Op-ed by High Commissioner to Kenya Nic Hailey on third anniversary of Westgate.
Three years after Westgate, I remain horrified by the cowardice and inhumanity of this attack on innocent people enjoying a day out. My heart goes out again to all those who lost loved ones, and to those still living with the injuries they suffered that day. The scars for many will take a long time to heal.
Westgate was an attack on all of us. We lost six British nationals there, and we mourn them again on this anniversary.
That September I was based in London, as the person responsible for African affairs in our foreign ministry. Like many others in our Government, I got into the office as soon as I could to help out – responding to calls from the public worried about loved ones, working with our High Commission in Nairobi as it assisted British nationals caught up in the attack, and considering how we could best support the Kenyan authorities in their response.
But one decision required no debate: that the UK would support our ally Kenya. As the siege unfolded, our Prime Minister and Cabinet were closely involved and regularly briefed. British troops training in Central Kenya supported the Kenyan Defence Forces with provision of emergency equipment.
That’s what close friends do, stand with each other in their hour of need. But more than that, there was an understanding that terrorism is a threat to the things we share. We knew, then as now, that our security depends on each other’s – so we must face this threat together.
Terrorists attacked Westgate supposedly in retaliation for Kenya’s role fighting Al-Shabaab in Somalia. That is a fight we share – one to root out extremism and build a better, more stable and more prosperous future for millions of Somalis. It matters to the UK as it matters to Kenya.
Today I pay tribute again to the brave Kenyan Forces taking the fight to Al-Shabaab. The United Kingdom is deploying troops to Mogadishu, under the aegis of the United Nations, to support AMISOM in its mission. We are leading the international effort to build Somalia’s National Army, to which Kenya and its AMISOM allies can hand over security – and channelling billions of shillings of UK financial support to that effort.
Both our countries know too that terrorism is not simply an external phenomenon. We each face those who seek to radicalise our youth, luring them to a perverse ideology and egging them on to often stupid and suicidal acts. In both our countries we must find ways to undermine and defeat those networks, and show even the most disenchanted of our young compatriots that there are far better futures available.
In that context I warmly welcome the publication of Kenya’s new Countering Violent Extremism Strategy, and Ambassador Martin Kimani’s new role coordinating that effort across Kenya. Our approaches to dealing with extremism are similar, and the new Strategy gives us a good basis for working even more closely together.
The UK and Kenya already enjoy an extensive programme of counter-terrorism co-operation – from training and capacity building to equipment which keeps us both safer and more secure. Our recently-ratified Defence Co-operation Agreement opens the way for our troops to train together as they prepare to fight common threats. We are providing technical support to the Judiciary and Directorate of Public Prosecutions to ensure that terrorists are caught, tried and brought to justice in accordance with the rule of law.
Kenya’s CVE strategy makes clear the importance of respecting human rights in the fight against terrorism. You win by sticking to values which the terrorists hate, not by compromising them.
Kenya has made great strides in tackling terrorism since Westgate, and the UK’s security cooperation with Kenya is closer today than ever before. But no country has all the answers. While we work together we must learn from each other, particularly on the complex and deep-rooted challenges of tackling extremism and radicalisation within our own borders.
Lastly, we should keep one other thing in mind. Terrorists may kill and maim, and we rightly mourn those affected. But they can’t undermine our way of life, or the things we stand for.
My generation in the UK grew up with the constant threat of Irish Republican terrorism. Every trip to London, as a child in the 1980s, seemed marred by some kind of bomb threat or security scare.
Ultimately the way to deal with these was to get on with life.
That’s what’s happening in Westgate, three years on. People will be out this weekend enjoying their days there and in so many other places across this beautiful city. That may be the best rebuke to terrorism which anyone can give.