NAIROBI, KENYA —
Kenya’s government is busy vetting a new spy chief to deal with a myriad of security issues plaguing the country. It is part of a major overhaul of the government’s security apparatus, though some analysts are warning against too much change too quickly.
Major General Philip Kameru -- the president’s nominee to head Kenya's National Intelligence Service -- faced tough questions Tuesday, from parliament’s Defense and Foreign Relations Committee.
Kameru told lawmakers his experience as the head of military intelligence has prepared him to effectively handle homegrown terrorism and attacks that come mainly from neighboring Somalia.
"The understanding of security environment and the understanding of KDF [Kenya Defense Forces] in security and the environment are similar. We are not dealing with an environment that is strange. So I am going there, going with the experience I have within the military, going there with the leadership and management skills that I have," said Kameru.
Most of the testimony was heard behind closed doors on security grounds, but Kameru promised to make the Intelligence agency more effective. He noted one of his priorities will be to stop the recruitment and rehabilitation of hundreds of young Kenyans who joined the al-Qaida-linked Somali militant group al-Shabab.
After multiple attacks from al-Shabab since Kenyan forces went into Somalia to root out the terrorist group in 2011, Kenyans feel a growing sense of insecurity. The deadly siege on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall nearly a year ago brought huge pressure on the government to do more.
Selection of a new spy chief is only one of many changes aimed at improving security in the country. Some analysts worry, though, that to rush to do more in a hurry can actually make security worse.
Solomon Dersso, the head of the Peace and Security Council at the Institute of Security Studies, said Kenya cannot afford a complete overhaul just now.
"A complete overhaul of security systems like that of Kenya may not be done within short a period of time. Because it can also have other [unintended] consequences, because the moment you try to clear the inside of the security apparatus, you don't know if you are going to end up -- those people who have been cleared out would be basically be people who would sell information and thereby basically create condition for further attack," said Dersso.
Kameru -- a career military officer -- was nominated by President Uhuru Kenyatta in August after his predecessor, General Michael Gichangi, resigned for what he said were personal reasons. But Gichangi was seen as being ineffective in handling the Westgate attack and failing to prevent or anticipate new threats around the country.
Kameru was among several dozen candidates considered. He has earned respect both in military and civilian circles for being the key strategist behind the successes of Kenya Defense Forces in Somalia. Parliament is expected to vote on his nomination this month.