Kenya’s anti-terror strategy begins to emerge – By Ben Rawlence

BenRawlenceIt’s precisely a year to the day since the Jubilee alliance took control of Kenya’s government under a cloud of controversy over a flawed election and uncertainty about how the world would respond to a government led by suspected war criminals. At the time, the President, Uhuru Kenyatta, and Vice President William Ruto were awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court and western governments warned of “consequences” for Kenya if it elected the two leaders suspected of inciting the previous poll violence in 2007 and claimed to be preparing for a diplomatic relationship limited to “essential contacts”. A year on, the front page of last weekend’s leading newspaper, The Nation carried a photo of a smiling Kenyatta relaxing in State House receiving the envoys of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia in a joint visit to pledge moral and material support for Kenya’s war on terrorism. What a turnaround.

It’s been a good year for Kenyatta and Ruto. In part the change in their fortunes is due to the natural hypocrisy of high-handed western governments whose foreign policy is always subordinate to interests rather than values. But in large part their luck has been self-made. Witnesses in the case before the International Criminal Court have withdrawn at a rapid rate causing the prosecutor to cry foul and to ask for more time. And although the Kenyan government fell short of its goal to get the cases dismissed, Kenyatta’s case has been postponed several times, now until October 2014. It has pursued the defence of its leaders with such vigour that the coalition has come to be seen by many Kenyans as a one-issue government.

This week, however, on the anniversary of their accession to power, the Jubilee alliance seems to have found another raison d’íªtre: terrorism. The response to the Westgate attack last September was bungled and embarrassing. The main thrust of policy following the attack was to hound the media that exposed the truth of the cock-ups, looting and friendly fire and to scapegoat Kenya’s large ethnic Somali community as well as Somali refugees – the difficulty of distinguishing the two appearing to be of little concern to the police that conducted round-ups in the Eastleigh area of Nairobi.

But now, six months after the attacks and one year into their tenure, a strategy is beginning to emerge. In response to a recent spate of violent attacks, (six people killed in a church shooting in Mombasa, 3 grenade attacks in Eastleigh in Nairobi killing another 6 and two further grenade attacks in the Dadaab refugee camp), the government appears to have found its feet and is responding with force. The police have been issued with shoot-to-kill orders, 4000 people have been arrested in Mombasa and Nairobi. All urban refugees have been ordered to return to the northern refugee camps of Kakuma and Dadaab. And police are going house to house in Muslim and Somali neighbourhoods in the main towns doing what they do so well: beating, looting and ransoming people without proper ID cards, or, in many cases, even those with proper papers. The newspapers are awash with vitriol against Somalis and ethnic Somali MPs who have made public statements questioning the utility and manner of the crackdown have been branded traitors.

The violence that preceded this enormous response was, by Kenyan standards, normal. Similar attacks of lesser scale have taken place since Kenya invaded Somalia purportedly in pursuit of al-Shabaab in October 2011. The killing of two of the church suspects by police five days after the original attack and the execution, on April 1 of the controversial cleric, Abubakar Sharrif, better known as “Makaburi” (‘graveyard’ – in Swahili) were also not unprecedented.

Painstaking work is not one of the Kenyan police’s strong suits. Makaburi was the fifth outspoken cleric to be assassinated in murky circumstances since 2012. A report by the Kenyan pressure group, Muslims for Human Rights and the Open Society Justice Initiative, released earlier in the month, pointed the finger for a range of killings and disappearances firmly at the state. The report’s eerie title, a quote from a police officer, said it all: “We are tired of taking you to court.” What is new though is the defiant tone and language of the government in justifying its potentially illegal actions (even going so far as to appear to claim the right to have killed Makaburi, even as it disavows doing so).

On the eve of the government’s one-year anniversary, the Inspector General of Police, Kimaiyo, issued a legally questionable directive to shoot-to-kill, telling officers: “you are justified to use your firearm effectively. You have no control over where the bullet will hit. It can hit the head or heart even when your aim is to disable.”

