Independence Day, snakes and freedom

I spent part of Independence Day during my year in Kenya at the party at the American Embassy residence. I had a nice time and appreciated the Ambassador’s courtesy in inviting me, but I was a bit surprised at the choice of featured speaker from the Kenyan government, the then-Minister of Internal Security John Michuki. Also on the dias where Vice President Moody Awori and the “Leader of the Opposition” Uhuru Kenyatta. Michuki talked about his recent “security cooperation” visit to the U.S.

Michuki struck me as a particularly ironic choice of headliner for such an event celebrating American democracy because of his notoriety in regard to a high profile and highly symbolic act reflecting a deteriorating state of respect for political freedoms in Kenya not much more than a year earlier. Here is how Canada’s diplomatic magazine Embassy described the Kenyan government’s raid on the Standard Media Group in March 2006:

The malignant designs against the media took centre-stage in Kenyan politics two weeks ago when a dozen hooded policemen raided the newsroom and printing press of Kenya’s oldest daily newspaper, The East African Standard, and its television station, Kenya Television Network (KTN). 

It was a commando-style midnight raid. Printed copies of the newspaper ready for morning dispatch were burnt and the printing press dismantled. The police squad, code named Quick Response Unit (QRU), then switched off KTN and took away computers and accessories. Upon their arrival at the media group’s premises, they ordered staff to lie down and robbed them of money and cellular phones. All those items have not been returned. 

The Kenyan Minister for Internal Security, John Michuki, justified the raid on the following day with a proverb: “When you rattle a snake, the snake will bite you.” 

Indeed “the snake” may have been rattled lately in that the raid came as Kenyan media exposed a high-level multi-million dollar scam in which senior government ministers were accused of successive embezzlements of public funds. The scam, which stunned the nation for the huge amounts looted, involved a fictitious company named as Anglo-Leasing Company that was awarded several government contracts and paid upfront. It is still a running story.

However, the exposures prompted public pressure against the government leading to the sacking of four government ministers. The heat is still on against Vice President Moody Awori to step aside for facilitation of investigations against him. 

I don’t know the real reason for the Standard raid, although I have read arguments that it was triggered by reporting regarding allegations that Kalonzo Musyoka, then a contender for the ODM presidential nomination and now the Vice President, had met secretly with President Kibaki. Regardless, the raid was vigorously condemned by the diplomatic community at that time, including by U.S. Ambassador Mark Bellamy. Just before the December election Bellamy was removed as a delegate from the IRI International Election Observation team after Ranneberger made threats that he would, inter alia, pull funding for the mission at the last minute if Bellamy was included, because he was seen by the Kenyan government as critical.

Happy 4th of July. To celebrate, do something to uphold democratic values.

[Originally published July 4, 2010]

U.S. Coast Guard support for maritime security in Africa; looking for news on Kenyan Coast Guard Service

U.S. Coast Guard’s Mission to Africa from U.S. Naval Institute Press, by

Thetis departed Key West for Africa in late February, making it the first Coast Guard cutter to deploy in support of U.S Africa Command since 2012 and the first to participate in an African maritime exercise since 2011, according to Coast Guard news releases. Thetis participated in exercise Obangame Express and made port calls in Nigeria, São Tome and Principe and Cote d’Ivoire, among other work during the deployment.

U.S. military engagement with African nations is critical to protecting U.S. interests and helping stabilize governments on the continent, Adm. James Foggo, the commander of U.S. Forces Africa, explained during a recent edition of his podcast.

Having the U.S. Coast Guard deploy to Africa is useful, Foggo said, because the U.S. Coast Guard’s maritime law enforcement mission aligns with what he said African nations frequently cite as their most significant needs: enhancing their maritime security operations to protect fishing rights, stop smuggling and interdict human and drug trafficking.

For many of the nations, Chong said their navies perform missions similar to those of the U.S. Coast Guard. For the most part, the African navies and coast guards protect their fisheries resources from illegal fishing, search for smugglers and and combat the region’s ongoing piracy problems.

In many cases, the African nations use equipment very similar to what the U.S. Coast Guard employs. Smaller nations have patrol boats similar to those used by the U.S. Coast Guard, Chong said. Larger nations have frigates which are the same size as the U.S. Coast Guard’s national security cutters.

“The technology is very comparable to us as far as doing those type of boardings off a smaller platform or off a frigate,” Chong said.

In the case of Nigeria, Chong said Thetis operated with a former U.S. Coast Guard cutter. Current Nigerian navy frigate NNS Thunder (F90) is the former Hamilton-class high endurance cutter USCGC Chase(WHEC-718). Chase was transferred to Nigeria after being decommissioned in 2011.

“We’re helping a lot of these countries and their navies and coast guards to do boarding and security type functions,” Chong told USNI News. “We’re working with them jointly in their own maritime security zones.”

