement communities in our states need to have alive and up to date systems that enable threat perception, which includes environment scans, to take place. Evaluation and monitoring, where we have the analysis of threats and risks, should also be vigilant. After this is the assessment phase which allows for in-depth analysis and warning judgment. All of this chain is finally then followed by a comprehensive and coherent communication of the warning. This is what I believe ought to be a workable early warning system.

If we can stop being reactionary; responding to crime as and when it happens then we will be a better protected society.


Ruth Aine Tindyebwa
Blogger/Online Communications

Read her personal blog; IN DEPTH which is at www.ruthaine.com

Read more about the author and her view on being a futurist.




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