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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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Selective flexing of continental muscle?

The African Union (AU) has said it will impose “targeted sanctions” in response to the violence in war-torn South Sudan where two weeks of fighting between the mostly Dinka forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and the mostly Nuer forces loyal to former vice-president Riek Machar is feared to have left thousands dead and several thousand others displaced. The AU made this western-like pronouncement even as the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), another member state, was reporting that “forty people who took part in an uprising Monday in Kinshasa, taking hostages and firing at the airport and a military headquarters were killed…” in a conflict that has been raging since 1996!
http://www.capitalfm.co.ke/news/2013/12/40-attackers-killed-in-uprising-in-dr-congo-capital/
That the preeminent political body in Africa has yet to stake such a “muscular” position on the continent’s other conflicts in the DRC, Mali, Nigeria or Central African Republic (CAR) begs the following:
– Why is the AU threatening military action in South Sudan and while remaining mute, certainly passive, on the other three conflicts in Africa all which pre-date the conflict in Southern Sudan?
– Why is Mr. Museveni ready to go to war against the mostly-Nuer rebels loyal to Riek Machar even as the country’s beleaguered president Salva Kiir of the majority Dinka tribe seemingly makes decisions that alienate the other tribes in a trend consistent across most African countries since independence?
Of the afore-mentioned conflicts, the one in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been raging since 1996 and recently saw government forces repulse an attack by several youths aligned with Christian leader Paul Joseph Mukungubila who had attacked the airport, military barracks and the state radio and television stations. Regarding the civil strife in Central African Republic, one can make a compelling case that the country has been at war since Jean Bedel Bokassa overthrew the presidency of a distant cousin David Dacko who had appointed him to head the armed forces back in 1966! The CAR is the definition of a “failed state” and as recent as late December 2013, a spokesman for the African Union peacekeeping mission in the country reported the discovery of a mass grave in the capital Bangui. Mali’s civil war begun in the country’s northern region when in early 2012, insurgents began fighting for independence and greater autonomy from the central government in Bamako. Finally, Nigeria has been dealing with the Boko Haram insurgency since 2001; an insurgency that has caused an estimated 10,000 deaths since 2001.
http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/congo.htm
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/31/world/africa/quelling-attacks-in-the-capital-congolese-troops-kill-dozens.html?_r=0
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conflict_in_Mali
http://news.yahoo.com/mass-grave-found-central-african-republic-192648310.html;_ylt=A0SO8oYL0cRSulsAhXBXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTB0aG01cW5wBHNlYwNzYwRjb2xvA2dxMQR2dGlkA1ZJUDMxOV8x
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boko_Haram
On the conflict in South Sudan, Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni has already thrown down the gauntlet warning Mr. Machar that if he did not “report to the negotiating table…’we’ shall have to go for him, all of us.” This indeed is tough talk from someone who has consistently lambasted the west for flexing its muscle in conflicts around the world. I have to say that Mr. Kiir and Mr. Machar need to heed the tough talk given the toll their “personal challenges” is taking on the people of South Sudan. The tough talk aside, the African Union’s unity and resoluteness faces an uphill battle given what is usually the main cause of the continent’s conflicts.
http://www.nation.co.ke/news/africa/Machar-sends-peace-envoys-but-still-fighting/-/1066/2130604/-/kl9skl/-/index.html
Mr. Kiir’s decision to fire his vice president Mr. Machar AND imprison some of Machar’s mostly Nuer supporters is one that has been duplicated, in some way, shape or form in country after country in Africa since the 60s. As an example, once in office, Kenya’s first three presidents all consolidated their hold on power by surrounding themselves with Kenyans from their tribe AT the expense of equally-qualified Kenyans from other tribes. According to Charles Hornsby in his book Kenya: A History Since Independence, “(J)ust as Kenyatta had done, Moi…(developed) an inner circle or kitchen cabinet of loyalists….(A)mongst these Kalenjin insiders were Biwott…Stanley Metto…Isaac Salat…” (p373). Kenyatta Pere was thus surrounded by the “Kiambu Mafia” and Arap Moi relied on the “Tugen Mafia” (p582). Regarding Mr. Mwai Kibaki’s presidency, Mr. Hornsby writes that “…as Kalenjin executives and (former president) Moi’s…partners were evicted, a high proportion were replaced with people from the GEMA (Gikuyu Embu Meru Association) communities….described now as the ‘Mount Kenya’ people.” (p711). This same sentiment is expressed by Dr. Francis K. Sang the former Director of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in his book A Noble But Onerous Duty. The former sleuth writes that a complete overhaul of the top hierarchy of the Kenya Police and its military followed Mr. Kibaki’s ascension to power in 2002 as powerbrokers allied to the incoming president worked “tirelessly in search of public positions for their kith and kin.” (p62-63)
Mr. Pete Ondeng, in an article in the January 2, 2014 Daily Nation titled South Sudan bleeds, and the nation’s leaders must now staunch the wound writes that “it was only a matter of time before the war between the largely Islamic and predominantly Arabic north and the south would morph into a post-independence power struggle for the soul of the new nation.” Maybe Mr. Ondeng is using the phrase “soul of the new nation” to mean “matunda ya uhuru” or “fruits of independence” because I believe that given Africa’s post-independence trajectory, most if not all the conflicts have been about control of resources by the ethnic majority and those it can co-opt into their sphere of influence. Some, including Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta, have made the argument that the conflict between Kiir and Machar is a “political conflict”. That may be so but Mr. Kiir changed that calculus in mid-2013 when he neutered internal Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) decision-making bodies such as the political bureau after it appeared that Mr. Machar’s predominantly Nuer caucus had the votes to overturn Mr. Kiir’s decision to fire his VP and dismiss the VP’s supporters. It is this abuse of power (by Mr. Kiir), after the people of South Sudan united against Khartoum during the fight for independence in the 2000s, that has opened and deepened the various fissures including ethnic fault lines that were papered over during the lead-up to independence.
http://www.nation.co.ke/oped/Opinion/South-Sudan-Conflict-Salva-Kiir-Riek-Machar/-/440808/2132610/-/43i5m7/-/index.html
http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/140617/alex-de-waal-and-abdul-mohammed/breakdown-in-south-sudan
Moving forward, I would argue that the challenge for the African Union’s new-found muscles and unity is consistency in confronting civil strife within ALL its member states. Rightfully so, African leaders have already staked the position that the west (and foreigners in general) cannot prescribe solutions for what ails the continent’s fifty-plus nations. At the very basic level of analysis, I do agree with AU’s position: For solutions to some of the continent’s challenges to be effective, not only do they have to be crafted by local key stakeholders; said stakeholders have to be front-and-center in their implementation.
The unfortunate thing though, is that Africa’s history is rife with “homegrown” solutions that barely, if at all, represent the interest of minority groups. The continent is also chockfull of local solutions under the guise of so-called memorandums-of-understanding (MoU) that are not honored or are unilaterally modified by the party or parties involved. Finally, the clamor for “African solutions for Africa’s problems” has oftentimes had foreign components to them. Foreign interference in (indigenous) African conflicts has had so many deleterious effects on the very people the “solutions” were intended to help that it boggles the mind how these very African leaders who preach “national pride” and “pan-Africanism”, knowing the continent’s history with foreign powers could countenance fully embracing or “off-shoring” implementation of the solutions to those very foreigners.

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