It is a difficult time for our country. It is a difficult time for the world.
Last week, the Lebanese city port of Beirut witnessed a massive disaster following an explosion that left over a hundred people dead and thousands more injured. The events leading to the explosion are still shrouded in speculation.
Here at home, many disasters afflict our people. From road accidents to floods to famines and diseases, lives continue to be lost.
Then there is the coronavirus that has visited untold misery to the world. Every waking day, we are greeted with news of soaring infections, hospitalisation and deaths.
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But there is also the threat of terrorism always lurking around us.
Although the coronavirus pandemic has reorganised the order of our national priorities, the threat posed by terrorism has remained near the top of our agenda. Those seeking to do us harm do not sleep or slumber. They are on the constant lookout for opportunities to attack when they determine us to be at our weakest.
Despite the fact that the widespread nature of the pandemic has in many cases assisted in ridding society of political and religious divides, serving to bring people together, terror organisations continue to seek ways to undermine this, sowing fear and hatred along the way.
President Uhuru Kenyatta has regularly and consistently expressed his concern over the growing threat which terrorism poses to our region and to Kenya in particular. He most recently publicly emphasised this in 2019 while addressing the United Nations General Assembly, where he called on, “the international community to support Member States in this region to strengthen national capacities and resilience against terrorism”. The need for this support, despite the global focus on the Covid-19 pandemic, is more evident today than ever before.
The direct economic impact of the pandemic has had many side effects on society. When people are struggling to feed their families, they will do almost anything to change their reality. Covid-19 has thus provided extensive recruitment opportunities for terror organisations, which often prey on the weak and destitute members of society.
Such people carry out the missions of terror organisations, often out of desperation and against their better judgement, expecting much needed financial assistance in return. With neighbouring Somalia already facing a precarious economic situation before the outbreak of Covid-19, the fallout from the pandemic is bound to significantly assist organisations like Al Qaida and Al Shabab in terms of recruitment.
Despite a tremendous amount of time being focused on winning our war against Covid-19, the President has not overlooked the equally deadly threat that terrorism can pose. He has remained steadfast in the face of the Al Shabab threat, issuing stern warnings regarding the wide-scale implications of potential provocations. Coronavirus has indeed not reduced the dedication of our government to ensuring the territorial integrity and sovereignty of our country.
Despite being threats of very different kinds, coronavirus and terrorism have a lot more in common than one might see at first. This is particularly evident in the way they are handled. Both are international problems that require international cooperation to be comprehensively overcome. Terrorists often do not stop at national boundaries. They see our common way of life as a threat to their ideologies that in their eyes, must be defeated. As we have seen, coronavirus similarly does not differentiate between holders of different passports.
The leadership has emphasised international responses to both of these issues. As we have seen over the past few months, international collaboration has been an instrumental part of Uhuru’s battle against Covid-19. On the terrorism front, international partners such as Uganda and Ethiopia have helped mitigate national security threats. As Uhuru explained in a France 24 interview, “No single country alone can combat terrorism”.
Coronavirus and terror are also similar in the way in which they provide ample opportunities for extremists to play on people’s worries and underscore uncertainty. In the case of coronavirus, this can clearly be seen through cynical actors who have amplified fake news reports in order to score political gains. To protect our nation from such untruthful reports and to emphasise the severity of these, our President has gone so far as to order the arrest of those spreading fake news.
The government has worked hard to make sure that dealing with one threat does not come at the expense of our ability to efficiently deal with the other. Our national security apparatus has continued to keep us safe throughout this challenging time, despite our military and police being tasked with extra work assisting in fighting the pandemic.
Extremists will undoubtedly adapt to this new reality and continue to find creative ways to challenge us. At times like these, our nation must remain united and show extremists that our commitment to defending our way of life heavily outweighs their commitment to working to undermine it.
Mr Leo is a public policy analyst. [email protected]