Monday, 21 April 2014

Lack of moderate, circumspect leadership hampers the war against terrorism

The past three weeks have seen a campaign of swoops and raids by the Kenya Police in an operation dubbed Usalama Watch in which the focus of the crackdown was said to be illegal immigrants and undocumented refugees.
Up to 4000 people have been arrested, detained and “screened” in a process said to be rife with flaws, and whose overall objective remains unclear.
Soon after a shooting incident in a Likoni church in which gunmen killed 6 churchgoers and injured 15 others, Usalama Watch was launched with the intention at the time to target “suspected terrorists and criminals”. However, the nature of the swoops was so vast that Usalama Watch was soon re-engineered to target “illegal immigrants and refugees.”
Since its launch, the operation has arrested thousands, yet currently it has managed to isolate about 200 people for deportation due to a lack of documentation. This leaves the vast majority of those arrested as having valid documentation, either as refugees, Kenyan citizens or registered aliens.
A key factor in the activities of Usalama Watch is the singling out of the Somali community in Eastleigh as the primary area where searches and “screening” are occurring.  This sort of knee-jerk reaction to a security crisis is consistent with the government’s approach to handling affairs, dating to colonial times.
The bungling, excessive force and blanket discrimination against one ethnic community is not new; during the Emergency period, the colonial government used similar tactics of ethnic profiling, community-wide swoops and indefinite incarceration in gulags and concentration camps.
The approach then was completely ineffective in the long run and ultimately led to even more radicals joining the anti-colonial movement.
Usalama Watch, in this regard, is no different from previous government crackdowns in that it is an inefficient, ineffective and unsustainable approach to security matters.
Yet, the police will claim that ever since the crackdown began there have been no further terror attacks in Eastleigh. Unfortunately, there have been attacks in Garissa and Dadaab.
The emerging sentiments from the public following the launch of Usalama Watch are mixed. There are those who were business rivals with business people based in Eastleigh, especially in the import-export trade. Certainly, these people’s interests have been brightened by the temporary disruption of business in Eastleigh.
There are those whose livelihoods are directly or indirectly dependent on the Somali community.  These people feel that though there is need for increased security, the crackdown has had far-reaching negative effects with little to no improved security.
Then there are those who remain ambivalent to the situation, mainly because they are not reliant on Eastleigh for business or livelihood and neither are they Somali people.
In the discourse that has taken centre stage politically and at the social level, what is clearly absent is leadership that has the genuine interests of the entire nation at heart.
We are yet to hear from moderate, balanced leaders who take into consideration the concerns of every sector in society. Instead we have Usalama Watch led by Interior Ministry CS Joseph Ole Lenku, a man described by Nairobi Law Monthly Publisher, Ahmednasir Abdullahi, as “a former third rate beverages manager in a two star hotel on the outskirts of Nairobi.”
Personal digs aside, Mr Ole Lenku has displayed a total disregard for the law by ignoring the directives of  a High Court ruling in 2013 that put a stop to the push to relocate urban-based refugees back to Dadaab in the name of national security, citing that there was no correlation between the two.
It is completely disheartening that the CS who has been given the responsibility to uphold the law not only brazenly flouts it, but goes ahead to grievously infringe upon the constitutional mandate incumbent upon government as regards the rights of citizens.
The sum result of Usalama Watch thus far can be said to be the fattening of wallets of corrupt policemen who took advantage of the operation to arrest Kenyan citizens and demand bribes.
This is not the first time that allegations of corruption during a serious security crisis have emerged; in September 2013, during the Westgate siege, there were several complaints that officers responding to the terror attack at the mall were robbing victims, indeed a few policemen ended up inside the docket on such charges as robbery during the terror attack.
Ultimately, it appears that Mr Ole Lenku has no control over the police force or is totally incapable of weeding out the corrupt elements such that his activities seem to be consistently marred by the indiscipline of those officers on the ground.
To his credit, Mr Ole Lenku is not alone in his current situation. It is now clear that even among the Muslim community, there is a total absence of sobriety and responsive leadership.
Interestingly enough, there have been up to 84 terror attacks in Kenya since 2005 . Whereas the majority of these attacks were centred in Eastleigh, Garissa, Wajir and Mandera, the leadership in the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM) have been stoically silent, providing no real insight or feedback, nor engaging the government in a forward and visible manner despite being Islamic community leaders.
This lack of correspondence on a public and visible level leaves both the Muslim community feeling unheard and the greater non-Muslim community feeling that they do not care about the situation, or that they are hiding potential terrorists due to religious reasons.