The US Coast Guard has been providing joint training for six Kenyan agencies involved in maritime/waterfront security for some years, and Kenya announced that was forming its own Coast Guard back in 1999, but did not pass legislation to do so until 2018. The Kenya Coast Guard Service was then “launched by the President last November in Mombasa:

Based at the Liwatoni Fisheries Complex in Mombasa, where the ceremony was held [commissioning of Offshore Patrol Vessel purchased from Bangladeshi shipyard as first vessel], the KCGS is tasked with protecting fisheries, enforcing maritime security and safety, preventing smuggling, protecting the maritime ecosystems, search and rescue, and supporting the military in times of war.

See the Ministry of Defense announcement here.

The Kenya Coast Guard Service was established under the Kenya Coast Guard Service Act 2018 and was operationalized on 22 October 2018. The Service, which will be commanded by a Director General, a position currently held by Kenya Navy’s Brigadier Vincent Loonena, has a role of ensuring safety in Kenya’s territorial waters, safeguarding Kenya’s ports and prevention of dumping of harmful wastes and pollutants in Kenya’s waters. It will also offer search and rescue services and prevent illegal commercial activities like fishing on Kenya’s waters. The service shall have its headquarter at Liwatoni, Mombasa and will operate mainly in Mombasa, Kisumu and Lamu.

The launch takes place only a week before the first Global Blue Economy Conference to be held in Nairobi in which over 8000 participants are expected to turn up.

News has been scarce since the Commissioning so I would be pleased to hear from anyone with an update.

New Crisis Group report: “China Expands Its Peace and Security Footprint in Africa”

While AFRICOM has reached its tenth anniversary with talk of a drawdown of troop deployments on the Continent and HQ firmly in Stuttgart, Germany, China has used these years to grow out its African military and arm sales relationships, regional and international armed peacekeeping roles and to establish it’s first “overseas” military base in Djibouti.

The Crisis Group gives an overview of current Chinese defense/security/peacekeeping in Africa:

“At the 2018 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation and China-Africa Defence and Security Forum, Beijing showcased an increasingly strategic approach to its defence relations with African countries and its role in managing challenges to peace and security on the continent.
— Read on www.crisisgroup.org/asia/north-east-asia/china/china-expands-its-peace-and-security-footprint-africa

“Another Fine Mess” in Uganda? Time to read Helen Epstein on “America, Uganda, and the War on Terror” if you haven’t yet

I first bought a copy of “Another Fine Mess: America, Uganda and the War on Terror“, by Helen Epstein, then “hot off the press” as a “sizzling indictment” of our policy in Uganda while evacuated to the Florida Panhandle from hurricane Maria last year.

Helen Epstein Uganda Another Fine Mess

This year in Northeast Florida were have missed Florence but are watching our neighbors in the Carolinas with concern. Meanwhile our neighbors in Uganda are suddenly on the radar screen in a heightened way.  Museveni’s political repression has struck an international nerve through the popular musician turned Member of Parliament and opposition by-election campaigner Bobi Wine.

See “Ugandan politician confronts diplomat over torture allegation” from VOA Africa.

Earlier this week Bobi Wine agreed to be represented pro bono in Washington by the Vanguard Africa Group.

Epstein’s book from the Columbia Global Reports series is a quick read (and inexpensive) so there is really no excuse to duck it if you are an American concerned about Uganda. Helen Epstein is an American with “skin in the game” in Uganda. She has lived there and worked with the failing health systems — her “active voice” as a critic comes not from the abstract but the specific. You do not have to agree with her about everything, or think she has figured out all our governmental secrets or inside-the-beltway motivations, but you would be foolish not to take her seriously and account for what she has to say.

Update: let me add here a couple of key blurbs for Epstein’s book from other writers who I have relied on and who will be well familiar to readers here:

William Easterly: “As her new book reveals, Helen Epstein is an eloquent advocate of human rights and democracy for Africans, as well as a courageous critic of how U.S. aid supports oppressive dictators like Yoweri Museveni in Uganda.”

Michela Wrong: “For decades, Western policy-makers have hailed Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni as a benign autocrat, a charming African Bismarck and trusted partner in the fight against Islamic fundamentalism. Another Fine Mess reveals a far darker side to this key African ally, while exposing the cynicism at the heart of American policy in Africa’s Great Lakes Region. This gripping, iconoclastic, angry book raises a host of uncomfortable questions.”

I want to note that Epstein highlights my old friend the late Joel Barkan’s investigation of Uganda’s economic issues for the World Bank.  I was fortunate to have the opportunity to discuss this work with Joel a few years ago. Joel also prepared a prescient warning for American policy makers back in 2011 at CSIS of the risk of instability in Uganda with Museveni’s advancing age, elimination of term limits and need to transition.

