Kenya Defence Forces draft Bill is a bad one

It is natural in times when a nation is facing major security challenges for policy-makers to succumb to the temptation to legislate in ways that strengthen security at the expense of aspects.

But while everyone agrees on the need to take steps to tackle the threat posed by Somalia’s Al-Shabaab terrorists, who have in the past carried out deadly attacks in Kenya, this should not be done in a way that threatens to undermine civil liberties and which might lead to the exploitation of insecurity to raid the public purse without being held to account.

The proposed Kenya Defence Forces Amendment Bill 2015 dangerously veers towards a direction that could prove unhelpful to the nation, especially after landmark constitutional changes in 2010.

One key concern in the proposed law is the deployment of the military to handle internal security matters that should ordinarily be the work of the national police service.

This, the anticipated changes indicate, could be done without going through the current stringent checks that include parliamentary approval.

A role is also envisaged for an auxilliary reserve force that includes the National Youth Service and the Kenya Wildlife Service.

Then there are internal matters that should be properly interrogated before they are passed.

The respected former military chief Daudi Tonje, for example, introduced rules which were designed to professionalise the defence forces and which offered clear prescriptions guiding, for example, the succession process for defence forces chiefs.

For reasons which are not explained, the draft Bill proposes to raise the retirement age for top military officers to 64, up from 62.

Defying the spirit of the Tonje Rules which aimed to reduce the levels of arbitrary interference in the affairs of the military, the Bill also proposes to give the President powers to extend the tenure of defence chiefs by a year.

Civilian oversight over the military is a well established norm in democracies.

To its credit, the Kenyan military has largely stayed in the barracks unlike many others on the continent where successful coups led many countries into the path of stagnation.

The new law will stray dangerously to the path of challenging this established practice, reducing scrutiny over its finances and essentially rendering the ministry of Defence irrelevant.

All parties agree that the Shabaab is one of the biggest threats that the country faces and the biggest potential obstacle to progress in the region.

But it is not right to use this threat to steer the country in a direction which yields ever greater militarisation of society.

The proposed law is a bad draft which should either be rejected by MPs or be subjected to far-reaching amendments when it is presented to the House.