It does not help that during such a tense and volatile moment, we have vocal, hot-headed activists publicly denouncing non-Muslims as “kafir” as was the case with the late Abubakar Sharrif aka Makaburi. “Kafir” is an Arabic term meaning a person who rejects the truth of religion.
An emerging hypocrisy of radical preachers is to bypass the fact that historically Islamic communities have always found it possible and acceptable to live with other communities. The rejection of people based on religious reasons is not only un-Islamic but also a sign of sheer anti-social tendencies.
More importantly, the Muslim community finds itself burdened with several emerging young politicians, many of whom have no real grasp of the situation at the grassroots level. Out of the entire Islamic population in Kenya, less than 2 to 4 per cent even agree on an intellectual level with much of the political and radical religious leadership. The vast majority are moderate Muslims, people who wish to live in peace and harmony with their fellow citizens.
The problems that lead to gangs and organized criminal groupings such as Taliban, Mungiki, Chingororo, Bagdad boys, Al-Shabaab and Jeshi la Mzee are still rife within the Kenyan societal framework. Al-Shabaab is not necessarily a Somali problem, or a Muslim one. The factors that create radicalized young men in Islam also create radicalized young men in the Kikuyu community.
A moderate, circumspect and sensible leadership will recognize this and find a long term strategy to deal with it. It is proper leadership that is structured that can help guide the greater republic away from inbuilt terror and criminal activities and towards a more peaceful and cohesive nation.
As it is, the well of money from extortion that Usalama Watch generated for corrupt police officers is running dry. Each day more and more Kenyan Somali are getting bolder and standing up to the incessant harassment. At the end of the day, in terms of security, there is little to no achievement. In terms of business in Eastleigh, the traders may have taken a blow but are willing to rebuild themselves, and those who aren’t are looking at Uganda, South Africa and Angola as an alternative place to invest in.
However, the biggest blow has been dealt to Kenya at the social level. There is an ever widening fragmentation of communities and deepening mistrust that is volatile, tangible and slowly being entrenched into the psyche of the ordinary person. It is this fragmentation that true leadership needs to address, if we are to ever begin to win the war against terror.

Grief, Pain, anger and hate 7 years after PEV

After a rare chance to travel and meet with first hand survivors of the 2007 post-election violence, I am left with the haunted memories of the people and their account of what happened to them. One after the other, regardless of ethnicity or location, the survivors speak of horrors beyond belief.
One woman in Kibera, Nairobi tells of how her husband was pulled right through the walls of her mud-hut, and the attackers slashed and hacked at his genitals and left him dying. She was raped, beaten and later learned that she was infected with HIV. A man in Kisumu explains how his attackers chopped off his arms. A woman in Nakuru describes how her daughter was raped and their home set ablaze.
It’s been 7 years since the post-election violence, and in 7 years, we haven’t taken the time to address the fact that the victims are never heard. All too often the government propaganda and narrative with intent to sweep away these people is that they have been compensated and resettled.
The failures of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation commission to put the spotlight on the victims are manifested in the bitterness expressed by nearly all of them. “Why do you come here to ask us these questions? What is the use? Nothing is done!” says Mary* in Naivasha. (*not her real name)
The realities surrounding the conditions of those who survived the violence in are all too clear. They live in fear, poverty and are deeply psychologically traumatized by the events. Many refuse to speak of how they were injured or raped, choosing rather to focus on what they lost – family, homes, livelihoods. There are those who cannot dare go back to where they lived, because the people living in those neighborhoods were their attackers.
“How can we have justice when the people who chased us away are living inside our houses? How can we have justice when the killers and rapists live among us, free?” Mary says with bitterness.
It’s time we as a collective took responsibility for failing to seek justice for those victimized within our society. Even as the Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko declares that of 5000 cases from the post-election violence are un-prosecutable, we must still find a way to deliver some kind of justice.
Firstly, it is incumbent upon us as a whole to recognize that government is not the only one responsible for the victims, but that we as citizens do have a responsibility towards them as well. It’s very sad to see how we have chosen to abandon majority of those who suffered, forcing them to rely mainly on humanitarian organizations for assistance.
Moreover, it’s our responsibility to hold this government to account on behalf of victims, because we cannot surely expect those who died to speak up for themselves. Of the 1300 or more documented deaths, only a handful of perpetrators have been convicted. It may be 7 years on, but those who orchestrated the killings must be known to members of the society; why have we not done something to ensure that these perpetrators are brought to book?
