Tag Archives: EXTREMISM

Fueling Extremism: Poor Governance, Corruption, Lack Of Accountability and Hubris.

In a piece titled “Hot Spots: The Intersection of Corruption, Poor Governance and Ebola” I argued that as the epidemic ravaged the people that elected them into office, African leaders avoided discussing the impact of corruption and poor governance on their ability to effectively manage such crisis. I wrote that it was not surprising that all the countries in the “hot zone” of the disease: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone were demonstrably ill-prepared to deal with its occurrence or contain its progression: That crisis such as the Ebola pandemic are exacerbated by poor leadership, incompetent, corrupt and unaccountable governance.

Within six months of the pandemic, Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta and others in the African Union (AU) went on to offer a stunning display of split personality; going from blaming the west for “failing to do enough to fight” Ebola only to turn around and bloviate about “forgetting foreign intervention because Africans are better placed to solve their own problems.”

The same hubris  was again on display a few days before the tragic events in Garissa when “Mutongoria Jamba” derisively responded to a travel advisory issued by Great Britain by saying that “We (Kenya) want to send a clear message (to Great Britain) that they will not intimidate us (Kenyans) with these threats (travel advisories).”

So how does Kenya’s Commander-In-Chief explain the repeated attacks under his watch seemingly perpetrated by the same group – al-Shabaab – using the same modus operandi – taking advantages of failures in the system primarily introduced by the human component of said system? What are some of the lessons that seem to be escaping Kenya’s leaders in their war against extremism?

Frankly I sympathize with Mr. Kenyatta because he’ll be criticized regardless of what he does. On the other hand, he has demonstrated an inability to keep the country safe and secure in spite of repeated warnings of impending attacks and repeated opportunities to change tactics. Having said that, I would offer the following, at a minimum, since the buck stops with him:

That the President:

– Should hold accountable whoever advised him to minimize or diminish the travel advisory from Gt. Britain only to have an attack occur less than one week of the warning. Frankly given the number of terrorist attacks Kenya has experienced since the “digital duo” assumed office, it is my hope that Kenyans hold the two accountable come Election Day.

– Should put ego aside and listen to those who have experienced such tragedies and have developed better bulwarks against them. To quote Rasna Warah in her article “Garissa Could Have Been Avoided”, “(W)hen foreign governments with better intelligence than Kenya issue warnings about imminent threats, it should take them seriously.”

– Should note that tribalism and other socio-political divides are real and portends grave danger: Groups such as al-Shabaab along with politicians exploit said fissures – tribal, religious, economic – for selfish reasons – ideological and personal. Alluding to his country’s success in mitigating attacks by extremists, former Ethiopian Ambassador to Kenya Shamsudin Ahmed pointed out that “…good cooperation between the people and security forces is the secret that his country has used to successfully ward off attacks from the Al Shabaab militant group.”

– Should realize that corruption is an existential problem, is destroying Kenya and has demonstrably made its citizens vulnerable to attacks by extremists. As evidenced by the allegations of looting by those sent to rescue the victims of the Westgate attacks and the many scandals that have engulfed his administration, corruption has seeped into the very fiber of Kenya and her various institutions. The president makes matters worse when he offers fiats that contravene the very systems designed to address corruption like he did when he ordered reinstatement of 10,000 police recruits whose selection was annulled by the courts. For an institution that is the perennial poster child for corruption in Kenya, allowing introduction of police trainees recruited under an odious cloud of mass corruption, irregularities and blatant violations of the Constitution is both irresponsible and dangerous.

Beyond freezing the assets of those suspected of funding extremism, his government should also freeze the assets of those suspected of corruption because there is a demonstrable link between corruption and terrorism.

– Has to stop politicizing the institutions responsible for keeping the country safe. Since independence, Kenya’s presidents including the one now facing blowback because of an ineffective, undermanned and ill-equipped security apparatus – police, military, paramilitary (GSU), CID – have used said institutions to cement their grips on power rather than keep the country safe and secure. They have accomplished this by installing incompetent and/or unqualified sycophants AND siphoning off funds meant to fund the agencies and pay their salaries. Instead, these critical organs have been used to harass, torture and assassinate political opponents. It is this politicization that has now come home to roost in an era of globalization and asymmetrical warfare by non-nation/state actors such as al-Shabaab.

– And his supporters need to understand that they do not have a monopoly on patriotism. The modified expression “dissent rooted in genuine policy and philosophical differences is patriotic” comes to mind. Just because I hold opposing views, oftentimes as passionate as Jubilants hold theirs, does not make me a “sympathizers” of the enemy. This demonization of honest disagreements reminds me of George W. Bush’s use of 9/11 as a bludgeon with which to stifle open and honest debate – in the run-up to America’s invasion of Iraq.

