Is Uhuru on his way to being the next East African authoritarian American darling? [originally I asked in April 2013; we are moving that much more quickly along the path with Secretary Kerry’s current visit ahead of Obama in July, as further allegedly necessitated by the Uhuruto administration’s conspicuous incompetence on “security”]
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. . . .
. . . .
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:
. . . .
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.”
. . . .
Andrew J. Franklin’s “Terrorism and the rising cost of Kenya’s war in Somalia,” in The Standard gives a perspective on cost and “mission creep” since the original Operation Linda Nichi incursion of October 2011. Take time to read his assessment that over the course of what is best understood as a war rather than participation in a “peacekeeping mission” Kenya has come to face an insurgency in the border counties that now poses an existential threat to the county such that the priority for Kenyan security needs to be a focus by the KDF on a comprehensive border security initiative and finally implementing the critical domestic security reforms set out in the law since 2010.
Do not forget my post of last July highlighting the reporting of Amb. George Ward at the Institute for Defense Analyses: “Kenya Defense Forces essentially collaborating with Al Shabaab in illegal charcoal exports.” And from October 2013: “Kenya’s persistent national security corruption continues to burden Somali endeavors.”
Kenyan political leaders had unsuccessfully sought U.S. support for an operation to secure a “Jubaland” buffer region long before the October 2011 action. There were probably a variety of motives to proceed when Linda Nichi went forward, some of which related to security and some of which related to various opportunities and schemes of a more “commercial” nature.
Without a coalition government in place as there was in 2011, President Kenyatta has the power and the accountable responsibility as Commander in Chief to articulate the mission of the KDF and the strategy to be employed, now. Kenyans are clearly less safe than they were three-and-a-half years ago, so continuing to pursue a muddled mission without an obvious strategy seems quite dangerous.
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.
The Institute for Defense Analyses‘ Africa Watch publication (PDF below) has a discussion by Amb. George Ward of the recent report for the UNEP and Interpol on the banned charcoal trade from Somalia (“The Somali Charcoal Industry–Strange Bedfellows”). Rather than shut down the trade that has been the primary revenue source for Al Shabaab, the Kenyan Defense Forces have continued the trade out of Kismayo, which they captured nearly two years ago, along with their present day allies in the Ras Kamboni militia. Further, the KDF is apparently participating in the same overall network of deforestation, charcoal production and brokered export trade that includes continued unmolested shipping by Al Shabaab itself from Baraawe. The traders include businessmen established in Nairobi and Garissa, so Kenya profits on that end too.
Fortunately for the Kenyan taxpayers, the EU and the United States primarily fund the AMISOM mission which has covered the Kenyan forces since mid-2012. Something tells me the charcoal proceeds generated through the KDF are not going to the Kenyan treasury.
Of course, other reports of KDF dealing in the charcoal trade have been out there for a long time. See my post “Kenya’s persistent national security corruption continues to burden Somali endeavors”.
Muthoni Wanyeki’s column this week in the East African strikes me as hitting exactly the right point: “Mpeketoni: Get on with finding out who and why”. Take time to read it.
The Jubilee Government was in a tizzy about stopping Raila Odinga from leading opposition CORD rallies around the country before the Mpeketoni attacks just over a week ago. The attacks then became the focus of attention for Kenyans and the Kenyan media, with Uhuru Kenyatta deflecting things back to Raila and CORD by as much as accusing them of undertaking the attacks and explicitly denying a role for Al Shabaab.
Any reasonable observer recognizes that the Mpeketoni attacks in a sensitive area very near the border have less ambiguity about them as an incidence of terrorism than most of the individual bombings routinely attributed to Al Shabaab in Nairobi or even the Westgate attack last year. Yes, the methodological details vary–as they did in each of these from the previous Al Shabaab World Cup attack in Kampala. Here is former Marine and security expert Andrew Franklin, who has written here previously, discussing Al Shabaab and Mpeketoni, along with unfulfilled security reform, on KTN.
With the victims largely now out of sight and out of mind in the hinterlands the media has moved on to the incessant tribal politics that makes for easy punditry in lieu of actual investigation and in-depth reporting.
I have never been a big fan of rallies in Kenyan politics–not in 2007 campaign when I was trying to help support a better process, not in 2011-12 when they were used to try to stop the ICC, and again, not in the 2013 campaign. Nonetheless, I am pretty well inured to the fact that the usual suspects in Kenyan politics, on whatever side they happen to be at any given time, use these rallies as a primary means to connect directly to their supporters and to get national media for their messages. I wish Kenya’s politics was a little more creative, but then, the political class as it exits always wins, so I guess they don’t feel a lot of incentive to change. Regardless, the rallies are not in and of themselves generally dangerous except to the extent the security forces are engaged to make them so.
