You can now read 10 articles a month for free. Read as much as you want anywhere and anytime for just 99¢.

Kenyan police try to combat terrorism on tiny budget

NAIROBI — Kenya’s lead counterterrorism agency is working to stop another Westgate Mall-style terrorist attack — that many here believe Somali militants will try again — on a shoestring budget: The
Anti-Terror Police Unit in Nairobi has just $735 to spend this month.

Government documents show that even after the September attack by Al Shabab on an upscale mall in Nairobi that killed at least 67 people, the country’s top antiterrorism security force is allocated only around $2,205 for its operations — for maintenance and fuel for cars, travel expenses, and office supplies — in January, February, and March.

Continue reading below

By comparison, a Kenyan member of Parliament earns about $45,000 in salary and allowances in three months.

Kenya is facing a budgetary crisis brought on by high salaries paid to some government employees, its government has said. President Uhuru Kenyatta and his vice president each pledged to take a 20 percent pay cut, and Kenyatta is urging other top government officials to do the same, saying the country cannot afford to pay so much in salaries.

Kenyatta said more resources will be allocated to the police and military. ‘‘For a long time, the security sector has not been given the attention it deserves. We are changing that,’’ the president said.

The antiterrorism unit is struggling to do its work because of limited funds, said a security official from the police headquarters, who insisted on anonymity because he is not authorized to share the information. The limited budget makes preventing another attack difficult, he said.

Despite the budget figures in official government documents, the spokesman for Kenya’s Internal Security Ministry, Mwenda Njoka, denied that Nairobi’s antiterror unit had been allocated only $2,205 for the quarter. He did not provide any alternate figures.

Kenya’s top security force was allocated $2,205 for operations in January, February, and March, documents said.

Quote Icon

Combating terrorism is a capital-intensive exercise because of the time and manpower needed to try to learn the identity of would-be attackers, the security official said.

Somali terrorists are financing their terror attacks with more funds than Kenya is spending on the Anti-Terror Police Unit, the official said.

He cited an episode in September 2012 in which police stopped a planned attack on Parliament. A suspect was arrested in a house in a Somali section of Nairobi with four suicide vests, two improvised explosive devices, four AK-47 rifles, and ammunition, the official said. The suspect told police that he had been given about $82,000 to carry out surveillance and launch the attack.

The official said the suspect claimed he had once been arrested by police who noticed his surveillance activities but was released after paying a $470 bribe. A police spokesman has previously described the bribe-taking culture among Kenya police as ‘‘deep and wide.’’

A second security official who also insisted on anonymity said the antiterror unit does not have bullet proof vests and in some Kenyan jurisdictions along the border with Somalia known as terrorism hotspots the antiterror unit does not have single police car.

Alamin Kimathi, a human rights activist who has been the biggest critic of the antiterror police, believes the unit is heavily supported by the West and that this funding affects its priorities. More often the unit’s work is driven by a Western agenda, he said. ‘‘He who pays the piper calls the tune,’’ Kimathi said.

Human rights activists often accuse the antiterror unit of killing suspects whom they can’t successfully prosecute. Human rights groups said 18 people suspected of having links to terror networks had either been executed or disappeared in 2012; 13 people suffered the same fate in 2013.

Kimathi said the antiterror unit requires more funding for criminal intelligence gathering, training, forensics, and equipment. He said some of the excesses blamed on the special unit can be attributed to a lack of funds. ‘‘When you don’t feed the dog, it will turn around and bite you,’’ he said.

The United States and Britain give only material support to the antiterror unit, such as vehicles, equipment, and training, but does not give financial assistance, the security officials said.

Kenya is one of the top five global recipients of State Department antiterrorism funding, which supports border and coastal security and law enforcement programs, according to a September report by the US Congressional Research Service titled ‘‘US-Kenya Relations: Current Political and Security Issues.’’

In fiscal year 2013 a US-Kenyan law enforcement cooperation program known as the Diplomatic Security Antiterrorism Assistance program had a budget of $7.75 million, which is divided among multiple security services in Kenya and goes toward training and equipment.

The Anti-Terror Police Unit was formed in 2003 shortly after Al Qaeda in 2002 bombed an Israeli-owned hotel in the coastal city of Mombasa, killing more than a dozen people, while also nearly simultaneously attempting to bring down an Israeli plane taking off at Mombasa International Airport. Those attacks took place four years after Al Qaeda orchestrated the bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 people, including a dozen Americans.

Loading comments...

You have reached the limit of 10 free articles in a month

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week