To prevent more Mpeketonis Kenya must define Somalia exit plan

Since Kenya intervened in Somalia in October 2011, insecurity has spiraled out of control, with attacks (largely targeting Kenyans) becoming commonplace occurrences in Nairobi, the coast, and parts of North Eastern. These fall into two broad categories: large-scale and sophisticated (some foiled, some successful), and amateurish low-grade and low casualty.

Last September’s attack on the Westgate shopping mall, and more recently that on the village of Mpeketoni in Lamu County, fall into the large-scale category. Sandwiched between these are those targeting Matatus – public transport taxis in Eastleigh, a Nairobi suburb popular with the Somalis – and other public facilities like the Gikomba (East Africa’s largest open air market).

The government’s response to the attacks has been at best impotent and at worst, misguided. First, they instituted ‘Nyumba Kumi’ (know thy neighbor) – the ten houses initiative. The concept of Nyumba Kumi, borrowed from Tanzania, was predicated on dividing the households into groups of ten, and people in those households hold each other accountable through sharing information on any suspicious activities.

While the concept looks neat in theory, in practice, it is not the most effective way of addressing the ever-mutating threat of terrorists – people with no return address. It might work in some rural settings where the residents tend to be less mobile, but not in urban areas like Nairobi and Mombasa where residency is fluid and transient due to the economic pressures.

Second, the government conducted what it called Operation Usalama Watch. This was a large state-led profiling of the Kenya-Somali community. The community became the de facto scapegoat for all the attacks, despite the fact that it bore the brunt of most of them. This tactic also ignored the debatable efficacy of collectively punishing an entire community for the crimes of a few.

During the operation over 4000 Somalis were arrested and held in Kasarani football stadium. Over two months later some are still there in dehumanizing conditions. The security sweep touched a raw nerve and exacerbated the already fraught relations between the community and the state. The security situation also barely improved.

Travel advisories

The recent attack in Mpeketoni Lamu was preceded by Western travel advisories recommending that tourists avoid certain popular coastal regions. This was interpreted by the Kenyan authorities as being a cynical effort by Western countries to sabotage the country’s already ailing tourism industry.

As a response, the government announced rafts of measures to encourage local tourism to offset the departure of many foreigners. The anti-western rhetoric from the Kenyatta government is largely a continuation of the Jubilee Alliance election campaign – the Kenyatta/Ruto ticket was carried to State House on the crest of an anti-ICC and anti-western wave.

The nature of these attacks can be divided into three categories: First, some are the work of Al Shabaab Central. They bear all the hallmarks of the group’s previous work, and they have claimed responsibility. For example, the Westgate attack.

Second, some are carried out by Al Shabaab cells in Kenya – hence their amateurish and ineffective nature. They achieve little apart from sowing fear.

Third are attacks which are the work of opportunistic criminal groups that take advantage of the prevailing situation to act against a business rival, or similar.

Until we work out which attack was undertaken by which groups – which can only be achieved through a thorough and meticulous study – all are too easily bundled together as ‘Al Shabaab’.

A shift in tactics

Since Westgate, Al Shabaab has carried out two sophisticated attacks – one was foiled, and another one missed its target. In one incident on 23rd April two militants detonated a Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) in Pangani Police station (near Eastleigh). Two police officers were killed. According to the authorities, the target was not the police station, but elsewhere in the Central Business District.

On 11th March, Kenya’s Anti-Terror Police detonated a pick-up laden with explosives in Chamgamwe Mombasa. The target of the attack was the police station. The police found six pipe bombs attached to a mobile phone detonator, and plastic explosives.

These two unsuccessful attacks demonstrate that the group has found Kenya to be vulnerable and that they are keen to carry out more ‘spectacular’ attacks. The regional military intervention in Somalia pushed Al Shabaab out of Mogadishu and diminished its capacity by denying them their critical revenue source – the port of Kismayo. However, the supposed defeat of the group was greatly exaggerated.

The great existential threat to Al Shabaab was the internal contest between the transnational jihadis and the Somali nationalists. But the battle for the ‘soul’ of Al Shabaab was won by the current leader, Ahmed Godane, who is aligned with the former group. He gained the leadership by expelling all he disagreed with regarding the group’s strategic vision. Al Shabaab is now a de facto transnational jihadi movement.

However, despite its diminished capacity, conducting an attack in a neighbouring country is a low cost affair. Bleeding Kenya through multiple attacks in far-flung vulnerable areas like Mpeketoni will make the country look unsafe, at least from the all-important outsider perspective.