Social justice is a matter of the collective taking it upon themselves to ensure that corrective measures are undertaken. The fact that we have in totality ignored the plight of victims is a stain on our conscience.
There are many needs that the victims have expressed – need to have security, shelter and a decent livelihood, and it is my view these needs can be addressed by the society. We can, through the various opportunities accorded at the county and national levels ensure that each victim receives what is adequate such that they can rebuild their lives. Refusing to acknowledge that those who live amongst us need our assistance only entrenches the social disparities.
As part of the healing and reconciliation process, there have been a few initiatives in areas that were considered hotspots during the PEV; however the impact of these peace-building initiatives is minimal. There is a collective failure by the various stakeholders to try and rectify the situation, and the politicians do not help in this regard, rather, some seem keen to hold on to their tribal enclaves by whipping up ethnic emotions.
The post-election violence was a culmination of several factors that together created a volatile situation within the society. It is completely disheartening that we as a nation have been unable to address these factors. The issues that led to the ethnic hatred still exist, and in fact seem to be further fueled by the attitudes expressed by various leaders across the country.
Kenya is still fragile; its societal fabric barely holding together. In parts of Rift Valley especially, there is a tangible tension between ethnic communities and a total lack of cohesion. It would take only a small spark to fire up the sort of hatred and animosity seen in 2008, and we would be thrust back into a violent period.
It’s time for us to deal with these problems directly even as we push to have government meet its obligations to citizens. We can and should reach out not only to the victims and survivors of the PEV, and also make a concerted effort to heal the fragmentation in the nation’s societal fabric which is based on ethnic diversity. It is up to all of us to heal this country.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Dadaab is a center for moderation, not radicalization

On the night of 3rd April 2014, 3 blasts were heard in the Dadaab airstrip in Northern Kenya during the incident, no one was injured but the main gate was completely destroyed. The unknown assailants were said to have accessed the area on motorbikes.
In Dadaab, there have been about 21 Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) found since 2011, but in the camp the police have not thus far been extra-judicial in their responses.
This is a marked contradiction to the police responses in Mombasa and Nairobi. Last week alone, over 3000 people were arrested in swoops, including women and young children. An overwhelming majority of those arrested were Somali, and a large number were documented Kenyans, some not of Somali ethnicity.
It is true that Kenya has suffered greatly for its activities in Somalia; in 2011 Kenya launched operation “Linda Nchi” a military incursion into Somalia with the aim of fighting Al-Shabaab and recovering or “freeing” towns where the Al-Shabaab militia had taken over. Al-Shabaab is an offshoot of the Al-Qaeda network, created in 2006 and led by Ahmed Abdi Godane also known as Mukhtar Ali Zubeyr. Godane recently urged Somalis to fight their age-old enemy Ethiopia.
It has been the group’s approach to claim responsibility for attacks in Somalia and Kenya by announcing it to the media.  Andalus FM in Mogadishu is the main radio station they utilize to state their claims and reasons after attacks in Somalia.
After the 2013 Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi, Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility through their representative Abu Mansur Al-Amriki, who demanded that Kenya withdraw its troops from Somalia. When they choose to do so, not only do Al-Shabaab announce that they are responsible for attacks, but they also allow journalists to interview them on the matter, as was seen with Abu Mansur’s extensive interaction with the international media. It is quite surprising then that the Al-Shabaab has not staked a claim to the attacks in Likoni, Eastleigh or Dadaab.
It’s hard to say why these attacks take on the form that they do, and the police are yet to report on what their investigations reveal. But more importantly the subsequent targeting and profiling of Somali refugees by the Kenya government is quite concerning.
Security in Dadaab can be said to be moderate on average; the people there live in fear of Al-Shabaab more than they fear government forces. If one were to make a comparison, the refugees find Dadaab safer than Somalia. They are simply civilians, and when the government blames them, it lends to a feeling of being targeted because of being Somali. All Somalis are not criminals, Al-Shabaab exists but they kill Somalis as well.
The profiling of Somali refugees is now the national narrative; when there is an attack in Mombasa or Nairobi, fingers point to Dadaab. But the reality is that Dadaab may indeed be more secure than other towns in Kenya. 
Dadaab is at least the fourth-largest town in Kenya although resources there are very scarce. It has been a sanctuary for Somali people fleeing oppression in Somalia. It provides a haven for people to gain an education and make a life for themselves.  It has become a place for moderation rather than radicalization.
