Monday, May 25, 2015

Why Demanding Duale's List Is A Really Bad Idea

In the aftermath of the Al Shabaab attack on Garissa University which killed at least 148 people, the local MP and Leader of Majority in the National Assembly, Aden Duale, vowed to provide a list of terrorist financiers and sympathisers within a month. That promise passed unfulfilled three weeks back. Now, Duale appears to have stirred a hornet’s nest by declaring that he is accountable to no one and owes no one a list.

It is interesting that he felt the need to distinguish between the two, accountability and obligation. For, as much as many would wish to deny it, Duale is only half wrong. He is accountable to Kenyans, to his constituent and to his party, for both his words and his deeds. However, he is under no obligation to prepare and present such a list for the authorities. Simply put, it is not his job. And his idiotic declarations from a month back do make it so.

This is not to say that Kenyans who have information that may help authorities stop attacks or apprehend criminals don't have a duty to share it. However, this duty should not extend to preparing lists of potential suspects, and more importantly, it does not absolve security agencies from their obligation to deter, prevent and investigate crimes.

It is understandable that Kenyans, who have long been treated to the empty promises of politicians and whose government has appeared impotent in the face of terror attacks, would revel in the opportunity to stick it into one of the more abrasive and empty-headed functionaries of the Jubilee administration. Like the refugees he is wont to demonize, Duale is a convenient scapegoat. He is being offered as a sacrifice to turn away our wrath from those much more deserving of it.

Sure he lied. And he should pay a price for that. Sure he and his fellow politicians from the region made cynical promises which gave false comfort to a traumatized nation seeking easy answers. They should pay for that too. But we must be clear that asking politicians to provide terror lists can only make us less safe, not more secure.

 There are several reasons for this. First, it risks politicising security and turning the counter-terror effort into an avenue for settling political scores. That would deepen cleavages within communities that groups like Al Shabaab would only be too glad to exploit.

Secondly, it would reinforce the false perception that certain communities are either responsible, or a reservoir, for terrorists and that, as the source of the problem, they should bear the brunt of solving it. This would not only further alienate these communities but, worse, obscure the real roots, drivers and enablers of terror which are not the monopoly of any one community.

To demonstrate the latter point, consider how the current obsession with Duale’s list has obscured another promise made in the aftermath of another equally devastating terror attack. Following the Westgate attack, President Uhuru Kenyatta vowed to institute a public inquiry into the security failures that permitted and prolonged the siege. Unlike Duale’s, this was a promise made by one who was both responsible and competent to deliver it. Yet 20 months and more than 300 lives later, the inquiry is yet to materialize.

That failure has been much more consequential than any politician’s list could ever hope to be. It lies at the heart of all subsequently botched security responses -from Mpeketoni to Garissa- but is rarely spoken of.

Similarly, demanding Pokot leaders and elders account for stolen guns in the north west has not only obscured all notions of individual culpability for the murder of 24 people last November, but also seemingly put to bed any public discussion of failures on the part of the security forces and thus precluded the possibility of ensuring lessons are learnt and a future re-enactment is avoided.

In the final analysis, Duale is only guilty of practicing the empty sloganeering that today passes for serious policy debate, which is in itself a terrible indictment. However, we must not allow ourselves to be drawn into furthering his perverse logic. He and his cohorts should not be excoriated for not delivering the list, but for promising it in the first place. And we must not let that distract us from the real culprits within government and the security and intelligence agencies. It is their failure to do their jobs that is responsible for the mess we find ourselves in, not the empty promises of a loony MP.

We've got bigger fish to fry.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Why Kenya Is Not At War

Kenya is at war. This mantra is repeated over and over ad infinitum by government officials and pro-establishment types. At a time of military conflict, we are told, peacetime rules and conventions do not apply and we should be prepared to give up some of the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the constitution. But really, are we at war?

“We are in a war against terrorists in and outside our country,” declared President Uhuru Kenyatta in December. He was, of course, referring to the confrontation with the extremist and murderous terror group, Al Shabaab, which has killed hundreds of Kenyans in the last 4 years. Most of these deaths have come in the wake of the October 2011 invasion of Somalia, whose goal was initially proclaimed to be the pursuit of kidnappers and to push Al Shabaab away from our borders.

