Welcome to Kenya Inc

In the new Kenya, you either own a stake directly, or a through proxy- your ethnicity. There is no in between. This is not a government of the people, but a well-run corporate machine, at least in theory.

The digital bumper sticker posture of Uhuruto, which was dismissed as another campaign gimmick seems to be taking hold. But the true test of their campaign manifesto lies in its implementation, which will be severely tested in the coming months because of domestic, as well as, international challenges.

On the domestic front growing the economy will be a challenge, and there is limited wiggle room or dithering for the government since it wants to extend its legitimacy outside its core traditional support base. Additionally, while they just started, it is naïve to think the administration is not thinking about its second term already, which is predicated on doing well in their first term

Domestic security as well as regional security threats emanating from Somalia and the ICC engagement, or lack thereof, will take much of the administrations time, energy, resources and focus.

Pakistan-isation of security

In the war against the Taliban, Pakistan has been a focal point, as much as Afghanistan- a safe haven from where Al Qaeda and the Taliban operate.

In the War on Terror in the Horn of Africa, which is targeting the Islamist group Al Shabaab in Somalia, Kenya is the new Pakistan; it provides the Western intelligence with the base and infrastructure from where to wage the war.  Unlike in Pakistan, there is marginal political cost to the political elite in Kenya for the supporting the operation.

However, this uncritical embrace of the counterterrorism project coupled with sending Kenya Defense Forces to Somalia October 2011 has exposed the country’s domestic security underbelly- its inability to police and provide adequate security domestically. This is because of systemic and structural problems within the security machinery, as well as lack of sophistication of the country’s security manager in the face of the ever shifting security ecosystem. Further, the intervention has revealed that Kenya cannot police its border adequately.

The consequences of intervention in Somalia has been an increasing blowback of insecurity in Nairobi and the North Eastern and Coast Provinces, particularly a series of grenade attacks against government targets, public meeting spaces, and churches. While Al Shabaab has claimed responsibility for some of the grenade attacks, others are likely to be the work of opportunistic criminal groups. Additionally, the intervention has been accompanied by increased ethnic profiling of the Somalis, in particular, and Muslims, in general, by the police

The new administration, instead of addressing security issues systemically, has adopted a piece meal, knee jerk posture. The new Inspector General of the Police, David Kimaiyo, and the executive have adopted two approaches in addressing this insecurity -mass transfer of police officers, and employment of the army in what is largely a law and order situation.

Kimaiyo, Mr Transfer

David Kimaiyo came into office on the crest of massive public goodwill which is now slowly dissipating under the weight of his failure to stem runaway violence. The police reform, for which he was appointed the first Inspector General of the Police, was undertaken with the context of police’s utter failure in 2007-2008 violence- his appointment was heralded as a new chapter in the history of the police- a force that has been the face of the entrenched culture of impunity.

Under his watch the domestic security situation has deteriorated with areas that were previously considered “safe” like Bungoma degenerating into conflict, and traditional hotspots like Northern Kenya experiencing more than normal levels of insecurity. In the face of mounting insecurity Kimaiyo seems impotent.  His default modus operandi is twofold; visit an affected area and instruct all the senior police officers who have served in the area for a considerable period of time to be transferred, and second deploy the army, as in the case of Garissa.

Both methods seem ill suited in addressing the problem- mass transfer of officers, without establishing the cause of the conflict indicates an inspector general who is not methodical. Also, transferring en mass of senior police officers, if they are found to be part of the problem, is not a solution but rather transferring the problems to a new location.

The use of the army, which preceded his appointment, is a dangerous trend that needs to be reexamined. The one remarkable legacy of Kenya’s army is that they are apolitical domestically, and they have no involvement in other country’s affairs, at least until October 2011 when they intervened in Somalia. That legacy is at stake as the army is constantly called into addressing law and order issues in areas where the police fail, which in recent months have been too many.

Counter terrorism and the security sector reform

While suffering multiple terrorist attacks, Kenya hasn’t been a big player in Western counterterrorism projects, at least overtly. That changed in October 2011 when it sent its troops into Somalia to fight the Islamist group Al Shabaab. This had two effects; one, Kenya became a legitimate target for Al Shabaab as indicated by a series of grenade attacks on Kenyan soil; two, Kenya assumed a prominent role in the war on terror in the region. Consequently, Kenya stopped relying on its soft power and instead began projecting a more muscular internal security and foreign policy; this has led to an erosion in human rights, rule of law and good governance.

And, this has consequences for domestic and region, especially with regard to future engagement with Somalia.

Domestically, over the last several months, there has been an upsurge in extra judicial killings of people suspected to be involved in terrorism activities. For instance, a Mombasa-based Muslim preacher, Samir Hashim Khan, together with a blind colleague, Mohamed Bekhit Kassim, was abducted in April, and Khan’s badly mutilated body was found dumped at a national park near Mombasa. His colleague’s whereabouts are unknown. And recently unknown people killed another preacher, Sheikh Aboud Rogo who was on the US and UN list of terror suspects.

In all these killings, a pattern of police complicity is emerging. Using the newly passed anti-terrorism law, the Kenya Anti-Terror police unit has killed several people suspected to be terrorists; in most cases, the veracity of whether these people are terrorists is never established.

For a force that has shown an incurable ability to reform, giving them such a blank check, as well as cloaking their activities in secrecy, when transparency is the bye word of all the reform, will roll back human rights and civil rights reforms, however marginal they have been.


MBA-nization of the government services

The unadulterated, neoliberal, laissaz faire, small government economic model has largely been discredited. But it is finding a revival in an unlikely place, Kenya. This blind faith in corporate government inaugurated by Kenyatta’s predecessor, himself an economist, is seeing a deepening under Kenyatta.

In his cabinet appointments Kenyatta’s most prized qualification was corporate experience. The peach of the pick is the appointment of a Harvard educated former Barclays CEO, Adan. To Kenyatta’s and his ilk, corporate bias is not grounded in any ideological commitment, it is a faith – in their world, there is no ideology or systemic problems, there is only pesky inefficiency that can be fixed by better data and smart corporate methods, using the latest technology.

In their uncritical acceptance that the market is the panacea for all troubles lays their Achilles heels. In a poor economy with limited social safety like Kenya corporate-like posture that is only amenable to the dictate of the market could be counterproductive because not all government services are amenable to the rigor of business.

While there has been undeniable malfeasance and inefficiencies in service delivery by the government, the reflexive embrace of the market will make delivering of many social services Kenyatta promised during the elections campaigns difficult.


3 thoughts on “Welcome to Kenya Inc

  1. “Kenya is the new Pakistan” loved the line. Most definitely security especially concerning militants beyond the borders will be or rather is the greatest challenge of Uhuruto government. However, if the cost of living goes up as all signs are showing, then domestic security will definitely be an issue. Am currently in Trans Nzoia County conducting a food and nutrition security research. Insecurity is high at this time of the year which coincides with low household food stocks and high food prices. A food security analyst’s view here.

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