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.
FATTENING OF WALLETS
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.
CIRCUMSPECT AND SENSIBLE
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.