Despite the banner headlines at the time, there was no official declaration of war, either against Somalia or against Al Shabaab. In fact, there has since been no such declaration, which according to the constitution would have required the authorisation of Parliament.

But if Kenya is not exactly a de jure state at war, is it in a de facto state of war? There is no doubt, as the President has noted, that “our country and our people are under attack”. Since 2012, more than 600 people have been killed by the Al Shabaab, who continue to threaten to paint Kenyan cities red with blood.

However, it is far from clear that the country’s response to the terrorists could reasonably be characterized as a military conflict. The troops in Somalia, who neither caught up with the kidnappers nor succeeded in pushing Al Shabaab from our borders, quickly shifted goal posts and declared their objective to be the capture of the Somali port of Kismayo, which was achieved a year later. By then, the troops had been rehatted as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia and were, at least nominally, taking their orders from the Force Commander in Mogadishu and not the Ministry of Defence in Nairobi. Today, with a battalion having been withdrawn to make way for Sierra Leone, under 4000 troops remain in AMISOM.

Although the Kenya Defence Forces are today routinely deployed within Kenya, it is not always or even predominantly fighting against the Al Shabaab. In fact, in many instances, it has been deployed to quell internecine conflict between Kenyan communities. If deploying the KDF is an act of war, then Kenya is as much at war with itself as it is with Al Shabaab.

In truth, the battle against Al Shabaab has been much more a policing than a military action, though it is frequently described, as I have just done, in language from the latter. As a matter of fact, on two occasions –at Westgate where 68 people were slaughtered and most recently in Garissa where at least 148 perished- the deployment of the KDF to do a job the specialized police unit known as Recce Company should have been doing, was cited as a major failure. Reports on other terrorist incidents such as the June 2014 Mpeketoni attacks which left about 70 dead, mainly blamed problems within the police service not the military, from divided command to corruption, for poor responses.

In Somalia too, Kenya is not prosecuting a war against the Al Shabaab in Somalia. AMISOM, where Kenya is one of several principals, is. AMISOM’s objective is not, at least directly, to protect the Kenyan border, but rather to support and protect the government in Mogadishu. Sure AMISOM is mandated to eliminate Al Shabaab. But given the reports of the Kenyan contingent’s involvement in illicit trade that benefits Al Shabaab immensely such as the smuggling of charcoal and sugar, it is debatable whether they are particularly focussed on this objective.

Kenya is at war in the sense Australia or Canada are at war. Both nations have deployed troops abroad to fight as part of a coalition confronting extremists. Both have suffered terror attacks, though nowhere near what Kenya has experienced. Most would immediately see the incongruity of suggesting that Canadians and Australian accept "wartime" restrictions on their liberties (which is not to say such restriction is not attempted). But Kenya, with its much greater familiarity with terrorist attack is an easier target for the argument.

In the 1997 Barry Levinson movie, Wag The Dog, the US administration fabricates a war with Albania to distract the public from a sex scandal on the eve of an presidential election. Similarly, in Kenya today, the talk of war is intended to mask a multitude of sins on the part of the government and security agents. It is thus not unusual for officials to assert “operational security” to avoid public scrutiny. Or to hear that, as one commentator tweeted, “it is incongruous [to] deem it practical that counter-terrorist activities [be] governed by peacetime procedures/rules.”

The idea of a literal war on terrorism, and opposed to the figurative “wars” on corruption and drugs, is meant to generate a climate of fear and foster an unthinking and unquestioning patriotism. It is not only the carpet under which government seeks to sweep its failure to fundamentally reform and fix the country’s security system, but also provides justification for a clampdown on dissent.

Andrew Franklin, a Nairobi-based security analyst, notes: “Kenya is not at war. As archaic as it may sound, wars are declared and fought between states or coalitions of states. This is not mere sophistry since declarations of war justify extraordinary – and temporary – restrictions on all manner of normal domestic activities and curbs on many constitutionally protected freedoms. 

“This is why going to war is considered a big deal and not just a matter of semantics.”

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Leadership Is The Problem. Not Kenyans.