Tribal animosities were clearly more raw and pervasive in the spring of 2013 when I was in Nairobi for the election than they were when I left in May 2008 during the immediate post-election period. It appears that the last year has not seen marked improvement. An obvious reason why all this should be expected is that the parts of the February 28, 2008 election peace deal that were to address the underlying issues have not been implemented and the politics of 2011-2013 were so explicitly tribal.
Why haven’t they been implemented? One reason is that the February 28, 2008 deal was made by Kibaki and Raila with Kofi Annan after the larger mediation process between PNU and ODM broke down. PNU was a coalition of parties and not all of them ever supported the deal from the inception. Uhuru Kenyatta’s KANU being one such at the time. Raila and Kibaki cooperated to support the passage of the new constitution in 2010, but the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission plodded along on the backburner. The biggest single thing to galvanize government attention during the remainder of Kibaki’s second term was the fight to block the ICC, and, of course, Raila was running for president again, along with Saitoti and Uhuru and some others. By the time the TJRC report was finalized, the new State House was not prepared to accept it as written.
Rallies will come, and rallies will go. The question is whether the long term work of protecting Kenyans from the persistent threat of terrorism and the long term work of “tribal” reconciliation will be taken up or yet again deferred for some future generation.
Yesterday it was two explosions in the Nairobi’s crowded Gikomba market, one reportedly on a bus and another in a stall. Perhaps a dozen killed and 70 injured.
Two British companies loaded up roughly 400 tourists in Mombasa and flew them home early. U.S. Ambassador Robert Godec told the Associated Press that the American Embassy has increased security measures–more security personnel are being brought in and other staff reduced.
Since the Westgate attack in September, there have been a dozen of these bombings.
In the meantime, Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta had directed to pay almost 💲17M to two sketchy entities for claims for financing bogus security acquisition contracts in the Anglo Leasing scam uncovered by John Githongo. After Githongo’s whistleblowing Kenyatta himself as leader of KANU as the official opposition identified the claims as bogus. Kenyatta now claims that the Attorney General dropped the ball and allowed these entities to successfully sue and take judgements in court in the UK. He has directed that payment be made to clear Kenya’s credit to undertake large new borrowings on through the “Eurobond” market. The Law Society of Kenya says that the Government is lying and did not lose in court but rather agreed to pay.
The UK and US criticized the corruption of Anglo Leasing back when it was revealed in 2005-06. Neither the whistleblowing, nor many millions of dollars spent on alleged “good governance” programs seem to have deflected the ultimate success of the scam. . . .
Another must read is from Cedric Barnes at the International Crisis Group: Losing Hearts and Minds in Kenya. Horne argues that the roundups specifically contradict the unity messaging offered by the Kenyan government after Westgate and are likely to backfire by promoting marginalization and thus increasing the persuasive power of extremists. The operations highlight the extremely slow pace of security reforms in Kenya; the going rate to avoid getting arrested if you are of Somali ethnic background is 5000 KSh. Horne also points out that Kenyans of Somali ethnicity and those from the historically marginalized regions in the eastern and northeastern part of the country have always had difficulty getting identity documents from the authorities in the Kenyan government.
Here is Muthoni Wanyeki in The East African : Usalama Watch–State is Fracturing Kenyan Society: “A journalist in discussion with a senior Anti-Terrorism Police Unit officer tells of the ATPU’s alleged frustration with the whole operation — for breaking down its intelligence networks, having nothing to do with counter-terrorism and the likelihood of blowback.”
And Andrew Franklin in Business Daily: Let’s Change Our Tactics in Fighting Terrorism:
Kenyans of Somali origin have also been detained as potential terrorists, making citizenship no bar to this programme of racial profiling.There is no indication that any useful intelligence leading to the apprehension of the café bombing Al-Shabaab terrorists has been obtained although at least 82 “illegals” have been deported to Somalia.The reality is that if the deportees are genuine hardcore Al-Shabaab operators, they will soon return to Nairobi via Kenya’s undefended porous border.
The obvious question about all this: why? At least one opposition politician has suggested that the operations are intended to curry favor with the West or the U. S. in particular for some reason. Admittedly I am not objective as an American but I tend to think that the roundups are obviously enough counterproductive (e.g., they increase rather than decrease net terrorism risk) that the Kenyatta administration would not find any serious encouragement for this from Western governments. Maybe I am naive, but its worth noting that the International Crisis Group is a firmly Western Establishment voice.
