Pressure mounted on Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Wednesday with scathing editorials and growing anger at a seven-hour delay in the deployment of a special forces unit that eventually ended a bloody siege at Garissa University last week.
The al-Shabaab extremist group has now killed more than 400 people in Kenya since Kenyatta took office in April 2013, denting the east African nation’s image abroad and severely damaging its vital tourism industry.
The predawn attack about 200km from the Somalian border came a day after Kenyatta berated Britain and Australia for issuing travel advisories, saying their security warnings were “not genuine.”
However, Kenyan media outlets, some of them owned by Kenyatta’s family, are becoming increasingly critical of the president and government efforts to stop future attacks, drawing comparisons to al-Shabaab’s assault on Nairobi’s Westgate mall, where the extremists killed 67 people during a four-day siege in 2013.
In a front-page editorial headlined: “If Westgate was a disaster, what do you call Garissa?” Kenya’s biggest-selling Daily Nation newspaper singled out Kenyatta for not meeting the grieving families.
“In Kenya, your child ... is slaughtered, but a little time cannot be found in busy diaries for the leader you elected to come and look you in your teary eyes and assure you that he did his best, that the death of your son or daughter has not been in vain, that he feels your pain,” it said.
The Standard rounded on the government for its defense of the security response to the deadliest attack in Kenya since 1998, when al-Qaeda bombed the US embassy, killing more than 200 people.
“It is ... morally irresponsible for the government’s [public relations] machine to go into overdrive after what everyone acknowledges was a lamentable response,” it said.
Even after the editorial, Nairobi once again defended its handling of the atrocity, in which 148 people were killed.
“We commend our security agencies for responding promptly, and launching rescue operations and saving lives,” Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for Defense Rachel Omamo told reporters.
The public anger stems largely from revelations that journalists and politicians from Nairobi arrived at Garissa before the crack Recce police unit, which was delayed at a Nairobi airport for seven hours.
As the four al-Shabaab fighters tossed grenades and sprayed bullets at cowering students, the US and Israeli-trained Recce commandos were unable to find an airplane to fly them to Garissa, media reported.
Asman Kamama, a legislator and chairman of Kenya’s National Security Committee, asked why Kenyan Secretary for the Interior Joseph Nkaissary flew to Garissa soon after the 5.30am raid began, while the Recce squad, trained specifically for such incidents, was left behind.
“In [the] future, we will not entertain this,” he told Citizen TV.
Once the squad went in, they ended the siege in half an hour.
To the fury of Kenyans, their assault began about 12 hours after al-Shabaab fighters shot their way into the college.
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