Monthly Archives: May 2014

Insecurity in Kenya and Patriotism

Criticizing an obviously over-whelmed President Uhuru Kenyatta does not make one a “self-hating” “unpatriotic” Kenyan who is “gleeful” about the plight of the country including the on-going attacks on innocent civilians.  Likewise, questioning his administration’s inept and haphazard stewardship of the country including its endemic corruption does not make one a “Raila sycophant”.

Taken together, the fore-going reactions are cynical ploys at deflection by people who willfully overlook the elementary relationship between the leaders they elect into office and the evolution/viability of the country. Such people seem unable to sustain a substantive response to the reality that Emperor Uhuru really has no clothes!

Irish poet Oscar Wilde wrote that “patriotism is the virtue of the vicious” while Englishman Samuel Jackson argued that “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” Anyone interested in the meanings of the foregoing quotes can google them because I won’t delve into a protracted discussion about their meaning but suffice to say, I find the quotes very instructive given the on-going discourse on the darkness and uncertainty Kenya and Kenyans are going through.

The recent terrorist attacks in Nairobi and Mombasa have confused and divided Kenyans and like clockwork, one of the fault lines has been along tribal lines. The divide has also pitted rabid flag-wavers and self-proclaimed “patriots” who hold steadfast to the dictum “Kenya: Love it or leave it!” on one side and “unpatriotic” folks who display the bumper sticker “Don’t blame me, I voted for CORD!” between moments of Schadenfreude and acceptance, on the other.

I would add a third category of people who love Kenya but want to see its leadership and people come together and do better. I would then lump the full spectrum of perspectives under the heading “Democracy At Work”; the making of sausage allusion notwithstanding.

In a piece titled “How Kenya lost billions since independence,” Dr. David Ndii of Africa Economics writes that “Uhuru is Kenyatta’s biological son. He is Moi’s political son. It is said he is Kibaki’s godson. Apples don’t fall far trees.” Much like the Anglo Leasing scheme that just cost the country KSh. 1.4Billion for security goods and services yet-to-be-delivered, it is not implausible, irresponsible or “un-patriotic” to posit that the ease and frequency with which the extremist attacks are currently occurring in Kenya has been in the making for some time.

It is disingenuous and naïve to separate Kenya’s history of corruption, nepotism, impunity and tribalism from its on-going flailing fight against extremism, corruption, tribalism and nepotism. The fore-going is the very point Alex Ndegwa makes in the piece “Anglo Leasing follows President Uhuru Kenyatta to State House”. Mr. Ndegwa writes that “…Anglo leasing deals were conceived in 2001 under similar pressure for cash and runaway insecurity, as the spate of terror attacks gripping the country today.”

At the risk of repeating myself and stating the obvious, Kenya is a society where anyone with money or connections can get anything – legally AND illegally – and in the latter scenario, without suffering any consequences in a court of law or in the court of public opinion. This perspective dovetails with Mr. John Githongo’s assertion that “corrupt individuals resort to security matters when other avenues for looting (are) tightened.” The former head of the country’s anti-corruption commission further noted that “one of the major contracts in the Anglo Leasing scam was to have tamper-proof passports as a security matter that was vital for the country”; arguably for its security.

The fact is corruption, nepotism and impunity are not unique to Kenya but to paraphrase Senator Obama during his visit to Kenya in 2006, the three isms have attained crisis-levels in Kenya, the American president’s father’s country of birth.

The world has changed since Kenya’s war with the Shiftas shortly after independence. As romantic as some would like it to be, it is highly unlikely that the tactics used by Kenyatta Pere to deal with the secessionist movement in Kenya’s Northern Frontier DIstrict would work in an era where the internet and jet travel have made possible asymmetrical warfare and attacks by one or two “lone wolves” with extremist views and/or an axe to grind against countries.

Shortly after 9/11, the US put in place systems – Department of Homeland Security – aimed at closing the loopholes that were exploited by the 19 extremists who perpetrated the dastardly acts. Even more important, the bureaucracy was staffed with competent professionals who owed their allegiance to the country, not a person or group. The story of Bernard Kerik offers a glimpse into the seriousness with which the US took the scourge of extremism. It also offers a template that Uhuru can use in structuring and staffing Kenya’s security bureaucracy. The simple version is that Mr. Kerik, a politically-connected former commissioner of NY Police Department withdrew his name from consideration as secretary of DHS because of past indiscretions – “personal challenges” if you may. That he lost out on the cabinet position was the least of his worries because the confirmation process shone a light on his unsavory and criminal past. “Bernie” was discharged from federal custody on October 15, 2013, after serving 5 months of home confinement for a past that begun to unravel during the confirmation hearings.

My point?

Fighting extremism is extremely difficult under the “best” of circumstances.  It is made almost impossible when security systems/measures are staffed/overseen by incompetent and unethical individuals who are seemingly “protected” thanks to their relationship with or proximity to the center of power.

While the foregoing Monday morning quarterbacking is made from the safety and comfort of a café using a laptop, a fact some have used to ridicule my opinions, it dovetails with my larger point on tribalism, nepotism, corruption and their impact on Kenya’s on-going tribulations. With that said, let me offer Kenyatta Son’s own assessment back in 2006. Said the man now leading the country:

“…Anglo-leasing related projects represented three of the most prominent characteristics of corruption in our country. They represent impunity, negligence and recklessness in the management of public resources. They also represent the regrettable feature of lack of responsibility and unaccountable conscience on the part of those charged with the management of national resources that are put under them.”

