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Kenya Shakes Up Security Leadership After Latest Al Shabab Attack


In Kenya two of the country's top security brass have been replaced. This happened after another deadly attack today by Al Shabab, the Somalia-based militant group. NPR's Gregory Warner reports for many Kenyans the political reshuffling comes more than a year too late.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: The workers were sleeping in tents near the stone quarry where they rose to labor each morning. But before dawn, gunmen from the Somali jihadist group Al Shabab would round them up and force them to recite a Muslim prayer. Thirty-six people who could not pass the test were shot point-blank. The attack, in the northeast county of Mandera in Kenya, was similar to one in the same county last week. A public bus ferrying schoolteachers was hijacked. Christians were separated and shot. And once again, Kenyans woke up to the photos of young people in humble clothing, their corpses now forming a still and orderly line in the dust.



WARNER: Once again, President Uhuru Kenyatta urged unity.


KENYATTA: ...We will not flinch or relent in the war against terrorism in our country and our region.

WARNER: But today one thing was different. The president also said he would be replacing his cabinet minister of the interior, and separately, the inspector general of police resigned.


KENYATTA: ...Offered to retire, and I have accepted the retirement request.

WARNER: That reshuffling may not sound like a big deal, but in Kenya it's huge. It's something that Kenyans have called for ever since last September after the bungled if not overtly criminal response to the attack on Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi. Security forces responded hours late to that attack, looted jewelry stores and took four days to take out four gunmen. Many blamed the intelligence failure at Westgate and subsequent attacks on the minister of interior, Joseph Ole Lenko, a wealthy political appointment whose previous security experiments was running a chain of luxury hotels.

His replacement, though, will have a tough job. Endemic police corruption allows militants to get guns and visas and dissuade citizens from giving alerts. George Musamili is a former cop who now runs his own security firm in Nairobi.

GEORGE MUSAMILI: I think what we need to have is a complete overhaul of the entire security system.

WARNER: But Secretary General of the Kenyan Red Cross Abbas Gulled, who's health workers were some of the first on the scene of today's attack, said that blame for this year of terrorism in Kenya can't fall solely on the police. The bigger problem is the long and porous border with Somalia.

ABBAS GULLED: The border between Kenya and Somalia runs for a thousand kilometers or even more. And there's no way on earth - any way in the world you can police that border man-for-man or kilometer by kilometer.

WARNER: Al Shabab vows to continue its attacks until Kenya pulls its troops out of Somalia. Gregory Warner, NPR News, Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gregory Warner is the host of NPR's Rough Translation, a podcast about how things we're talking about in the United States are being talked about in some other part of the world. Whether interviewing a Ukrainian debunker of Russian fake news, a Japanese apology broker navigating different cultural meanings of the word "sorry," or a German dating coach helping a Syrian refugee find love, Warner's storytelling approach takes us out of our echo chambers and leads us to question the way we talk about the world. Rough Translation has received the Lowell Thomas Award from the Overseas Press Club and a Scripps Howard Award.