The continued attacks on non-locals in the Northern and North Eastern regions of the country raise questions and concerns that require urgent and decisive action. Whereas these attacks have been generally blamed on suspected Al Shabab militants, proponents of this narrative are losing their candour by the day. The Al Shabab angle to the attacks were initially founded on the argument that the group was unhappy with the presence of Kenya forces in Somalia. Their attacks on Kenyans were therefore meant to force the government withdraw its troops from Somalia. Indeed, a section of political and civil society leaders have pushed for Kenya to move out of Somalia. Unfortunately, this perspective has failed to explain why the attacks have mainly been against Kenya when there are several other nations with troops in the Amisom, including our neighbours Uganda, Ethiopia, Burundi and Djibouti.
The other confounding factor in the attacks in Northern and North Eastern Kenya is their focus on non-locals. If indeed it is Al Shabab attacking Kenya to force our troops out of Somalia, why the selective targeting of non-locals – read non-Muslims? Are the locals not also Kenyans whose blood would speak equally loudly to the government to make haste out of Somalia? Or does it mean once this region is rid of non-locals, the Al Shabab would be satisfied and no longer be bothered with the presence of Kenya troops in Somalia? These and many such questions linger in the minds of many. What becomes clear is that, whereas initially the Al Shabab did target Kenya in retaliatory attacks – and they said as much – the continued insurgencies require more plausible explanation.
After the attack on Christian students at Garissa University, President Uhuru Kenyatta issued a strong statement condemning those behind the attack. The President argued that these were people driven by “a tyrannical ideology that seeks to establish a Caliphate in Somalia, and the North Eastern and Coastal counties of our country.”
Considering that Presidents do not generally speak casually, at least not in a written speech, the idea of a caliphate may have escaped the ears of many but is one that should have been taken seriously. This is especially because, our immediate neighbour, the original Sudan, has had a long history chequered by the effects of strenuous attempts to establish a caliphate.
Through efforts of one ascetic religious leader, Mohammed Ahmed, Sudan had its first taste of a caliphate in the late 1800s when Sudan was turned into an Islamic state in imitation of the early caliphate. These efforts continued through successive leaders, bringing extreme puritanism in everyday life of the population – posing a challenge especially to non-Muslims. A nation whose name literally means “Land of the Blacks” became totally devastated, with the said blacks finding themselves constricted to the undeveloped South. It is this that stirred a long running conflict that eventually led to the split of the nation into Sudan and South Sudan only a few years ago.
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Whether President Kenyatta might have had this in mind when he spoke after the Garissa attack, is not clear. But, he issued a strong warning, “We tell those who believe that a Caliphate is possible in Kenya that we are one indivisible, sovereign, and democratic state. That fact will never change. Our forefathers bled and died for this nation and we will do everything to defend our way of life.” But, did those who might be behind such a move ever listen or even care?
Superficially, it seems the security of non-locals in Northern and North Eastern region could be readily sorted out if the local leaders demonstrated a stronger show of solidarity with workers from outside the region. A local multi-sectorial team comprising religious, political, administrative, and community leaders would be formed to create systems that ensure the safety of non-locals. Such a team would hopefully also come up with programs that would guarantee long term religious and intercultural coexistence in the region.
It is disturbing, however, that the efforts that are currently underway in this region, both by government and by the local leadership, is to evacuate the non-locals. In fact, after the recent attack that saw two teachers killed, the TSC was quick to clarify that the slain teachers were not their employees. The Mandera County TSC Director, Ahmed Jimale, was categorical that TSC had moved all the non-local teachers from the area, “As we speak, none is teaching in such like areas,” he said. A great assurance that however raises the question: Who is curving out this part of the nation, and for what purpose?
- The writer is the Presiding Bishop of Christ is the Answer Ministries. [email protected]