Domestic political implications

After the recent attacks the Kenyan president addressed the nation and said; “The attack in Lamu was well planned, orchestrated, and politically motivated ethnic violence against a Kenyan community, with the intention of profiling and evicting them for political reasons… This therefore, was not an Al Shabaab terrorist attack. Evidence indicates that local political networks were involved in the planning and execution of the heinous attacks.”

However, Al Shabaab had already claimed responsibility, saying; “The Kenyan government is fighting a losing war and has turned its vengeance on the Muslims in Kenya. As such, the Mpeketoni Raid was carried out in response to:

(a) Kenyan government’s brutal oppression of Muslims in Kenya through coercion, intimidation and extrajudicial killings of Muslim scholars, particularly in Mombasa, and the violation of Muslim honour and sanctity.
(b) Kenyan military’s continued invasion and occupation of our Muslim lands and the massacre of innocent Muslims in Somalia.
(c) In addition to that, the town raided by the Mujahideen was originally a Muslim town before it was invaded and occupied by Christian settlers”.

The statement from the president was curious considering the prevailing tense political/ethnic climate in Kenya.

The opposition leader Raila Odinga arrived in Kenya after three months stay at Boston University, upon his return he demanded a national dialogue, something the president initially accepted, before changing his mind. This occurred after his deputy William Ruto poured cold water on the plan, reckoning that what Odinga is was after was not talks but a coalition government. Odinga has replied that his group will be touring the country holding rallies and, more specifically, coordinating Kenyans to attend a ‘Saba Saba’-style rally on July 7th – a date that has great historical significance in Kenya’s democratic struggle.

The president’s address after Mpeketoni added fuel to an already polarized national political fire. But, ironically, he has contributed to a situation that he, in the aftermath of Westgate, identified was what terrorist were after: “[a] closed, fearful and fractured society where trust, unity and enterprise are hard to muster.”

The leadership’s blatant political point scoring on matters of national security is not only gratuitous, but also dangerous, and will only hand the initiative to a group that is facing multiple threats. This is not an effective way to fight terrorism.

Effective counter-terrorism

Throwing accusations at the political opposition, large-scale ethnic profiling and detainment of Somalis cannot solve what is a serious security problem in Kenya. Instead, any counter-terrorism effort should be linked with a clearly defined Somalia exit plan. The current open-ended stay by Kenya forces will only lead to mission creep and the window between when Kenya was seen as a liberator and invader closed a long time ago.

The president needs to define what the end-state in Somalia looks like. Insisting that we shall stay the course may sound like an admirable policy; in practice it is unsustainable given growing domestic insecurity.


Terrorism attacks and the case of two Kenyattas

The government response to the attacks have been impotent at best and misguided at worst. The government responded in two ways- both uncoördinated first; the government instituted nyumba kumi- ten houses, initiative. The concept of Nyumba Kumi- know thy neighbor, which borrowed from Tanzania, was predicated on dividing the house holds into groups of ten, and people in those households hold each other accountable through sharing information on any suspicious activities or foreigners.

While the concept looks neat in theory, in practice, it is hardly the most useful way of addressing the ever-mutating threat of terrorists people with no return address. It could work in some probably rural setting where the residents tend to be less mobile unlike in urban areas like Nairobi and Mombasa where residency is fluid and transient owing largely to the economic pressure.

Secondly, the government conducted what it called Operation Usalama Watch. Under the operation, the state embarked on a large scale profiling of the Somali community. The community was de facto scapegoated for all the attacks and profiled, never mind, the community has born the brunt of the terrorist’s attacks, let alone the efficacy of collective punishment of a community.

During the operation over 4000 Somalis were arrested, and held in Kasarani football stadium- over two months latter, some are still held in the stadium under dehumanizing conditions.

President Kenyatta’s response after the Westgate attack september last year was a study in statesmanship the president sounded like a leader who had his hands on the pulse of the citizens. The president touched all the nodes after his young administration was tested. In the 6 1/2 mins the president rallied the country to collectively meet the threat of terrorism.

Here is the video


Following the Westgate attack the president said, terrorists want a , ” closed, fearful and a fractured society where trust, unity and enterprise are difficult to master”.

