Technology can help us tackle terrorism

Somalia-based terrorist group Al- Shabaab has once again robbed us of 147 lives. It is painful to accept this loss, but as former United States Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, once said, “It is not what they take away from you that counts.

It’s what you do with what you have left.” Our task now is to do everything possible to secure the lives of Kenyans while we pursue these delinquents without giving up.

I want to make the case that in order to secure citizens, we must invest in technology. First, we need to register all Kenyans using biometric identifiers, which are not only helpful in identifying criminals, but also in reducing the time it takes to identify victims.

Biometric data are the biological, distinctive, and measurable characteristics used to label and describe individuals.

A comprehensive biometric-based identification system is complicated and might take time to implement. We can greatly enhance security by embarking on a phased introduction, starting with the physiological category of biometric identification and later building on other categories such as behavioural biometric as we advance the technology.


Physiological characteristics relate to the shape of the body. Examples include, but are not limited to, fingerprint, palm veins, face recognition, DNA, palm print, hand geometry, iris recognition, retina and body odour/scent.

Behavioural characteristics relate to the pattern of behaviour of a person, including but not limited to: voice, gait and their rhythms in undertaking various tasks.

Biometric data can be used in several applications including civil registration, drivers’ licenses, and student identification in all campuses and other forms of identification, leading to a single identification system in Kenya.

For this to function effectively, we must build a robust communication network to help with the verification process. This will be complemented by strict requirements for all hotels and guest houses to conduct security checks of all guests and bear responsibility for any unaccounted guest. This is what happens in other countries including our neighbour, Ethiopia.

To compliment these technology solutions, we need to map the entire country and create a proper addressing system for every household. Any guest coming to Kenya must provide the name and physical address of the persons they are visiting.

Such requirement would be fed into an operational Nyumba Kumi database for ease in verification. An addressing system can even pay for itself since many organizations will leverage on the technology to run their enterprises.

We cannot at this time and age hope to fight rag tag armies using archaic technologies. Even these terror groups use social media for their communications.

It is the analytics of these social media content that can reveal an impending attack. We therefore must begin to develop capacity in big data analytics and begin to mine the social media for clues that can help us secure our people.

There are also multiple satellite imagery that we can subscribe to in order to help us obtain data on movements along the border. The idea of launching our own security satellite is no longer farfetched.

We also must responsibly build surveillance capability to understand different languages and to build applications that can crawl through the internet to discern enemy intentions.

Such smart technologies would eventually enable us to minimise unnecessary attacks on citizens.

Since it is an open secret that some of these terrorists have acquired Kenyan citizenship through corruption and political networks, there is need to subject all recently registered citizens and new identity card holders through a genealogical test to weed out those who may have illegally acquired citizenship.

The Immigration Department should also start publishing lists of all new IDs issued and new citizenship applicants. This should be part of the open data initiatives that could expose hidden agenda in registration of persons.

Lastly, we must thoroughly analyse all our vulnerabilities and start to address each of them comprehensively.

There is need to gather constant data on people movement along the border through drones and analyse the data comprehensively by accounting for every person who gets through the border.

Use of thermal imaging cameras to detect weapons may help identify and manage hotels that accommodate criminals knowingly or unknowingly.

This should be accompanied with a legislation to confiscate properties that harbour criminals. This is what happens in many democratic countries to deter citizens from collaborating with criminals to cause harm.

Former US President, Henry Ford once said, “If money is your hope for independence you will never have it. The only real security that a man will have in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience, and ability.”

Let us build the knowledge, experience and ability to secure our country.

The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s Business School.