The death of Lee Kuan Yew, architect of Singapore’s rise from a corrupt economic backwater to one of the globe’s most prosperous and clean societies will undoubtedly spark debate across the world on the lessons that can be drawn from his successful efforts to eliminate corruption. Across Africa, he has been lionised and some, particularly Rwandan strongman Paul Kagame, have sought to replicate his autocratic methods with varying degrees of success.

In Kenya, which is consistently ranked as one of the most corrupt nations on earth, many have pined for a benevolent dictator in the mould of Lee Kuan Yew. The argument has been advanced that the country’s myriad security and economic problems cannot be addressed in the context of a free-wheeling liberal democracy. President Uhuru Kenyatta regularly proclaims his administration’s need to be freed from the constraints of constant political competition in order to focus on the imperatives of development and economic growth.

However, this misses the crucial lesson from Singapore. It is true that Lee Kuan Yew brooked little dissent and that his rule was characterised by a clampdown on political freedoms as well as harsh social controls. It is equally true that he ruled for an inordinately long time, turned Singapore into a de facto one party state and that his family, especially his children, have done pretty well for themselves: one son is the current prime minister, another heads the Civil Aviation Authority and his a daughter is the director of the National Neuroscience Institute.

But in this, Singapore is not very different from, Kenya and much of Africa, which have similarly experienced the diminution of civil and political freedoms though these have tended to entrench, not alleviate poverty and the looting of state resources. The crucial difference is not that Singapore was a dictatorship and Kenya wasn’t. It was in the quality of the leadership. Simply put, Lee Kuan Yew walked the talk on corruption. Where he eschewed graft and actively worked to prevent the capture of the state for the benefit of a corrupt elite, successive Kenyan presidents have used the state as a means to enriching themselves, their families and rewarding their cronies.

Compare the records of the two countries’ anti-corruption agencies. Lee Kuan Yew inherited the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau from the British and transformed it into a formidable graft-fighting watchdog which has taken scalps among high ranking government officials including cabinet ministers. According to a 2013 study commissioned by the Prime Minister’s office, in the previous five years, the CPIB had on average opened 39 cases involving public officers each year with two-thirds resulting in prosecution or disciplinary proceedings.

By contrast, Kenya’s Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission has only prosecuted 22 cases in the last three years, a negligible fraction of the nearly 10,000 complaints it received. And it lost most of these, securing only 3 convictions. Further, in the last half century, despite the fact that dozens of investigative commissions have thrown light on hundreds of cases of corruption, not a single cabinet minister has ever been convicted.

Currently, Kenya is prosecuting 13 suspects, including two former Finance Ministers over the Anglo Leasing scam which cost the taxpayers nearly $1 billion in fictitious supply of security related equipment. However, given the government’s past record, few expect that this will result in convictions. A “list of shame” released in 2006 by then Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister, Martha Karua, had implicated at least 28 senior officials in the Mwai Kibaki and Daniel Arap Moi administrations including then Vice President, Moody Awori and current Deputy President, William Ruto. Further muddying the waters, the EACC and watchdog committees in Parliament today find themselves embroiled in allegations of taking bribes to cover up the involvement of senior administration officials and businessmen in the theft of public resources, including in the Anglo Leasing investigation.

The fact is while the Kenyan elite talks a good game, it has not demonstrated any interest in battling graft. They do not see the raison d’etre of the state as uplifting the lives of ordinary Kenyans but rather as a means of preying on them. Instead of fundamentally reforming the parasitic colonial system, the elite have instead sought to blame the victims, to convince Kenyans that they are the problem, their culture, their stupid and tribal politics, their willingness to pay bribes. In effect, the elite has argued that Kenyans are in fact stealing from themselves, impoverishing themselves and, in turn, scapegoating those in power.

 Lee Kuan Yew’s record against corruption is not a lesson in what authoritarianism can achieve and democracy can’t. If it were, African countries would head the corruption indices. It rather teaches that what matters is a genuine commitment within the leadership to eradicating the vice and to building systems that, to paraphrase the former Singaporean Minister for Home Affairs, Ong Pang Boon, "reduce opportunities for corruption, make its detection easier, deter those susceptible to it and severely punish those who engage in it".

In truth, Kenyans and Africans in general, are no more prone to corruption than are Singaporeans. Their leadership, however, is. And that is the problem.