In his subsequent address to the nation following Sunday’s attack in Mpeketoni in Lamu County, the president did exactly that when he said, ”

“The attack in Lamu was well planned, orchestrated, and politically motivated ethnic violence against a Kenyan community, with the intention of profiling and evicting them for political reasons… This therefore, was not an Al Shabaab terrorist attack…Evidence indicates that local political networks were involved in the planning and execution of the heinous attacks”



In this speech which was almost 8 mins and slightly over 100 words, the president instead of uniting the country, he divided the country. He didn’t sound like the president of Kenya, but rather as the president of the TNA.

The president used word reckless four times, an implicit reference to Odinga and his party- here the president missed an opportunity to be presidential.




Kenya Watch, Uncategorized

I’ll Never Be The Same

The Kenyan media played a critical role in expansion of the democratic space, especially after the Cold War when the demand for political pluralism was a norm across Africa.

During that period, the media became indistinguishable from the official opposition; it provided the opposition unfettered coverage, and also chastised the government by exposing its malfeasance.

After expanding its incredible capital in seeing Moi go, the opposition, just like several institutions- the civil society, the donors and religious organization, who formed a strong compact in calling for reform.

But after Kibaki came into power, the media, as the above institution found itself in the twilight zone. Instead, they wrongfully assumed since the opposition is in government, their role was done.

But few months into Kibaki’s administration, the media realized, they are outsiders. When they realized the Kibaki administration was as corrupt as Moi’s, and started exposing them, the government reacted like any entitled kid would.

Since then, every time people speak about the media’s failure, I am reminded of this Sinatra’s song -“I’ll Never Be The Same”

stars have lost their meaning for me,
I’ll never be the same,
nothing’s what it once used to be,
And when the sun-birds that sing tell me it’s spring,
I can’t believe their song,
once love was king,
but kings can be wrong,
I’ll never be the same,…

The Video below

I previously wrote a longer piece re the Kenya media after the 2013 elections herehttp://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/88878

But Nation’s article on Dennis Itumbi, the Director of Digital, New Media and Diaspora Affairshttp://www.nation.co.ke/news/NIS-report-casts-doubt-on-Itumbi-s-academic-papers/-/1056/2340880/-/3bvehk/-/index.html

According to the piece, which starts of, “The fate of the Director for Digital, New Media and Diaspora Affairs at State House hangs in the balance following a confidential intelligence report that questions his academic credentials and suitability to serve in a sensitive government office”

Additionally, the piece states, “According to the NIS security vetting brief, Mr Itumbi allegedly led student unrest at the institution and used this as leverage to force the then management of the college led by Mr Eliud Sang to “award him and his class (of 50) Diplomas in Broadcast Journalism while they were enrolled to do a certificate course in the same”.

This piece has several problems;

1. The Nation never quoted Itumbi in the piece which is journalism 101, someone makes an allegation against you, you have a right to reply.

2.The veracity of the allegation that Itumbi blackmailed the school to award him a diploma when he registered for a certificate course should have been double checked with the school not NIS.

3. That the NIS comes with a background check report about Itumbi a year after the man has been at the job has hatchet job written all over it. Background checks are conducted before, and not after someone is hired. This demonstrates  NIS’s priority and modus operandi; instead of collecting intelligence, it is engaged in rumor mongering.

4. When the country is gripped by insecurity, is Itumbi’s credential what should be NIS’s priority, really?

5. Kibaki’s politicization of NIS will come and bight plenty of people. Kenyatta was handed the opportunity to make changes after Westgate, and they’re slowly growing into a veritable monster. After Itumbi, their next move could be anyone, including the president himself.

6. Giving such an institution a warrant-less tapping of people’s phone not only creates an egregious human rights violation, but also gives them a blank check at political black mailing.

But the Nation piece is not an isolation, but a systemic commentary on the state of the media. The piece comes against the background of Larry Madowo hosting “socialite” Vera Sidika.

In a country teaming with poverty and unemployment, runaway insecurity and general despondency, the nation and NTV found it newsworthy to titillate us with tales of socialite of Sidika’s mould, and hatchet job from NIS passing as a background due diligence on Itumbi dripping with personal vendetta.

As some one who attended journalism school, I always find it hard to criticize my former colleagues because of the structural limitations within which the operate. However, it is about time some one call out the media for failing to fulfill its basic responsibility here.




Ruto and the fallacy of Co-presidency

Ruto should move quickly because he’s in a mkate nusu relations

Undoubtedly, in one sense, Ruto has avoided the Odinga’s tragedy- entering into a pre- election agreement that was not very clear.