[Note: Some of my Washington friends took a bit of umbrage about some of Helen’s real time reportage on Kenya’s last election–fine. If we were more transparent we would not risk being misunderstood; I was not in Kenya for the 2017 vote and at the end of the day we will have to see what the record shows. In that regard I am still working on 2007 and 2013. Uganda is Epstein’s lived experience in a different way.]

Why the U.S. got started training the Kenya Police Service: 1977 Embassy cable 

R 041148Z MAR 77
FM AMEMBASSY NAIROBI
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 6574
INFO DA WASHDC//DAMO-SSA//
CDRTRADOC FT MONROE VA//ATTNG-PRD-SA-T//
USCINCEUR VAIHINGEN GERMANY//ECJ4/7-SARA-T//
CDRUSA CRIME LAB FT GORDON GA

C O N F I D E N T I A L NAIROBI 2870 {declassified, released 2009}

E.O. 11652: GDS
TAGS: MASS, PINT, KE
SUBJECT: FIREARMS IDENTIFICATION TRAINING FOR KENYA POLICE
REF: (A) STATE 017363, (B) 76 NAIROBI 13349,(C) DSAA 4058/76 282216Z DEC 76

1. IN REPLY TO JUSTIFICATION REQUESTED IN REFTEL A, EMBASSY
SUBMITS FOLLOWING:

2. PURPOSE OF PROPOSED TRAINING:

A. ENABLE GOK POLICE PERSONNEL TO QUALIFY AS EXPERTS IN
COURT TESTIMONY REGARDING BALLISTICS AND FIREARMS EXAMINATION.

B. TO IDENTIFY WEAPONS USED IN CRIMINAL AND TERRORIST
ACTIVITY BY TYPE, MODEL AND INDIVIDUAL WEAPON USING SCIENTIFIC
TECHNIQUES FOR COMPARISON AND EVALUATION.

C. TO ESTABLISH FROM EXISTING EVIDENCE THE OWNERSHIP AND
ORIGIN OF THESE WEAPONS.

3. USEFULNESS TO GOK:

A. COUNTER-GUERRILLA AND BANDIT OPERATIONS. PRIMARILY
IN NORTHERN PROVINCES DIRECTED AGAINST INFILTRATION
OF SOMALI SHIFTA GUERRILLAS. THESE OPERATIONS TO DATE HAVE
BEEN CONDUCTED BY THE KENYAN ARMY AND THE KENYA POLICE,
PARA-MILITARY GENERAL SERVICES UNIT (GSU). THEY ARE CONDUCTED
AS POLICE OPERATIONS REQUIRING ALL UNITS INVOLVED
TO RESTRICT THEIR ACTIVITIES TO THOSE OF LAW ENFORCEMENT.
THE SERVICES OF A COMPETENT FIREARMS EXAMINER WOULD BE
EXTREMELY VALUABLE TO THE GOK FROM THE STANDPOINT OF INITIAL
IDENTIFICATION OF THE TYPE AND ORIGIN OF WEAPONS USED AND
ALSO AS AN EXPERT WITNESS AT SUBSEQUENT COURT PROCEEDINGS.

B. CONVENTIONAL CRIMINAL ACTIVITY, TERRORISM. GOK
SOURCES ESTIMATE THAT THE NUMBER OF CONVENTIONAL CRIMES
(MURDER, ROBBERY, ETC.) INVOLVING THE USE OF A FIREARM HAVE
INCREASED APPROXIMATELY 50 PERCENT IN THE LAST FIVE YEARS.
POACHING IN THE NATIONAL PARKS REMAINS A SERIOUS PROBLEM WITH
POSSIBLE LONG TERM DAMAGE TO THE TOURIST INDUSTRY. KENYA MUST BE
CONSIDERED AN AREA OF POSSIBLE TERRORIST ACTIVITY BECAUSE
OF THE POLITICAL ORIENTATION AND MILITANCY OF HER NEIGHBORS.
A TRAINED FIREARMS AND BALLISTICS EXPERT WOULD BE A KEY
PERSON IN THE INVESTIGATION AND PROSECUTION OF ANY CASES
INVOLVING THE ABOVE TYPE OF ACTIVITY.

4. AS MENTIONED REFTEL B, THE KENYA POLICE, IN ADDITION TO
THE ARMED FORCES WITH FORENSIC LABORATORY SERVICES. THE
KENYA POLICE HAVE ADVISED THAT THE INDIVIDUALS INVOLVED
IN PROPOSED TRAINING COULD BE SECONDED TO THE KENYA ARMY
IF NECESSARY TO OVERCOME OBJECTIONS RAISED IN REFTEL C.
THE KENYA POLICE IS UNDER THE DIRECT CONTROL OF THE OFFICE
OF THE PRESIDENT.