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Kensanity indeed!

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May 29, 2014 · 5:18 AM

Insecurity in Kenya: The “New Normal”.

Unfortunately, the twin bomb blasts in Gikomba, coming less than a month after the attacks in Thika is the “new normal” in Kenya.

Kenya “stirred a hornets’ nest” when its forces invaded Somalia in October 2011. While folks can debate the wisdom of the invasion, I can say that it, the invasion, has combined with the endemic corruption, hubris and jingoism of the ruling Jubilee party and its supporters and the utter incompetence of the Kenyatta government to exacerbated Kenya’s insecurity and instability.

With bomb blasts occurring throughout the country with alarming frequency, a look into the country’s internal security operations recently revealed that the government allocated twenty-eight million shillings to the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) which is tasked with fighting Kenya’s “war on terror”. The Sh.28Million is in contrast to the Sh.150Million allocated to funding the retirement of some of the country’s wealthiest persons – former presidents Moi and Kibaki. The amount allocated to the ATPU is 43% less than the KSh.40Million allocated for the First Lady’s “hospitality supplies and services”. And in a near-corollary to Kenya’s insecurity nightmare, Mr. Kenyatta just authorized payment of Sh.1.4Billion to yet-to-be named persons for yet-to-be-delivered national security goods and services!

In the midst of the last attacks about three weeks ago, Mr. Kenyatta made an “official trip” to Nigeria where he inked business deals with a Nigerian government also fighting its own battle with the extremist outfit Boko Haram. The symbolism of the Kenyan president hob-knobbing with his Nigerian counterpart even as their two countries face relentless attacks should have sent their respective PR departments running for cover out of embarrassment.

Equally curious were the pronouncements by Mr. Karanja Kibicho less than twenty-four hours before the Gikomba attacks. Speaking in response to the travel advisories issued by the US and UK, the Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary asserted that “issuance of…travel advisories only play to the whims of bad elements in the society whose aim is to spread fear and panic among otherwise peaceful people.” Mr. Kibicho went on to say that “visitors are assured to (sic) utmost security and safety when in Kenya.”

Finally, I wrote in a previous piece that corruption will continue to be a major contributing factor in the on-going spate of violence in Kenya. As an example, I cited issuance of national IDs and passports to non-Kenyans by corrupt bureaucrats. Like others have also written, I pointed out the tendency of Kenya’s police of entering vehicles that have been stopped ostensibly for traffic infractions. The officers do this to hide the exchange of “kitu kidogo” away from the public; an act that was partly responsible for the blast in Pangani that took four lives – two policemen and the two persons in the car that had been stopped.

The fight against extremism requires a big stick AND a carrot; lots of carrots!

Having executed the former with limited success, the Kenyan government needs to bring out the carrots. Included in the carrot category would be the symbolic actions of Mr. Kenyatta’s and members of his government.

To wit: leaving the country shortly after an attack may project an image of “business-as-usual”. It can also create the impression that he, the president, does not care about the afflicted or the insecurity wreaking havoc in the country he swore to serve and to protect. If I were advising the president, I would tell him to act “engaged” and “concerned” especially after any tragedy. As much as I think former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has over-milked his stewardship of New York after 9/11, Mr. Kenyatta should borrow a page from the former mayor’s performance after the attacks on the Twin Towers. Mr. Giuliani basically wrote the book on the conduct of elected officials after tragedies. A visit to the sight of the attack AND with the injured shortly after the attacks would convey both engagement and empathy – a “today we are all Kenyan” image.

Official pronouncements should be coherent, coordinated and rooted in reality. Talking tough and thumping one’s chest while getting your head literally handed to you is embarrassing. Announcing that “all is under control” only to have an attack happen within 24 hours of said assurance would be grounds for immediate termination of the “announcee” in most countries.

Incoherent and disjointed public pronouncements by Jubilee appointees Kibicho, Ole Lenku, Kimaiyo and the president himself continue to diminish his government’s already non-existent credibility.

Additionally, there is nothing wrong with asking for help from those who have experienced what one is going through. Mr. Kenyatta should ask Mr. Goodluck Jonathan. Had his Nigerian government swallowed its pride and asked the international community for help immediately after the 200+ schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram, who knows what the outcome to the tragedy would have been? As it currently stands 30+ days after the attack, any evidence and traces of the girls’ whereabouts have pretty much dissipated.

Budgetary breakdowns illustrate a country’s priorities and have consequences. Allocating almost 500% more money to fund the retirements of the ridiculously wealthy ex-presidents Moi and Kibaki than to the outfit at “the tip of the spear” in the country’s fight against extremism sends the wrong message to all including the terrorists. The fight against extremism and the perpetrators of death and destruction should be funded with a budget commensurate with the problem. I would be curious to see how much money the travel advisories issued by America and Gt. Britain among others cost Kenya’s tourism industry.

Mr. Kenyatta has said that those carrying out the attacks want to divide Kenyans along religious lines. In the wake of the attacks in Thika, allegedly perpetrated by Luo and Kamba attackers, some have also argued that said attackers want to divide Kenya along tribal lines. I won’t deign to understand what motivates some to cause wanton death and destruction on unsuspecting fellow humans. What I do know is that the aim of terrorism is to spread fear among the public.

Mr. Kenyatta and his government need to reassure the increasingly jittery Kenyan public that they can deal effectively with the scourge that is terrorism and extremism before it is too late.

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