In addition, Kenya has signed and ratified a tripartite agreement between the UNHCR, Kenya and Somalia. The document, in which Kenya agrees to its legal obligations towards asylum seekers and refugees from Somalia, is explicit in its detail.
Despite this, the government’s tone now is “you will go or you will go”.
For the 20 years that Dadaab has existed it has become a place for moderation rather than radicalization. In that time, the police have learned to deal with the people in such a manner as to gain co-operation from them. With about 500 police operating in the area, there has been a noted improvement in the conduct of the police force with regards to raids.
It is quite clear that not all government departments are in harmony with the negativity stemming from the Internal Security Cabinet Secretary, Joseph Ole Lenku who has directed that “all urban based refugees should be relocated to Dadaab.” CS Ole Lenku’s directives show that he lacks a reflection of the reality in Dadaab, and as regards the refugees; he doesn’t seem to get the bigger picture.
It is the refugees who have suffered the most under terror groups such as Al-Shabaab, and it is the refugees who are quick to report any member of these terror organizations.
It is quite disconcerting that the police in Nairobi and Mombasa have yet to adopt the same level of professionalism as their peers in Dadaab; they need to be able to identify who is a criminal and who isn’t rather than arresting the whole neighborhood as they have done in Eastleigh where old men, women and children were all arrested in night-time raids.
Moreover, it is time for the security forces in Kenya to acknowledge that Al-Shabaab could be entering the country through other entry points and not just Dadaab. There need to be genuine efforts to secure these access points across the nation, rather than pinning the blame on the one town where Al-Shabaab are not likely to hide.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Arbitrary Arrests do not translate into better Security

Two weeks ago, a small church in Likoni area of Mombasa County was brutally attacked by unknown gunmen and 6 people were killed and 15 others injured. In what appears to be a pattern of attacks by “criminal” elements targeting civilian populations, the gunmen executed their objective swiftly, and escaped effortlessly.  The emerging story of one little boy, baby Satrine Osinya has now captivated the national attention even as the public condemnation of the attack changed direction from blaming “criminals” to blaming Muslims.
The immediate response by the Mombasa County commissioner was to give the police a “shoot-to-kill” order even before any investigations were conducted and suspects identified. The police response since that church attack has been quite shocking. They arrested over 100 villagers, and then detained a further 59 people of whom 49 were later released for loitering. 2 “suspects” were shot to death and thus far no direct link between all these individuals including the people killed has been made.
Almost predictably, an outspoken Muslim activist, Abubakar Sharrif aka “Makaburi” was shot dead outside the Mombasa courts in an execution style killing. Makaburi was known for his virulent and aggressive style of talking, and his most heinous crime against Kenyans can be said to be supporting the killings at Westgate in 2013. Unfortunately, we are burdened as a democratic nation to have to tolerate freedom of speech for all, even if what people say is offensive. Other than his utterances, Makaburi was yet to be convicted for crimes related to terror activities or murder. 
Following his assassination, there was a grenade attack in Eastleigh section of Nairobi, in which another 6 people were killed and several more injured. Bizarrely, the police chose to arrest 627 people and did a further swoop in which 2600 people were arrested.  It is interesting to note that not only did the police make arrests among the affected community; they targeted the very people who were attacked!
Arresting over 3000 people isn’t a security measure nor is it conducting investigations. It’s just a blatant abuse of power, disregard for the rule of law, and state sanctioned targeting of communities. Not surprisingly during these police raids, the narrative being spun is that those arrested were Somali refugees, a narrative that is in tandem with an illegal directive by Cabinet Secretary for Internal Security Joseph Ole Lenku in which he “ordered” over 50,000 refugees back to camps under the guise of seeking security measures.
It is just sheer laziness and cowardice to blame asylum seekers for the gross incompetence of the security forces. This isn’t a police state nor is there a state of emergency in this country. Arresting thousands of people has not added one iota of security to the rest of public; rather it has just spread fear and terror among civilians. For the record, not just refugees were arrested but Kenyan citizens as well, some of whom were not even Somali ethnicity.
It would be fantastic if the police could understand that you don’t secure the nation by arresting people for loitering. Actual security measures need to be implemented and this is done when a genuine effort to address the situation is made. Ever since Westgate, private businesses have undertaken the extra cost of having security guards check patrons with handheld metal detectors, searching vehicles at entry points and requesting documentation. Certainly these measures make it more difficult for criminals to access certain premises but this is not enough. It is incumbent upon the police themselves and the internal security ministry to go further and do more on a wider scale as a government.