5. DIRECT USG INTERESTS: Continue reading

Thirty eight years after the U.S. started Kenya police training in 1977, yet another failure in Garissa University massacre

The trained elite forces of Kenya’s Recce Company Crisis Response Team of the Kenya Police Service’s paramilitary General Service Unit (GSU) do not lack for personal courage and technical competence, as they showed once again in dispatching the four terrorists who spent the day Thursday murdering Christian students at  Garissa University College after killing the two guards and seizing control of the campus.

Sadly, as we also saw in the Westgate tragedy, the top ranks of leadership in Kenya’s security apparatus lack the will and/or the focus that would be required to use such forces effectively to protect Kenya’s citizenry from even such small bands of terrorists.

The infuriatingly obtuse mediocrity of Kenya’s political elite was perhaps most conspicuously on display in Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed’s characterization of the police response to the university siege as “adequate” in her interview yesterday with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, going so far as to conclude “we did all that we could do.”  While it is true that the Kenya Defense Forces did not intervene with “friendly fire” as at Westgate, the terrorists were left in control of the school for hours on end while the Recce Squad remained in Nairobi before finally departing by plane in the early afternoon, followed by two hours of briefings on the ground in Garissa before the successful assault.  Reporting in the Sunday Nation indicates that the Recce Company members, trained in the U.S. and Israel, are regularly being diverted to ordinary policing tasks in diverse locations and not maintained as intended on standby for the emergency Crisis Response Team at their Nairobi headquarters.

Surviving students reported being aware of their insecure environment long before the attack, which was preceded by specific warnings of attacks on university campuses, as well as the British and Australian warnings of threats which so angered President Kenyatta in the preceding days.  Most individual politicians in Nairobi have more security than this inviting cluster of “upcountry” Christian young people sitting in Garissa which has long experienced small scale church attacks and other terror incidents, as well as mass “security” repression on a periodic basis.

In an interview with the Daily Nation about the background of the middle class Kenyan among the terrorists, the assistant principal of the high school attended by the now notorious killer noted that student had finished at the school “way back in 2007 when radicalization was unheard of.”  “Terrorist was a gifted, obedient student

Even “way back in 2007” when I went to Garissa to train prospective parliamentary candidates the area was insecure enough that police escort was required from a checkpoint on the highway east of Mwingi in Eastern Province on into Garissa, crossing the Tana River into North Eastern Province.  It is hard for me to understand the idea that some grand foresight would be required to see the need for more security for this particular campus.  On its website, the University reports that it “benefits greatly from Garissa’s urban setting.  It feels closely tied to and responsible towards the city and county.  For its part it contributes to the cultural life of the city and region, and in all its activities pays regard to community and urban needs.”  The University came into being as the first full university in the old North Eastern Province in 2011 as an upgrade to an older Garissa Teacher Training College.  A noble initiative toward the crucial long term endeavor to begin the work of bringing this historically neglected region more fully into the Kenyan nation–one that made it an obvious target for Islamist extremists opposed to this endeavor.  And now shuttered indefinitely in the wake of the horrific mass executions.

Jeffrey Gettleman’s story in the New York Times “Shabaab Militants Learning to Kill on a Shoestring” identifies the extremist ideological counter-narrative. In claiming credit for the attack on one of the largest concentrations of non-Muslims in the area a Shabaab spokesman called the University part of a scheme by the Kenyan government to spread “their Christianity and infidelity” in a Muslim area that the Shabaab consider a “colony” under Christian control.

Nonetheless, Radio France International in a story headlined “Not enough Kenyan police in Garissa because its considered a ‘punishment zone'” quoted analyst Adam Hussein Adam saying “This is something that has been there since independence, and we continue to see that place [Garissa] as an outlier, and therefore we don’t deploy enough state authorities there until we have a problem like we now have.”

To me, the idea expressed in various quarters that pulling the Kenya Defense Forces out of AMISOM in Somalia now would resolve the underlying contested nature of the broader northeast within Kenya seems naive.  I don’t think the original 2011 incursion into Somalia was well considered or the best priority for Kenyan security at the time, and the AMISOM role for the KDF ought to be evaluated on its own merits now and going forward.  Nonetheless, I do not believe that there is a de facto bargain to be struck by withdrawing the KDF that would assuage those fighting what Nairobi-based security consultant Andrew Franklin has described for many months now as an insurgency within Kenya’s border counties.

Attention also needs to be paid to the experience and motives of the 27 year old Nairobi law graduate and banker, the son of a local chief from Mandera County who came to the capital for high school, followed by university.  Reportedly he wanted to join IS but settled for Al-Shabaab because he did not have a passport to travel to the Middle East but could transit the porous border into Somalia.