The week before, the day after the church shooting, the Cabinet Secretary for the Interior ignored a High Court ruling that had quashed an earlier attempt to relocate refugees to camps and announced that all urban refugees should relocate forthwith or be forced to do so. The attempt to cleanse the cities of nomads had a kind of Biblical resonance, but nothing at all to do with the crimes at hand. In Dadaab, where I was on the day of the order, no one believed that the urban refugees would actually arrive. But this week, people had begun to trickle in, scared by the actions of the government, by the state-sponsored terror in Eastleigh and the high prices being charged by police for ransoming relatives from custody. Its worth remembering that the Kenyan police call Somalis in Nairobi “ATM machines”.

The fact that this heavy-handed collective punishment and blatant discrimination is counter-productive is surely known to the intelligent people in the Kenyan government. The police and security apparatus in Dadaab and along the border with Somalia have spent the last three years building relations with the refugees and pursuing a community policing strategy in a (largely successful) bid to improve security in the camps. But, in Nairobi, either old habits die hard or else something else is at play.

Nearly everyone I have spoken to in Kenya during the last two turbulent weeks (and 99% of Muslims and Somalis) acknowledges that the main beneficiaries from the violence have been the politicians at the top of government. Not only in terms of the re-booting of Western policy towards the regime, but also in terms of the overshadowing of the latent tensions within the government (it is an uneasy coalition at best), and of uniting a sceptical Kenyan polity behind an administration that has made zero progress on combating corruption, reforming the police or on improving basic standards of living. The insecurity also holds another, more sinister silver lining for the Uhu-Ruto government: the foregrounding of an attack on human rights and the hard-won constitutional protections of Kenya’s infant constitution, ratified in 2010.

The shoot-to-kill police force has now been normalised. “We should expect it to become a permanent fixture,” one civil society activist told me recently (afraid to be quoted by name). He thought that Kenyatta had his eyes not on the next election, he could count on that, but on the clauses in the constitution that impose Presidential term limits.

Writing in The Nation on Tuesday April 8, Eric Ng’eno, the director of messaging in the Presidential Strategic Communications Unit, posed the question, “Should we observe the rights of all suspects, including violent jihadists, and ignore the threat they pose to the public?” In an article in which he distanced the state from the killing of Makaburi, he concluded with a call that revealed perhaps more than he might have intended: “The whole picture is larger and more complex than bailing terror suspects, then moaning about extrajudicial executions.”

Such an analysis makes it easy to see why many refugees hold it as a fact that each childishly targeted grenade is the work of people paid by the state. It should come as no surprise that many more are coming to similar conclusions. Kenya’s war on terror is likely to be a long one.

Ben Rawlence is an Open Society Foundation fellow and the author of “Radio Congo: Signals of Hope from Africa’s Deadliest War” (Oneworld, 2013)

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12 thoughts on “Kenya’s anti-terror strategy begins to emerge – By Ben Rawlence

  1. This article is ridden with a lot of speculation, please explain what the difference is between what Kenya is doing right now and America’s policies in the wake of September 11, and what they still continue to do to date. If anything, unlike the west, Kenya has not closed its borders to refugees. This is the only relatively peaceful nation in Eastern Africa, which means that not only are they accepting refugees from Somalia, there is also South Sudan, and despite our economic struggles, we are still a haven for our neighbors, I doubt the Mexicans can share that sentiment. The only thing that is clear in this article is the speculation that things are running amok in the jubilee coalition and that uhuru is looking to pull a Museveni, you forget Westgate happened, you forget thousands lost their loved ones, you forget that Kenyans are still living in fear of that happening again. Yes, we are a desperate nation right now, but circumstances brought us here, watching our neighbors get slaughtered last year for reasons we don’t even fully understand brought us here, and whether the government is pushing their own agendas or not, their priority still remains finding a way to make us feel secure, propose new methods other than promoting speculations and criticizing.

