Kenya’s Security Infrastructure Under Scrutiny, As President Obama Visits [opinion]

The President of the United States of America is visiting Kenya – indeed, the first sitting USA President visiting Kenya. President Barack Obama is here for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. This GES being hosted in Sub-Saharan Africa, for the first time ever, comprises of political and business leaders, government technocrats, and leaders of civil society.

Speaking recently, the White House Spokesperson – Eric Schultz – noted the Summit is meant to continue the USA “efforts to work with countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, including Kenya, to accelerate economic growth, strengthen democratic institutions, and improve security”.

Bankrupt leadership

Leadership in Kenya is rare. Kenya is awash with so many politicians. In 1995, a publication by Nairobi Law Monthly – This Man Moi – differentiated between leaders and politicians thus:

” …leaders achieve a lot for their people, while politicians achieve for themselves; great leaders can be distinguished by the vision that they have, which is shared with their people – but politicians have hardly any vision; leaders retain their positions in power by popular will and legitimacy, but politicians do so by instruments of scheming and manipulation; leaders are known by the considerate way they treat their opponents, but politicians by their measure of torture and ruthlessness; leaders are known for how well they prepare their nations for the eventuality of their departure, while politicians live for the moment and respond to crises… “

This is Obama’s third visit. The second visit, as a Senator in 2006, he made a powerful speech at the University of Nairobi – An Honest Government, A Hopeful Future:

“But while corruption is a problem we all share, here in Kenya it is a crisis – a crisis that’s robbing an honest people of the opportunities they have fought for – the opportunity they deserve… It is painfully obvious that corruption stifles development… And corruption also erodes the State from the inside out, sickening the justice system until there is no justice to be found, poisoning the police forces until their presence becomes a source of insecurity rather than comfort.”

Kenyan politicians have planted, harvested and perfected the art of political brinksmanship and also the kleptocracy that has denied the country and its people many opportunities. When Obama was last in town, he was dismissed, as a ‘junior senator’. Now, as a Head of State and government of the most powerful country on the planet, his message on development and security cannot just pass or be wished away.

Dimensions of security

Prof Nayef Al-Rodhan, has summarised dimensions of international security in the book – The Five Dimensions of Global Security: Proposal for a Multi-sum Security Principle. In this book, Nayef offers unequalled perspectives of viewing global security, and which President Obama, may speak or allude to.

Kenya’s territorial integrity is wanting – courtesy of what Obama called “eroding the state inside out”. Blaming al Shabaab is escapist. Our border patrols, our customs, our immigration officials, our police and our military are all responsible for the state of anarchical and fortnight attacks on Kenyan soil. Moreover, the county commissioners’ role in the security architecture is wanting or even confusing.

Travel alerts or advisories have been issued throughout. We are fully responsible for the spate of security lapses that have hit us so hard, left so many dead, and so many more injured permanently. Yet, as we get hit this much, a lot of money has been dedicated to security structures, notably the police and the military.

Even if Kenya secures its borders, through concerted efforts of its own, the international community has a role to play. Trans-national crime committed by the likes of al Qaeda, al Shabaab, or even Boko Haram, must be dealt with decisively. To illustrate, the USA and other world leaders have ably dealt with Iran and its access to nuclear energy, in a bid to ensure non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Kenya should play its role in this ‘sea of turmoil’, where its regional leadership under the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), should steer the region (particularly Eastern and Horn of Africa) towards more sustainable peace and development. To play this role, the USA is crucial. But so is Kenya. And it must be prepared to clean its national security lapses if it is to deal with regional trans-national crime.

Human and trans-cultural security

From independence to date, Kenya has attempted to get rid of poverty, illiteracy and disease but still many Kenyans lack access to livelihoods. Human insecurity translates that most Kenyans are hungry, they are poor, and unhealthy – not to mention some are homeless, and hence do not have basic minimums of life.

Looking at common basics for the sustenance of life, including protection citizens from State apparatuses of security, Kenya has had many issues that continue to purvey our justice system. Wagalla massacre in Wajir, Usalama Watch in Eastleigh, Mpeketoni attacks in Lamu and terror attacks in Garissa and Mandera, have left many hundreds dead and thousands displaced, largely because of unaccountable and sometimes uncoordinated security agents.

People should be at the centre of all security operations – protect their rights and freedoms – and only then can we state that human security in Kenya is taking root. For without cooperation of the public, even policing or military might will fail to win the hearts and minds against terror and radicalisation.

Further, Kenya also needs to ensure the right not to be discriminated against, is not violated. We promulgated a constitution on the basis of equality before the law. Some Kenyans (particularly, politicians) are not tolerating others, are socially excluding others, inciting others, and also discriminating others directly or indirectly. Prompt legal action is needed.

Trans-cultural security requires the global efforts to ensure that minority groups, based on religion (mistreatment of Muslims in China), or race (mistreatment of black Americans by police in the USA), or previously excluded groups (Kenyans in the northern corridors) are protected. Whereas everyone has an opinion, on this or that group, the guiding posts should be Pastor Martin Niemoller’s poem. Please protect the minorities, for when they come for you, there should be someone to speak on your behalf.

Environmental security

Kenya is home to both the United Nations Environmental Programme (Unep) and also to Late Prof Wangari Maathai. We should ensure the current generation is utilising earth’s resources without compromising the needs of the future generations to meet theirs. This applies to both flora and fauna. That is what sustainable development calls upon us to do.

Unfortunately, it was recently revealed Lake Magadi is drying up due to siltation. Many forests, from Karura to Ngong to Mau are under continuous threats from human activities. Further still, lakes such as Naivasha, Elementaita, Nakuru and Baringo, are under constant threats from human activities, which needs to be calculated vis-agrave;-vis environmental security.

Prof Maathai told us a resounding tale of the humming bird efforts to deal with a forest fire. We need to protect our environment, as the environmental saying always goes: “We need nature more than it needs us”.

Final word

Kenya is, and has always been, said to be a land of contrasts. Despite all the above setbacks on security, Kenya will be hosting a huge international delegation led by President Obama. It is in the interest of all of us to keep and maintain law and order, but not at the expense of human rights and fundamental freedoms. For without the latter, state sovereignty is hollow.

Our constitution provides for both state-centric and human-centric models of security. Protecting citizens against a rouge state is responsible global leadership. So is protecting the state (including its people) from rogue internal and external threats.

Tom Kagwe, JP, is a Member of the IPOA Board.

The comments and views expressed in this article are personal, and not those of the IPOA Board or the Authority.