“On Security, Corruption and Terror Attacks” from the Mzalendo blog:
The link between corruption and the country’s susceptibility to is also recognised in the Parliamentary Report on the Inquiry into the Westgate and other attacks in Mandera in North Eastern and Kilifi in the Coastal Region. The report mentions systemic corruption and the link to terror attack stating:
“Corruption has greatly led to the vulnerability of the country in many cases including where immigration officials are compromised thus permitting ‘aliens’ who could be terrorists to enter the country and acquire identification. This enables terrorists ease of movement and are therefore able to plan and execute attacks without the fear of discovery. Further compromising of security officials enables ‘suspected individuals’ to fail to pursue suspected terrorists and enable them to secure early release when caught or reported in suspicious criminal activities.”
Of the link between Kenyan troops in Somalia and the increase in terror attacks in the country the report states, “It should also be interrogated why other countries such as Ethiopia and Burundi who had earlier sent troops to Somalia have not been attacked by the al-shaabab. Tanzania has also not suffered any terrorist attacks after the 1998 bombings. Is it because our security forces are weak, in-disciplined and easily corruptible?”
The report makes further note of nationwide systemic failure on the part of the Immigration Services Department, Department of Refugee Affairs; and Registration of Persons Department, also “rampant corruption by security officers and other government agents,” and further that, “police officers are corrupt and lax too. They work in cahoots with alShabaab and are paid to pass information to the latter.”
Last week National Assembly rejected the Joint Committees report and the recommendations made therein. However questions and issues in the report raised with regards to the link between corruption and terrorism still remain.
In commemoration of this historic election, the Africa Centre for Open Governance (AfriCOG) presents its own findings related to election day and its aftermath in this report. In line with its commitment to promote permanent vigilance by citizens over public life and public institutions, AfriCOG provides an account of voters’experiences at the polling station. In addition, the report details the counting, tallying and results transmission procedures, noting the varied problems associated with these procedures. Overall, in contrast to many observer reports, AfriCOG finds that the failure of electoral technology made it impossible to verify the manual counts of election results. This was compounded by a wide array of problems at the polling station, ranging from names missing from the voters’ register to voter bribery.
To conclude, AfriCOG recommends a series of reforms to ensure that future elections live up to constitutional standards for transparency and verifiability.
And “TransCentury sells Rift Valley Railways stake to Citadel”. The RVR saga continues, alongside the SGR saga.
A piece that you might have missed on the Westgate attack that touches more of the bases than most: The Real Reason al-Shabab Attacked a Mall in Kenya by Bronwyn Bruton at DefenseOne.com.
Also: “Terror Strikes Nairobi, Crossing Borders” from Lauren Hutton at the Netherlands Institute of International Affairs (Clingendael).
And if you missed a wise perspective on the human context, here is Karen Rothmyer in The Nation: “Reflections on the Kenya Terror Attack”
Other lessons so far: from Abdul Haji, son of the Garissa Senator and former Defense Minister, who drove from another shopping mall (Yaya Centre) and helped rescue many at Westgate after a cell call from his brother who was stranded by the attackers, we learn that real heroes drink Dormans (and pack a pistol), and leave notes for the owners of cars they back into while rushing to rescue their brothers. The story of the Haji-on-the-spot collaboration with the Kenyan Red Cross, a handful of plainclothes police and a kitted out group of what we might call “neighborhood watchmen” is just so deeply “Kenyan”.
Ambassador David Shinn appropriately noted on his blog that his biggest surprise about the Westgate attack is that it hadn’t happened sooner. People I touch base with expect more, and we have additional attacks in Mandera and Wajir. In order to stay safe and protect each other, it seems to me that Kenyans need to calmly but firmly and persistently press to get as much truthful information as possible about what happened at Westgate and take responsibility for their neighborhoods and surroundings.
The #WeAreOne_dering hashtag on Twitter has brought people from all over the world into the conversation about what really has really happened with this attack.
The United States, in particular, has spent millions on an ongoing basis, through the State Department and the Defense Department directly and indirectly on “capacity building”, training, etc. for Kenyan security. Given the meager preparation for and response to an attack like Westgate, we need to quickly recalibrate to account for the present reality and the immediate threat.
Here is my post from 2009 “Corruption and Terrorism/Security”. And from 2010 “U.S.-Kenya Relations: A counterterrorism versus reform tradeoff?”
And to address the religious dimension, here is an important post from African Arguments via allAfrica.com: “Somalia: To Beat Al Shabaab Kenya Must Expel its Religious Leader “Sheikh Hassaan” From Nairobi”. And the National Council of Churches of Kenya has posted this flyer from the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya announcing a “We Are One in Prayer” event on October 1.
- Militant group attacks Kenyan border town (metronews.ca)
- Nairobi mall searched for bodies (bbc.co.uk)
- Kenya: behind the terror is rampant corruption | Giles Foden (theguardian.com)
- INTERPOL team deployed to assist Kenyan investigation into Westgate shopping centre terror attack (appablog.wordpress.com)