  2. Yes it is very true that the crack down is mainly to get western support since the president and his deputy are both internationally suspected criminals,and have no clean record.the other thing is that they are trying to create crisis in order to divide and rule kenyans since they suspected to have won last election through rigging and narrowly escaped rerun of election which would overwhelmly given former prime minister Raila Odinga an outright win

  3. I beg to differ, and differ i do. I have just read the first paragraph and the last paragraph and in between i can tell which side of your bread is buttered! Your writing is full of hunger, and you are famished almost to death. You must eat, and you will eat anything. Unfortunately, you have chosen to eat our integrity!

    For a start, i understand the idea behind planting of bombs! Stupid presidents and governments would plant bombs against their citizenry…but this is when they are facing internal crisis. And rarely do they. However, to argue that Uhuru and his government are planting bombs against the people is as stupid as saying George Bush ordered terrorists to direct airplanes loaded with passengers against the WTO twin towers! You are also saying the Indian government engineered the Mumbai bombings, and oh, all bombings happening in different countries are indeed the work of the respective governments. Else, you think we have a very shallow mind!

    You may think you know African communities, but you don’t know the Somali. I would almost certainly say Eastleigh is a Somali refugee capital. From long time ago, the Somali, whether from Kenya or Somalia, have acted with adversity to each other on the basis of clan, but they never shy to come together to come together to face an enemy. For this reason, not even you can tell the true Kenyan Somali from Somali refugees. The solution? Bundle them at one place, check their documents, return the terrorists to their home.

    On Makaburi, there is very little to say. He supported the death of others. I support his death. Many of his ilk will die as long as they kill innocent Kenyans. They will be shot out in the open like dogs, and their blood will be lapped by dogs and mongrels!

  4. Kenya should pull its troops out of Somalia.After all Kenyan soldiers there are doing nothing except trading in charcoal exports from the port city of Kismayo to Gulf countries.Withdrawal and consequently the demilitarization of the no man’s land between Kenya and Somalia would make Kenya much safer.

  5. Kenya must not be made a labaratory for western ideals that have failed even in the west in the wake of extreme security challenges brought on by rampant violent islamism. Kenya was insecure before venturing into Somalia. Our intervention in Somalia was as a result of cross border incursions by various somali islamist groups. We are not the aggressors here. Casting Kenya in the light of an oppressor state is a bit rich considering the huge and ever continuing refugee burden we shoulder on our small economy. I refuse this liberal stupidity that Kenya must allow itself to be torn down for the sake of “human rights” as defined by noisy busybodies in the western world who only so confidently criticise the government of Kenya because they know they and their loved ones will not be around to suffer and die as a consequence of such mindless liberalism. How about the rights of Kenyans to their lives? do they not count? Where are these poison pens when Kenyans die in yet another terrorist attack? I refuse to accept that a peaceful country should be destroyed by belligerent elements in the interest of “international order” Kenya must do what it has to do for the sake of its borders and for the security of its people. Anybody demanding anything less is the one with an agenda!!!!

  6. Obama and his masters the West have found the right kind of sheep in Kenya! While i do not agree that that ICC ought to some on trial while war criminals such as the two Bushes, Tony Blair, Rumsfeld, Chenney are left to their own devices—Both Uhuru and Ruto have bloodied hands and are war criminals as well–no integrity whatsoever, puppets nut unlike many African leaders who are on long Western leashes. It is not a big secret that for a long while the ‘colony’ called Kenya with the backing of the u.s and itls allies has been engaged in a proxy ‘illegal’ war with Somalia. Somalis resisted western colonialism and imperialism (and frankly i think you Kenyans could learn a thing or two from them) and since 1991 after the AmeriKans left with their tails behind their legs–and still after going to hollywood to try and redeem themselves with the ficticious “Blackhawk down” the are still at it–Now we have “Catptain Phillip” weaving a tall yarn. We know that Somalia has the longest coastline

