In Foreign Affairs, Paul Hidalgo explains “Kenya’s Own Worst Enemy; Al Shabab Isn’t the Real Problem“:
Corruption, injustice, abuse, disillusionment, marginalization, and radicalization are the legacies of years of misguided policies in Kenya. After an al Shabab rampage in Garissa earlier this month left over 140 university students dead, these issues are impossible to ignore. If Nairobi continues to refuse to address them or fails to do so, the already troubled East African country will soon become even more unstable.
The radical Islamist group al Shabab is responsible for the series of terrorist attacks that have rocked Kenya in past few years. But the reality is that al Shabab is a shadow of what it once was. The al Qaeda-linked group has been pushed out of all major cities in Somalia and cut off from its financial lifelines. Its leaders have been decimated by drone attacks, internal strife, and defections. And that is why the group’s ability to easily attack within Kenya is so puzzling. For their part, Kenyan leaders have long contended that entities outside the government, namely Somalia-based fighters and the country’s minority Muslim population, are to blame. But the truth is that the main culprits are the culture and policies of the government itself.
Take, for example, Kenya’s security services, which are acknowledged as the most corrupt institution in one of the most corrupt countries in the world. . . .
Corruption might clear the way for attacks, but incompetence turns tragedies into national disasters. . . .
The security forces’ well-documented history of abuse, discrimination, and heavy handedness is directly connected to radicalization. . . .
Instead of trying to tackle all these issues, Kenyan leaders have fallen back on their usual responses: attacking easy targets and pursuing knee-jerk policies. As before, these simply make matters worse. . . .
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Pressure is mounting for Kenyatta to enact serious reforms, and his recent admission that there were security failures at Garissa may signal that things are shifting. But Kenyans shouldn’t hold their breaths. Nairobi has proven time and again that it is incapable of or unwilling to make difficult reforms. It may end up that civilians will be forced to take to the streets in a major way to push the government to action, or take matters into their own hands, such as the pledge from the country’s top Muslim organization to root out radical clerics from mosques. However it plays out, the longer Kenya waits to address its problems in some fashion, the more innocents will die and the more dysfunctional the state will become.
“John Githongo on Garissa: Kenya’s corrupt chickens have come home to roost,” from Kingsley Kipury and Simon Allison in Daily Maverick:
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Githongo’s main argument is that corruption has prevented Kenya from establishing an even remotely effective security sector, leaving it vulnerable to Al-Shabaab-style attacks. “Kenya has had a problem with terrorism for some time, and recognised the need for much improved equipment and technology for our security service to be able to deal with it. However national security is the last refuge of the corrupt, and there are those in government who decided that those are the contracts we are going to make money from. And in the pushing and the shoving and the disagreements and squabbling of people fighting for their cut, and things stopping and starting, goods being delivered half-baked or not at all, Kenya lost a tremendous opportunity to establish a very solid framework for defending itself against terrorism,” he said.
That’s the first problem. The second is the culture of corruption, engendered by the country’s political elite, which means that, for often trifling sums, individuals at all levels of the state are willing to turn a blind eye to threatening activity. “When people lower down the ladder in the security services, whether it’s in the police, immigration, intelligence, the military, when they see them [their superiors] steal from large scale security contracts, they then start perpetrating corruption lower down the ladder. That becomes a problem that becomes pervasive, and it is exemplified most starkly by the ease with which it would apparently seem possible for terrorists to be able to cross through our porous borders by paying small amounts of money to junior officials,” Githongo said.
For Githongo, it’s impossible to separate the current insecurity in Kenya from its history of corruption. “I think it’s definitely a case of chickens coming home to roost, vis-à-vis Anglo Leasing. If we had properly executed those contracts starting from around 2001 into 2004, we definitely wouldn’t be having the kind of problems we have right now, or at least they wouldn’t be at the scale they are at now.”
Crucially, however, corruption is not just history. According to the latest Corruption Perceptions Index, corruption in Kenya has worsened since President Uhuru Kenyatta came to power. Kenya is currently ranked 145th in the world for corruption, only just above the Central African Republic and nine spots below Nigeria.
In this context, it’s hardly surprising that Githongo reserves some of his strongest criticism for the current administration of Kenyatta. “This is the most corrupt administration since the [Daniel arap] Moi administration, if not more corrupt. . . .
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights is deeply concerned over the most recent steps taken by the Kenyan government to further restrict the legitimate activities of domestic civil society organizations, under the stated auspices of countering terrorism. Earlier this week, alongside terrorist groups like ISIS, al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab, and Boko Haram, Kenya’s Inspector General of Police listed several notable human rights groups to be declared “Terrorist Organizations,” froze their bank accounts, and gave them 24 hours to clarify why they should not be designated.
“Governments have a real responsibility to meet the threat of terrorism and protect the welfare of their citizens, and civil society groups are indispensable to achieving these ends,” said Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “The Kenyan government has gone too far by including human rights groups in a list of possible terrorist organizations. President Kenyatta and the relevant authorities should take immediate and transparent steps to remove these human rights groups from this list.”
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