The antidote to Al-Shabaab threat from outside and the deepening political crisis at home is better security planning and more police reforms




A year after Al-Shabaab raided the Kenya Defence Forces’ Camp in El-Adde in Somalia, the insurgents have attacked yet another Kenyan camp, this time the KDF’s Forward Operating Base (FOB) at Kulbiyow near the border with Somalia.

Al-Shabaab claims that they killed at least 57 Kenyan soldiers and seized weapons and vehicles.

Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Paul Njuguna denied this but gave no numbers. This response will sound scripted to Kenyans made cynical by a long history of official half-truths about terrorism attacks.

CNN reported last year that Al-Shabaab had killed 141 soldiers at El-Adde and yet the army continues to downplay the incident, giving the impression that the casualties were much lower than everyone else says.

Kenyans have no idea what exactly went wrong at Westgate Mall when the army muscled in and drove out a GSU commando unit that had already contained the situation.


The truth about Mpeketoni was nearly buried in politics with the government implausibly blaming the opposition before Al-Shabaab uploaded on the internet a video recording of the attack.

This is an election year, which means it is a bad time to play politics with security. But security is integral to the nation’s stability, economic, social and political progress hence must be put at the centre of the election agenda. Instead of being defensive, it is time to face up to the three security challenges that lie ahead.

Externally, Al-Shabaab has reminded everyone with this latest attack that it is still around and can still hurt Kenya. Internally, sharp political disagreements and inflammatory talk make a violent election seem more likely by the day. Finally, though police reforms have been implemented since 2002, the Kenya Police Service seems less ready to protect the public than it was before reforms started.



In truth, even though Al-Shabaab has launched no major attack in Kenya since the Garissa University attack, it has always been a threat. Kenyans may have become complacent because the military has been talking of its successes in Somalia.

Unfortunately, an insurgent like Al-Shabaab cannot be defeated by military means alone. Al-Shabaab survives on the lawlessness of the Somali state, support by local groups and ability to raise revenue to finance its operations.

Years of Amisom presence in Somalia have not effectively tackled these three factors. The Somali state is fragile, corrupt and still weak in its legitimacy. Most of the investment that has gone into Somalia has been used in pursuing defeat of Al-Shabaab militarily, rather than reconstruction of the Somalia state.

In addition, three of the five-country spearhead of Amisom’s military strategy are states with unresolved historical problems with Somalia. Kenya’s North-Eastern Province was part of Jubbaland until 1925. Britain had said it would allow the region to rejoin Somalia at independence but it did not.

Ogaden was given to Ethiopia by Britain in 1948 and was the trigger of 1977-1978 border war between Ethiopia and Somalia. Djibouti was cut off from Puntland as French Somaliland but allowed to become an independent state instead of being returned to Puntland.

It is unlikely that any of these lands will be returned to Somalia but this historical baggage makes it extremely difficult for Somalis to trust any of these three countries. In addition, the Mogadishu government sees Kenya’s activities in Jubbaland, where Kenya has taken political sides, as inimical to its interests. This has weakened Kenya’s leverage in Somalia without improving security back home.

Unfortunately, the government sees discussion of possible exit from Somalia as a sign of weakness. That makes it impossible to do strategic review of our role in Somalia. Kenya’s presence in Somalia seems to inflame everyone: The Somali people, who should be our allies, and Al-Shabaab, whose defeat was the justification for our invasion in 2011.



Uncomfortable as it may be, the government needs to rethink the Somali mission, not as a prelude to bolting from there but as a way to work out why the country is no safer from attack than it was before we went in. If Al-Shabaab were to attack during the campaigns it could prove incendiary, creating an environment of suspicion and violence.

But the Al-Shabaab threat also needs to be seen in the context of internal politics. Kenya cannot fight external threats divided against itself.

The country is more politically split than it has ever been: The rhetoric on opposing sides is venomous and the protagonists’ positions non-negotiable. On the internet the abuse is virulent. The ghosts of the 2007 violence have not been fully exorcised. Trust is low and suspicion high, exacerbated by the never-ending brinkmanship in the relations between government and opposition.

Buoyed by its numbers in Parliament, the government has not bothered to consult the oppositions even when it should. On its part, the opposition has acted as a government in waiting, as the opposition often is in a working democracy.

Some of its MPs in the National Assembly have behaved abominably, showing little appetite for reasoned debate and great relish for drama and display.