  7. Continued—in Africa T–imperialist scramble for strategic advantage and key economic resources plays a central role in the current fighting in Somalia.
    Somalia—with its more than 1,000-mile coastline overlooking the navigation routes of oil-bearing vessels traversing the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea—is both strategically and economically vital to the world economy. US imperialism aims to dominate this vast waterway, which transports much of the world’s oil, particularly Persian Gulf oil headed to European markets. The US not only intervenes in Somalia, but maintains together with France a military base in Djibouti, near the straits connecting the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea.
    There are also several recently discovered deposits of oil in nearby countries, including Uganda and South Sudan. An oil pipeline is slated for construction to transport oil to Mombasa, a port on Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast. The proposed pipeline would run from a refinery in Kampala, Uganda and meet a projected pipeline coming from newly independent South South Sudan to traverse northern Kenya and end in Mombasa.China’s state-owned oil companies are among the investors lining up to exploit both Uganda’s and South Sudan’s oil deposits.
    The planned oil pipeline passes through the unstable regions in northern Kenya where the Kenyan government alleges al Shabaab attacks have occurred.
    It sadly seems that Obama and his masters have not only found the right kind of puppets in the the two criminals Ruto and Uhuru, but the right kind of sheep in most of its people.

  8. In a nutshell, all that is happening to the Somalis of Kenyan citizenship, (indigenous to the land or not –for the entire north eastern region was somali country annexed to the Kenyans by the British) or the refugees–is orchestrated by your colonizers—Ruto and Uhuru are pawns in the game! Your post election violence was not that long ago and in case you have forgotten, your Uhuru used criminals a.ka Mwangiki to murder and intimidate! Kikuyus have always resented the luos so please do not pretend that Kenyans are a United folk and point to the somalis as Tribal or clanish–Not too long ago the entire country came to a standstill over the funeral of a well known luo lawyer married to a Gikuyu woman–there are tension in your country over tribal and clan divides–The Somalis may not ‘integrate’ as you have not forgotten to point out in your media but they are a resourceful people who rise up from the dust and have captured the economy in Kenya–even surpassing the indentured indians who had your economy in their palms. Wake up from the long slumber friends, take it easy on the Ugali and Tusker that has had an effect of induced comatose on your psyches! Kenyans need a revolution, the people of Kenya are mostly poor while a few elitist sell the country to the “Berlin Conference”! A vast majority of Kenyans live in slums such as Kibera, mathare and the dundora landfills while the beaches and hotels of your country are mzungu playgrounds–the the picture that is painted of a Peaceful Kenya for the sake of Tourism is an illusion your big bellied politicians are perpetuating. The Somali people in Kenya and those in the diaspora have been the reason why Kenyas GDP went skyrocketing–The Somalis own Kenya–is that why they have been branded “ATM” Machines!?

  9. Sustainable remedies should be sought. Rounding up people is never the long term solution. Kenya must seek longer term conflict roots. We have enough experiences every where.

    The danger might be to create lost livelihoods of the coastal people and create a fertile hub for recruits.

  10. I also beg to differ..majorly.

    First your piece sounds quite biased and just merely negative. As though your mission was to trash our Kenyan government. You fail to acknowledge other key players local and international. a sign of poor research. you are the people who seem to ‘know’ more about Africa than Africans themselves. in this case you are seriously misguided and shallowly informative.
    Do you not know ‘democracy’ is questionaing in africa? I beg you to stop referencing African, Kenyan issues in the scales and weighs of ‘westernism’.
    Kenya has many failures and success but your enlightment is unbelievably poor. Engage with scholars, and more wananchi from ALL corners of kenya. Good luck

  11. Not a single neighboring state or international partner fully supported Kenyan’s incursion into Somalia. It is now widely acknowledge that, after 9/11, the early ‘western’ approaches to tackling radicalism and terrorism were flawed and counter-productive. The sad reality is that Kenya seem to be repeating them in their entirety.

  12. guys Kenya is country where it is said that money talks, no matter how the western countries said they had to say but the fact still remains that the country a corruption zone, what the western countries had to do i just a little bribe and everything went smoothly

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