Instead, we have the pleasure now of having to source for 15,000 kshs per person in order to have them released from jail because they were arrested for “loitering”. Mark you, many of those arrested in Eastleigh were inside their own homes.
There is no correlation between these arbitrary arrests and increased security whatsoever, and Kenyans do not feel safer simply because Joseph Ole Lenku decides to pin the blame on asylum seekers. Despite all the activity by the police after the gruesome attacks in Likoni and Eastleigh, not a single person arrested has been charged with criminal offences of any kind, and not a single person has been charged with crimes linked to terror activities.
The bottom-line is that the police are just arresting people without any sort of merit or real cause. In the meantime, soft targets such as malls, shopping centers, churches, mosques, hotels, buses and restaurants remain vulnerable and open to attack because the cops are doing a truly shoddy job.

Kenya uses terror attacks to stigmatize and oppress the Somali ethnic community

In response to the Likoni church shooting in which 6 people were killed and 15 others injured, Mombasa County Commissioner Nelson Marwa issued a shoot-to-kill order in which he claimed that it is counter-productive to take terror suspects to court because it is very difficult find witnesses in their prosecution.
This directive caused uproar among the civil society who termed it illegal and an affront to the legitimate efforts to combat attacks. By Friday, 28th March, the Inspector General of police Mr. David Kimaiyo had announced to the media that the police should ignore the shoot-to-kill order by the Mombasa County Commissioner.
In the time that it took the Inspector General to give directions on the shoot-to-kill order, the police had rounded up 100 villagers in the search for the terror suspects, detained 59 people and apparently charged 49 of them for “loitering”.  In Nairobi, tens of youth were arrested in a swoop in one of the suburbs, many of whom were later released. 
As a response to the security situation, Kenya has ordered all urban-based Somali refugees to move into designated camps in a bid to end attacks by militant Islamists. The Cabinet Secretary for Internal Security Joseph ole Lenku further stated that “Any refugee found flouting this directive will be dealt with in accordance with the law”.
This new plan by the Kenya government seeks to force 50,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers back to under-resourced and already overcrowded refugee camps in direct violation of a 2013 High Court ruling that declared such forced movement of refugees a violation of their dignity and rights to freedom of movement that would indirectly force them to move back to Somalia.
In addition, the July 2013 ruling found that there was no proven correlation of the restriction of refugees to the refugee camps and national security issues.
It is not the first time that the Kenyan authorities move to use completely unlawful and illegal means to target members of Muslim community and Somali ethnicity regardless of their citizenry. It is part of the national narrative that all terrorists in Kenya are Muslims and all Somalis are terror suspects. Kenya is once again using attacks by terrorists to stigmatize, target and harass refugees and people of Somali ethnicity.
In a report named “You are all Terrorists” released in 2013, the Human Rights Watch interviewed 101 refugees and Kenyans of Somali ethnicity in which they document torture, rape, extortion and arbitrary detention of individuals in Eastleigh area of Nairobi.
The report details the extent to which the police will go in abusing the rights of refugees in Kenya – one woman narrates how she was walking home when she was accosted by regular police, who beat her, put her in the police vehicle, raped her and dumped her in an unknown location. There was no reason for this brutal attack, other than to rape and abuse this woman.
Even as terror attacks increase in frequency in Kenya, the government engages in atrocities that have nothing whatsoever to do with national security, acts that do not bring about investigations nor arrests of actual criminals, acts of government-sanctioned terror.
In this “war against terror” women and children are targeted based on their ethnic heritage regardless of whether they are refugees or Kenyan citizens. To add a shoot-to-kill order on top of such flagrant human rights abuses is to increase the frequency of extra-judicial killings by rogue police officers who utilize government resources and their authority to attack women and children.
It’s been one week since the Likoni attack. Tens of people have been arrested, and two “suspects” killed. Thus far, no investigative report has been brought forward indicating how resources were utilized or to what extent the activities of the police have managed to increase security for civilians around the country. Despite the killings of “suspects” and the arrests done, not a single terror group has come forward to claim responsibility for the church attack and not a single government official is able to pin-point exactly who was responsible for the attack.
In the meantime – the ugly xenophobic narrative being spun by government against Muslims and people of Somali ethnicity is swallowed whole by the Kenyan public who feel that it is indeed plausible that women and children who are asylum seekers could be behind terror attacks in Kenya, which is why they should be forced back into refugee camps.
Whenever there are terror attacks in Kenya, there is a huge uproar over the loss of innocent lives; but when the police target people because of their ethnicity, no one remembers that these human rights abuses are themselves meted out on innocent people.