Though the Senate has more gravitas, it is often ignored principally because it has fewer powers and a smaller role in driving the policies of the national government than the National Assembly. This is not an environment for inflammatory rhetoric.

Unfortunately reckless talk and divisions are not limited to politicians. Just last week, Embu County Commissioner Esther Maina threatened to invade private homes to hunt down anyone not registered to vote; to arrest the unregistered and deny them public services, including food aid.

Such egregious talk from the public official whose docket includes security can only promote lawlessness.


What is to be done? The antidote to the Al-Shabaab threat from outside and the deepening political crisis at home is better security planning and more police reforms.

The sad truth is that many security sector reforms – especially reforms in the police force – have been implemented since 2002 – more intensely since 2008 – but these have had variable impact on public safety, nullified principally by corruption and loss of public confidence in the Police Service.

The danger is that the police will be caught out again in the 2017 election – or by Al-Shabaab – as they have been any time violence has broken out before or after a divisive election throughout the multiparty era. Since 1992, every investigation into election violence invariably concludes that the police have either failed to act to stop the violence or that they have been culpable in it.

The first two inquiries into electoral violence in the 1990s, that is, the 1992 Kiliku Parliamentary Select Committee and the 1997 Akiwumi Commission of Inquiry found that the police had either participated in electoral violence or were complicituous and indifferent when opposition supporters were attacked by pro-government gangs.

That history of impunity was part of the impetus for police reforms under the Governance, Justice, Law and Order Sector Programme (GJLOS), in 2002.

Yet for all the reforms that GJLOS implemented, the Waki Commission of Inquiry concluded, in the aftermath of the 2007 violence that the police had either actively participated in the violence or negligently stood by permitting mayhem to spread.

Building a trustworthy security system that respects the rule of law and protects citizens is the principal function of government. The government performs this function well only when it understand the threats that the country faces.

For example, the recent amendments to electoral laws should have been based on a bipartisan agreement. By rejecting dialogue, the government undermined the legitimacy of the changes, feeding the opposition’s argument that these amendments were a sinister plot to rig the election.

Additional police reforms were subsequently undertaken, with the intent that a more professional police service would emerge.

The 2009 National Task Force on Police Reforms Report was rapidly followed by the Police Reforms Implementation Committee and by deeper constitutional changes, both in 2010.



These changes improved the terms of service for the police; put a housing scheme in place and launched an ambitious modernisation programme that has provided state of the art equipment with significant technology upgrades. Today the police boast an array of impressive Armoured Personnel Carriers, APC, riot control equipment and helicopters.

However, police integrity and public confidence have not kept in step with the modernisation programme or the reforms. A survey of corruption in the Police by Transparency International in East Africa between 2010-2015 reported the good news that in Kenya incidences of police bribery had gone down but this was undone by the equally bad news that the average size of bribes demanded had gone up.

This is discouraging because it suggests that the police extortion has intensified even as their welfare has improved.

This points to something wrong in the way police reforms have been implemented: the main focus has been on hardware – new vehicles and crime fighting tools- and better terms of service.

These may meet the demands of the police and yet if they are not matched by better service, the public will be paying more money for less security. Hardware investments must not supplant the software of police reform: transparency in service; accountability to the public and effective civilian oversight.

On the software side, reforms have been few and half-hearted: community policing has seen police decentralised to the village but it has not integrated the community into actual policing. Police oversight has meant creating an apex civilian body at the centre rather than including civilian oversight at the precinct level.

The Independent Police Oversight Agency, IPOA, was meant to be the nucleus around which a national system of oversight would eventually grow. Yet though IPOA should be working towards this, it cannot do so because it is understaffed, chronically under-funded and does not always enjoy the support or respect of the police.

There are even proposed changes to weaken it, a response to a section of the police high command who feel that scrutiny by IPOA crimps operations.

The makers of the Constitution wanted Kenya to have democratic policing: that is to say, a police service that is subject to the rule of law rather than to the regime of the day; one that respects the democracy’s core values such as human dignity, rather than obedient to the ruling party or to orders of powerful cliques; one that emphasizes protection of the citizen rather law and order and one that is, above all, publicly accountable.

Building a trustworthy security system that respects the rule of law and protects citizens is the principal function of government. The government performs this function well only when it understand the threats that the country faces.

SOURCE:Daily Nation


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