Garissa — With less than one month to the election, Kenyan police have raised the national security alert and are requesting that campaign organisers and citizens work with police to ensure the safety of everyone at political events.
Political events held in outdoor venues and car convoys escorting candidates to events are at particular risk from potential al-Shabaab attacks, Kenyan officials told Sabahi.
"We have no specific target at the moment, but crowds attending the rallies need to be extra vigilant because the militants have proved to be indiscriminate [in their attacks]," said Coast Provincial Police Chief Aggrey Adoli.
"The crowds may be captivated by the entertainment and the speeches at the rallies but they should not lose sight of the existing danger," he told Sabahi.
He said the government has taken all necessary steps to ensure the safety of civilians at public events but that the community will have to be an active partner to achieve success.
To that end, political campaigns should co-ordinate with police and other security forces to find secure venues for their events, and civilians who attend must be vigilant and report any suspicious activity, Adoli said.
The security alert is not meant to scare or prevent voters from attending political events, the police chief said, but to raise awareness and allow Kenyans to work together and ensure a safe election.
"The militants are on the lookout for crowds and security lapses to strike, but residents should be on the lookout [in order to foil] their evil plans," he said.
North Eastern Provincial Police Chief Charlton Mureithi said police would work with campaign organisers to select closed venues where everyone can be screened upon entry.
In addition, police will help organisers train campaign staffers responsible for security at public events. "It is not only about maintaining law and order; we are also on the lookout for individuals who may want to execute a terror attack," he told Sabahi.
In instances where there is concrete proof that public safety is threatened, the rallies will be cancelled, he said.
"We understand that cancelling rallies may be a great inconvenience to candidates and [voters], but no one should read any sinister political motives where security issues are concerned," Mureithi said.
Mureithi said security forces in Coast and North Eastern provinces face a greater threat from al-Shabaab due to the vicinity of the Somali border, but he reassured the public that officers are armed and ready.
"In previous campaigns, officers deployed to the rallies were only armed with batons to deal with rowdy gangs ... now all the officers assigned to rallies are armed," he said.
Defence Minister Yusuf Haji said candidates must take the security alert seriously.
"The safety of those attending the rallies is crucial and in some places open rallies have had to be shelved," he told Sabahi, adding that the government has banned events that go past 6:00 pm.
Haji, who is vying for the Garissa County Senator seat, urged each candidate to seek and follow the advice of security officials responsible for the areas in which they are planning to hold events.
Secretary to the Cabinet and Head of the Public Service Francis Kimemia said plans are also under way to tighten security at this year's presidential inauguration.
"Traditionally, the swearing in of presidents has been done at Nairobi's Uhuru Park which is very open," he told Sabahi. "However, to bolster the security of those attending the ceremony in line with [recent] terror threats, the ceremony will be held at the enclosed Nyayo National Stadium."
The event might be moved to the Moi International Sports Centre in Kasarani due to better security perimeter walls and, with 60,000 seats, the ability to accommodate twice as many people, he said.