Asking for the withdrawal of KDF from Somalia does not make one an al-Shabaab “appeaser”. It gives the president an opportunity to re/state his case for keeping them there. It also allows his military commanders to refine and re-strategize their war plans given the developments since the initial invasion. Think the “surge” strategy America deployed in Iraq after the original “shock and awe” went awry.

Criticizing incompetence, corruption and tribalism is not unpatriotic especially given the spectacular failures since Jubilee took office. The fact is Kenyans have witness Westgate, Mpeketoni, Lamu, and now Garissa – all in the last two years.

To paraphrase Chinua Achebe: The trouble with Kenya is simply and squarely a failure of leadership; a failure that now defines the national character and ethos of Kenyans and reflected in the people they elect into office. Until Kenyans stop electing leaders on the basis of the “tyranny of numbers” and more on their stated and demonstrated ability to competently discharge their sworn responsibilities, the country will continue to lurch from one crisis to the next while its elected leaders “step aside” only to return – 60 days later – unscathed.

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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

Kenya’s War on Extremism: A Slippery Slope

That was an interesting photo-op of President Uhuru Kenyatta and diplomats from the much-maligned “western imperialist powers” United Kingdom, US, Australia and Canada on April 5, 2014. The respective diplomats Dr. Christian Turner, Robert Godec, Geoff Tooth and David Angell all paid a courtesy visit to Mr. Kenyatta at State House Nairobi, a visit whose timing could not have been spot-on given the country’s apparent inability to deal with the violence perpetrated by extremisms in their midst; home-grown extremism if you will.

Visibly absent and I will add silent thus far as Kenya faces the scourge that is violence driven by radicalism is its new BFF China. I would imagine that the Chinese, who also have their own problem of (Uygar) extremism, are on board with Kenya’s fight: A public pronouncement of that support would be nice unless I missed one.

The challenge for Kenya and Mr. Kenyatta remains adherence to its constitution and all that is enshrined therein: civil/human and religious rights while protecting ALL its citizens.

Based on the government’s recent utterances and actions, I would argue that Kenya’s leaders are desperately trying to thread the needle between these oftentimes conflicting ideals. It is a task made even more daunting by a country whose past is littered with isms of many permutations and has potential fault lines along said isms which can and have easily been exploited thus making its stability tenuous at best. It also does not help that Kenya finally has a constitution-based/driven democracy that is still struggling to find its land legs.

ALL communities in Kenya form the mosaic, the fabric that is Kenya. ALL these communities also have a solemn responsibility to flush out any extremism in their midst be it Al-Shahaab sympathizers or adherents to the Mungiki or any other indigenous and tribal-based extremist groups within the country.

Beyond focusing on the “clear and present danger” posed by the visible and tragic actions of a few, Kenya and Kenyans have an equally solemn responsibility to avoid sweeping bigotry and stereotyping that puts the onus on members of any one group to prove that they are “good people” as one blogger put it. The foregoing brings to mind the silliness of “real Americans” vs. “un-real or fake Americans” birthed and peddled by GOP extremists here in the US. Such a mindset is akin to asking all Luos to prove that they are not “stone-throwers” or asking all Kikuyus to prove that they are not sympathizers of the Mungiki. The notion that there is something wrong with Mr. Aden Duale’s protestations against the actions of the government he serves for making sweeping indictments against a community/region he represents puts Dr. Martin L. King’s caution about the silence of the majority giving tacit approval to the hatred of a minority on its head.

Few would doubt that the country of my birth Kenya and most of her citizens have been steadfastly unequivocal against intolerance and hatred. However, Kenyans have also been party to evil and hatred predicated on perceived differences as recent as the post-election violence of 2007/8.

I have always believed that the anonymity of the internet provides a window through which one can get an unvarnished view into the soul of any society albeit a narrow one: To wit, the notion that there are some who have zero compunction about referring to entire groups as “cold blooded idiots…and…evil comrades who don’t even respect house of worship…are filled with irrational hatred and rage…” further telling another that “…your kind are not capable of human feelings…your evil parasites who hide underground like ravenous rodents” maybe the opinion of some misguided and angry individual(s) whose identity is “protected” by the internet – Edward Snowden anyone?

The problem occurs when a watered down variant of the foregoing hate-speech is echoed by the authorities.

Mr. Kenyatta and his ruling Jubilee Party are at a cross-road regarding Kenya’s fight against radicalism and extremism. Far from being the election-cycle driven ethnic violence most Kenyans expect and are macabrely immune to, the current spate of bombings and wanton violence against civilians including a one-and-a-half year old baby is well outside the election cycle. The violence has a religious dimension to it. And in a near-perfect storm, the violence is playing out in a polity whose citizenry has allowed its politicians to play up and prey on their differences (tribal/ethnic) to hold on to power and “eat”!

I do not have any answers on how Mr. Kenyatta should deal with the religious-fueled violence facing his struggling administration. I do know that playing the “religious card” as some in my adopted home tried doing shortly after 9/11 is a slippery slope that the president and Kenyans would be well-advised to steer clear of.

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