A security meeting was held in Lamu town yesterday attended by the new Lamu County Commissioner, Mirii Njenga, the County Chief of Security, various hoteliers and frightened residents. Local and foreign media were also present.
Kenya’s armed forces have reportedly secured Mpekatoni and other villages on the mainland. The only thing that seems certain so far is that the attacks occur at night and most people are now sleeping in the bush. During the day life has more or less returned to normal.
However residents on Lamu island say they are concerned for their safety.
Flyers (allegedly from Al-Shebaab threatening non-Muslims) posted in Lamu town on Monday caused what one resident called “a mass exodus”. Hotel staff government staff and their families are still fleeing the island. Seats on matatus out of Mokowe have been difficult to come by.
In attempt to dispel incendiary rumors causing panic, stakeholders pressed county leaders for facts and plans for immediate security measures.
1. Who were/are the attackers?
2. Where is the threat coming from?
3. Is there security in (nearby) Shela? Is there really any reliable on-the-ground security in Lamu and Shela?
Hoteliers say they cannot sustain paying for pricey private security to patrol beaches.
4. Is there a hot line to call someone in case of a problem?
5. How rapid is the rapid response?
6. Do police have working phones and chargers?
7. Is there fuel in police patrol boats?
8. After the 2011 kidnappings the government assured stakeholders of increased security.
That never happened.
“Why should we believe anything will be different this time?”
9. Who have you arrested?
10. What is the source of the Al Shabab flyers posted the Lamu town square.
Commissioner Njenga assured attendees that the Lamu County attacks “were a very temporary setback”.
While stakeholders were grateful for the meeting, the commissioner seemed less confident on how to answer the security questions than about sending a clear message to the attackers.
“The attackers were using heavy guns, but the strength of the attacking forces are minimum and not as great as those of the government.
“The hunter is now the hunted…they’re on the run, we want to finish them. They don’t belong here. We are going to handle them the way we know best.”
There was discussion of need for a website for Lamu county.
He admitted there was a lapse in security, he said, but the officers were sent home.
Lapse security and officers sent home.
He said he had no idea where these heavy guns come from.
“There is no cause for alarm or to run away. We either arrest them (the attackers) or gun them down.”
Hospitals – including King Fadhi – on the island are functioning and staffed.
Hotline numbers are expected today (Friday).
When asked why it always seems to take several hours for police to respond to crises, he said laughing nervously, we must approach this pole-pole (slowly). ”
Finally he said the attacks are unlikely to occur within Lamu island.
The origin of the flyer is still being investigated, be said, but it’s authenticity is suspicious. Could be town hooligans unrelated to attacks on mainland.
“We are still investigating, but these funny characters have nothing to with al-Shabaab,’ he said.
“This [the mainland attacks themselves] was a contract hiring of professional murderers within Lamu county. We know it may be more than one issue behind the attacks. Outside and internal groups are behind this.”
Categories: Conflict In Context - Field Notes