This week marks 15 years since terrorists associated with Osama Bin Landen attacked American embassy in Kenya and Tanzania. Years, latter Kenya has become a counter terrorism linchpin in the Horn of Africa. This has impacted on liberty, human rights and the on going security sector reform.
For a while despite suffering multiple terrorist attacks, n the Horn of Africa, Kenya hasn’t been a big player in counterterrorism projects, at least overtly. That changed October 2011 when Kenya sent its troop to Somalia to fight the Islamist group Al Shabaab following the group’s cross border kidnapping of western tourists and aid workers.
As a result Kenya’s exceptionalism in the region- the only country that’s military has never gone to war with any of its neighbouring country, changed. This had two effects; one, Kenya became a legitimate target for the Al Shabaab as indicated by a series of grenade attacks on Kenyan soil- although not all of them are work of Al Shabaab, b) 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 muscular policy, especially domestically; this has seen erosion of the modest gains made in human rights, rule of law and good governance. As a result, there has been a spate of extra judicial killings of people suspected to be involved in terrorism activities.
The Muslims, especially Somali’s and the Mombasa Republican Council have been victims of this shift. For the MRC, while it’s not corporate policy to work with Al Shabaab, there are incidents where members of MRC have been recruited to join Al Shabaab in Somalia. Yet this has been used as a justification for blanket labeling of the group as a terrorist outfit.
One of the movement’s strengths – its expanding network – is simultaneously one of its main weaknesses, as individuals who do not necessarily share the same agenda as the MRC leadership can still claim to belong under its umbrella. The movement can thus offer a safe haven for more radical elements of the population, wrongly tarnishing the original group’s reputation.
For the security organs labeling MRC as a terrorist outfit has the obvious benefits- it opens the tap of unquestioning western funding- a product of post Sept11 ubiquitous fear industrial complex where everything goes. The obvious danger of uncritical funding of unreformed security agencies to conduct counterterrorism is their egregious human rights violation. And it will undermine the ongoing security sector reform- This carte blanche posture undermines security sector reform processes that are anchored in accountability and transparency. Additionally, lack of oversight, undermines decade long governance funding that have been beneficial, however marginal.
The ethnic profiling of Somali’s have brought back the ugly past which feeds into the uneasy and tense historical relations between the Somalia and the government. At the dawn of independence, the North Eastern f Kenya voted in a referendum to join Somalia. The young Kenyan government disregarded the referendum results and launched a brutal counterinsurgency military operation in the area dubbed the shifta(bandit) war of 1963–1967. Since then, the interaction between the Somalis and the government is predicated on mutual distrust.
Al Shabaab has been recruiting among the community which has seen increased indiscriminant profiling of innocent Somali’s. Former Assistant Minister of Internal Security during a parliamentary debate said, we needed not to go to Somalia, because the head of the snake- Al Shabaab, is here in Eastleigh- a popular Nairobi suburb popular with the Somalis. Such rhetoric emanating from a high level official doesn’t bode well for peaceful coexistence, and could easily be interpreted as a subliminal signal to the junior officers to discriminate against the community.
Before September 11, such statements could only find space on the margins, but in Post September 11 such thoughts are part of the mainstream where “national security” has been instrumentalised to become a be all and end all.
We need to hit a reset button before the present default mindset of securitization of every problem causes further harm because this mindset has fostered a culture where security has been made the solution.