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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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Filed under Boko Haram, Corruption, Failed State, Governance - Kenya