If Odinga went into an agreement with Kibaki in 2002 with his heart, Ruto in 2012 entered into an agreement with Kenyatta with his head. He covered all his bases were covered to avoid the incessant nusu mkate cries that dogged Odinga- Kibaki coalition.

Theoretically, Ruto-Kenyatta alliance’s terms of reference are pretty unambiguous.

On the face of it, by defeating Odinga, Ruto has earned the enviable title of the ultimate political Kingmaker. Therefore, the argument goes, Kenyatta should be worried about Ruto.

But Kenyatta should be worried about Ruto is implicitly premised on Kenyatta’s lack of political skills to match Ruto.

Kenyatta’s upper hand

However, what he lacks in Ruto-sque individual political skills he more than makes it up for by the veteran civil servants he’s brought with him. While they might not wield the political power, these officers are good at using administrative maneuvers to frustrate.

Money is the lifeblood of politics, and Kenyatta has unlimited personal money, and if need be he can tap into his father’s and Kibaki’s rich reservoir of old and new money.

Despite having an excellent political instincts, Ruto can never match Kenyatta and his allied for money. Additionally, Kenyatta inherited, and when even convenient stuck with Kibaki’s securocrats. He also has a deep crew of trusted family members including his mother and brother Muhoho.

On top of that Kenyatta’s party The National Alliance (TNA), is a block, unlike Ruto whose party is an amalgam of multiple interest. This has made seen him run into trouble with his diverse constituency within the party.

Early days blunders

At beginning of his presidency, Kenyatta made few wrong moves- the MP’s salary and caving into the governors’ demands too early.

On the other hand, Ruto ran into a few scandals. In an ideal circumstance the hustler’s jet and the multimillion scandals would have been enough to shake a government, without mentioning the land case at the court. While he has been unscathed so far, this will not be the end.

On top of his personal indiscretion, Ruto has also work hard to contain the ever skin near-rebellion in his the big umbrella that is the URP.

Waigura attempted impeachment, the first shot across the bow?

 When it was first inaugurated, the Kenyatta-Ruto alliance was supposed to be first among equals, at least on paper.

But after the hallo of victory gave in to the hard reality of sharing spoils, Ruto’s allies started murmuring. The murmurs have since given way to a season of open rebellion the latest being the attempted impeachment of the Devolution Secretary Ann Waigura.


Her hounding has rekindled serious discussions on whether despite protestation to the contrary; the alliance is no longer on a stable stead. Waigura is not just another cabinet secretary; she’s the president’s enforcer, in what is considered as a critical, if not the most powerful ministry. By going after her, the Ruto side of the alliance is in fact throwing down the gauntlet at the president.

But her attempted impeachment is not the first one; the sacking of the Registrar of Court, Glady’s Shollei, triggered a mini rebellion when Rift Valley MP’s allied to Ruto raised ruckus over what they deemed targeting of the Kalenjins. http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/mobile/?articleID=2000091433&story_title=senators-mps-fault-jsc-over-shollei

After months of deference and slow burning murmurs, the genie is out of the bottle; equal distribution of government job has become a born of contention. MP’s and Senators allied to the Deputy President have made their positions clear regarding the job distribution, since they are an equal partner in the coalition, public jobs should distributed equally. In their opinion, President Kenyatta’s community is getting an upper hand. With respect to this, they’ve made their position clear. This is eerily similar to Odinga when he was the Prime Minister, where his lieutenants felts they were shortchanged regarding public position.

Ruto loathes to be compared to Odinga, the man he trounced. He has come out and said there is no division, and all is well in the coalition. But in Kenya speak the ground is getting hostile.

Trying to play above the fray can only take you so far.http://mobile.nation.co.ke/news/Why-Ruto-told-off-Jubilee-MPs-on-move-to-impeach-Waiguru-/-/1950946/2325828/-/format/xhtml/-/bf5v0y/-/index.html

As an astute politician Ruto understands he is in a difficult position, whatever he does he’ll be damned; back the rebel Rift Valley leadership, he’ll be at cross with the president, chastise them, he’ll lose the base.

In sum, coalitions are by their very nature series of awkward dance moves. But in Kenyatta and Ruto’s case, it demonstrates the limits, or the fallacy of a co-presidency. Whatever they made other believe, Kenyatta is the president, and Ruto is the Deputy in theory and practice.