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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