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National holidays have lost some their lustre.

National holidays have lost some their lustre. A few decades ago, it was impossible to find space in the many venues where national holidays, and especially those addressed by the Head of State, were held. Today, the scenario is different; empty seats are no longer uncommon.

During Mashujaa Day celebrations at the Mama Ngina Waterfront Park in Mombasa last Sunday, residents were given additional reasons to steer clear of such events.

Soldiers manning entrances to the venue, especially on Sherry beach in Likoni, manhandled civilians on their way to the national event. It was humiliating that for no plausible reason, innocent citizens were forced to wade through raw sewage by overzealous soldiers.

Not only did that debunk the ‘disciplined forces’ tag normally attached to the army, but it also painted the Government as uncaring.

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Without doubt, it is the work of national security agents to provide security for both dignitaries and citizens. Mombasa has a myriad of security challenges, from terrorism to drug peddling and ordinary crime.

Physical security checks for hidden weapons like guns and knives on people entering specific public venues are permissible. However, that is where we draw the line. Going beyond these security checks to forcing people to swim in sewage is unacceptable.

Treating innocent citizens, whose only crime is to heed the Government’s call to turn up in large number for the Madaraka Day fete, like sewage, stinks to high heaven. That calls for an unconditional apology from the Kenya Defence Forces headquarters.

Sadly, this is not the first time soldiers have misbehaved in Mombasa. In August, they terrorised residents of Mtongwe for hours following the brutal murder of their colleague.

While these soldiers should have been publicly reprimanded and punished, they were not. Clearly, such behaviour cannot be allowed to take root in a country that professes democracy and guarantees fundamental rights and freedoms.

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Public trust and participation in policing are critical to national security. It is only when citizens feel secure and free to volunteer sensitive information to security agencies that some crimes, like youth indoctrination and recruitment into Al Shabaab, can be tackled.

Soldiers and police officers should be our guardians, not tormentors.

Mashujaa Day Mama Ngina Waterfront Park Police Officers

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