Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Can people actually be so blind?

In the early Aughts Kenya grappled with the runaway dangers posed by adherents of the Mungiki, an organised criminal organisation that hid behind the guise of a reawakened traditional African "church". The Mungiki had enjoyed the patronage of influential Moi-Era Mount Kenya politicians during the 1995 - 2002 period and, because of this patronage, the forces of law and order had turned a blind eye to the Mungiki's expansionist tendencies as it slowly took over the matatu sector. By the time Mwai Kibaki turned his attention to the problem, the Mungiki had become a law unto itself, immune to the niceties of the constitution or the efforts of the forces of law and order. The Mungiki had become a threat to the stability of Mr Kibaki's government.

What happened between the date of Mr Kibaki's inauguration as president and the conflagration of 2007 remains shrouded in UN reports, speculation, abortive criminal prosecutions, accusations and counter-accusations. What is known, however, is that Mr Kibaki took off the leash from his internal security ministers and the national security apparatus and set them on the adherents of the Mungiki. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of young men and women were executed in the dead of night without the bother of criminal charges or criminal trials. Many, it turns out, were innocent, turned over -- or "misidentified" -- by their executioners in many extreme cases of score-settling. Philip Alston, the UN Rapporteur on Extra-judicial Killings, documented these executions in a report that indicted the Government at its highest levels. The executions of the Mungiki slowed down then stopped. But the lessons of the strategy had been learnt -- especially how to hide executions from the public while co-opting the public in the silent massacre of the "enemies of the people".

The tactics used against the Mungiki were perfected and deployed against "radical Muslim clerics", though every now and then a particularly public extra-judicial execution of a troublesome cleric was conducted to the unrestrained praise of many in Kenya's intelligentsia. Never mind the constitutional protections granted to Kenyans -- yes, even to "terrorists" -- there is a section of Kenya's opinion-makers who have no qualms reviving the feared Kibaki-Era Kwekwe Squad to deal, once and for all, with the al Shabaab enemy and their sympathisers in the civilian population. Six years after the Kenya Defence Forces invaded the Republic of Somalia in "hot pursuit" of al Shabaab fighters, the terrorist organisation has not been vanquished. In fact, it seems to have entrenched itself in Kenya's lawless areas such as the Boni Forest in Lamu, from whence it has launched attacks against security forces and Government officials. Night-time curfews and permanent armed patrols in the "affected areas" do not seem to have hampered the ability of al Shabaab to strike with impunity.

What the shoot-them-all cabal forgets of the Kibaki Era anti-Mungiki massacre are the human rights abuses that took place. The security forces became emboldened and engaged in criminal acts with the excuse that one "fights fire with fire". This impunity can be recalled in the way the police tried to cover up the night time extra-judicial execution of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl in Kilifi in 2015. Or, for that matter, the brutal assassination of Erastus Chemorei when he wouldn't go along with a scheme to mishandle a massive cache of drugs seized by the police in 2005.

The latest shoot-to-kill order, issued in the wake of the abduction of the public works' principal secretary by al Shabaab fighters and her subsequent rescue by the defence forces, will almost certainly follow the same pattern as the anti-Mungiki campaign of terror and the anti-al Shabaab I operations that took place in 2008/2009. It is almost certain that giving the security forces a free hand to determine guilt or innocence will lead to many innocents being caught up in the dragnet. Many of those championing this policy might not be touched by the long, violent arm of the law -- these are the movers and shakers who can afford to count senior government officials among their closest friends -- and they will never see the destruction that security forces can unleash when off their constitutional leashes. That these anti-democratic, anti-constitution exhortations are being made with weeks to spare to the general election, it beggars belief that the malign outcomes are being so blithely ignored. Sometimes you must ask: can people actually be so blind?

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