Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Time to Bell the Cat.

It is strange to hear calls for a more muscular intervention by the State in the continuing security crises from the leading lights of the human rights movement in Kenya. In the dark days of the Kenyatta dictatorship and the Moi kleptocracy, any use of the State's security apparatus was treated with great suspicion. Mr Kenyatta had the never-ending Shifta Wars and Mr Moi had his Wagallah Massacre. The new President is faced with the spectre of murderous gangs, apparently without motive, murdering and maiming their way through Busia and Bungoma counties, and armed foreign militia doing their own murderous thing in Mandera and Garissa. But it is not the lead-footed response of the State that is startling; it is the response by human rights campaigners, the same ones who were up in arms and gnashing their teeth when John Michuki's boys went after the Mungiki, who are asking for ever greater draconian responses from the State.

The irony that the two men accused my those human rights people of overseeing the bloodiest tit-for-tat ethnic violence for a generation are asking for the two to take a more robust view of things today. How things change. Messrs Kenyatta and Ruto inherited a security situation that had been deteriorating for years. Ever since the first bomb went off during Mwai Kibaki's administration and the series of militia and ethnic attacks that followed, we have been sitting on a powder keg that seems to have many points of detonation. What is clear is that despite Kenya's muscular performance in Somalia against al Shabaab, our security establishment is operating in a pre-Windows95 age while everyone else is in the tablet era.

The problem is not the law as written. The criminal law of Kenya in its many manifestations is robust enough to deal with the prevention, investigation, prosecution and punishment of many forms of crime, even sophisticated cross-border ones. The problem is institutional. And the secrecy that surrounds the security establishment hobbles the cause of greater, and better, security for Kenyans than anything else.

Twenty-first Century democratic Kenya's security establishment relies on colonial and authoritarian Kenya's secret police and secrecy for effectiveness. When will we admit that the old ways are obsolete and that a new, more open and accountable system is required? The in Garissa will serve to illustrate the point. When the attacks first started, Kenyans were still in the dark about how many regular police, administration police, paramilitary GSU or Kenya Defense Forces troops were stationed in that benighted town. To this day, Kenyans are still in the dark. If there were suspects being hunted by the security forces, Kenyans are yet to be told who they are, what they look like, who their associates are, how they can be identified, what charges may be preferred against them, or whether any of them in the months since the atrocities were committed have been arrested. Other than the regular pithy State assurances that everything was being done, Kenyans do not know the state of the investigations, whether the State is prevailing or losing.

Parliament has been asleep at the wheel too. Instead of prioritising the safety of law-abiding citizens and foreigners alike, our Members of Parliament, and the members of the affected county assemblies, have spent the better part of their first months in government fighting for higher pay or going on strike in order to force the hand of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission to raise their pay. Instead of moving with haste to convene meetings of the relevant oversight committees or, in the case of the county governments, the relevant inter-governmental committees, to address the out-of-control lawlessness in the country, our elected representatives have concentrated more on political brinkmanship and knee-capping to fully internalise the horrors being visited on their constituents. Aden Duale, the Majority Leader in the National Assembly, so loves the sound of his voice, especially when referring to the thousands upon thousands who elected him as greedy thieves, that he has had not time to ensure that the party he leads in Parliament has done its duty of forcing the Executive to take robust action regarding the continuing murders, especially of his own constituents. And so you have civil society, which is traditionally suspicious of the Executive, demanding more and more police and more and more action against the perpetrators of the mayhem.

We have come full circle. The secrecy that contributed to the excesses of the Executive in the past has become a shied for the Executive to hide behind regarding its ineffectiveness in its fight against crime. Transparency and accountability would compel the Executive to re-examine its priorities and resource-allocation. It would compel it to admit that it is an abject failure with a view to reforming how the members of the security establishment are trained and facilitated as they go about their duties. It would compel Kenyans to take a closer look at how they are policed and protected, and what they could do to make things better. It would compel the competing security agencies to co-operate more. It would ensure the Jubilee's goal of greater and better security for all is realised. It is time to bell the cat.

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