Thursday, November 06, 2014

Safety, not security (Part Deux)

Bob Collymore was blunt: Safaricom will give the police the metadata relating to a phone number, and nothing else, and only after a magistrate orders them to do so. Or of the law says that Safaricom must. It was refreshing to see at least one CEO not drinking the securocracy's Kool-Aid. If even intelligent business news reporters are suggesting that when it comes to security the mobile phone operators should share information about "suspicious" numbers you know we have travelled so far down this road that it is only a matter of time before Kenyans start suggesting that it would be a very good idea for the National Intelligence Service to embed "security" officers with every family.

There was this unhinged former military man on KTN this morning who was nostalgic for the thousands of semi-literate spies Baba Moi employed in the Special Branch. In his twisted imagination, Kenya was secure because Moi spied on everybody; one couldn't trust that the mama mboga, the kanges or the maize-roasting idler were not Special Branch men keeping an eye on the nefarious among us. What this former air force pilot seemed to have forgotten is that because of the semi-literacy of the spies and their absolute and unyielding loyalty in Baba Moi, any and all Kenyans were potential "security threats" and thousands of Kenyans suffered at the hands of Baba Moi's secret police: death, castration, rape, torture, crippling injuries. 

What really shocked me, perhaps because they were having an off day because of the Kapedo massacre a week ago, was the silence from Senators Naisula Lesuuda and John Lonyangapuo over the harebrained proposal to embed spies in every nook and cranny so that the security of the State is not undermined. There is a very good reason why rejected Uhuru Kenyatta and Musalia Mudavadi in December 2002; we believed, rightly or wrongly, that they would sale up the rolled back human rights abuses of Baba Moi's regime. It is why despite our innate suspicions about Baba Jimmi's competence, we overwhelmingly brought him and the rotten apples in his party to power under the NARC umbrella. If Senators Lesuuda and Lonyangapuo are incapable of seeing this simple fact, it would behoove the peoples of their communities to look for new parliamentary representation come August 2017.

Of course every government maintains a spy agency and quite frequently that spy agency spies on its own people. But it has always been the place of the media and the elected classes to reject the attempts of the State and its agents to control he people including by spying on them. Even Jeff Koinange seemed to miss this point when he had, again, John Lonyangapuo on his bench on Wednesday, 5th November. For a reporter who had first hand knowledge of the United States' obsession with the First Amendment's freedom of the press, Mr Koinange betrayed a shockingly callous understanding of what it means for a State to be secure. It is the same kind of understanding that prevails in the corridors of Harambee House, Jogoo House, Vigilance House, DOD HQ and, almost certainly today, State House.

We have known for a generation at least what makes a State insecure; it is not the total number of arms in the hands of private citizens otherwise Switzerland would be the most unsafe place in the world. It is not the number of "radical" preachers among the civilian population, otherwise India (save for Jammu and Kashmir) would be under martial law today. It is the simple things that the State denies the people that radicalise the people. Baba Moi graft-riddled twenty-four year rule guaranteed that roads would not be built, piped water would not be delivered, primary healthcare was a mirage, basic education was of poor quality, youth unemployment would balloon, and the opportunities for advancement would continually favour an elite few. The banditry that prevails in Baringo, Laikipia, Samburu, West Pokot, Turkana, Mandera, Wajir, Tana River and Marsabit is a reflection of Baba Moi's and Mzee Kenyatta's forty years of their peculiar understanding of State security.

We have the opportunity to stem the tide of stupidity when it comes to security. We are missing it by a country mile. Guns and bombs will not build roads, schools, hospitals or markets, or provide jobs or opportunities for advancement. Embedding spies, again, in places of work and leisure is a throwback to Stalinism that only prevails in Putin's Russia or the true Stalinist model, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. It will not work here. Ever harsher penalties for petty offences will only encourage an already graft-riven policing apparatus to redouble its efforts at graft-related activities. Maintaining the focus on the State's agents and the State's guns only guarantees that the State will forever remain a threat to the people.

The United States sometimes learns from its mistakes. Between its invasion of Afghanistan in 2002 and The Surge in 2008, thousands of US soldiers died on the field of battle. Force of arms alone was not going to assure the US and its allies of victory. David Petraeus, learning lessons from the British experience a century before, came up with a counterinsurgency programme that stemmed the tide of blood. Kenya must find its own David Petraeus and its own counterinsurgency programme. Reprisals against bandits and collective punishments have not worked for almost a century. We must shift our focus from the security of the State to the safety of the people. It is what the US did and it is what gave them the long-sought pretext for leaving Afghanistan.

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