Presidential candidates: Tell us how we are going to be safe

AP officers on a march during a past parade at Embakasi training school. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Safety and security are personal. They mean one is able to walk through Nairobi’s streets, for example, without fear and with a belief that one is free from personal danger.

This is what Kenya Vision 2030 promises Kenyans. We also have a Constitution which offers a fine balance between our security and our rights.

The balance in this is a justice system that works, for without justice, there can be no peace. Without peace, there can be no inclusive prosperity and sustainable progress for all Kenyans. This is our basic debate. 

However, it is a debate that is not happening. The different conversation that is happening in our increasingly confrontational political space is about our micro-economics, not our macro-governance. The first signal of this is basically illegal political campaigns outside of officially mandated campaign timelines.

In the properly implemented Head of State who is also Head of Government system which the Kenya Constitution envisages, there are two ways to define our personal safety and security. Although campaigns have started, no prospective 5th president has offered either. Let us walk through these ways.

The first way – because security is the key difference between a president and a governor – is to look at our borders, relations and the interests therein. This has been our way. But our history of border disputes, on land and sea, suggests we are not doing a good job of it. It is not that we cannot find diplomatic angles to fix external security situations, but we actually want to make money from them.

This suggests, from a security perspective, we lack, by design or incompetence, a coherent foreign policy agenda. But, more significantly, we really do not have an external (as in our borders) security agenda.

The second way might try to fix this. The Uhuru Administration has pumped in large amounts of money into the security agenda (police/army/intelligence) but the experience for everyday Kenyans has not changed.

Interior CS Fred Matiang'i with security administrators in Nyamira, January 2022. [File, Standard]

While investing billions in security hardware, the Kenyan software remains unaffected and unchanged. Protection rackets are part of the course for most small and medium size enterprises.  Daily bribery fees are the done thing. Whatever happened to our multi-billion urban CCTV experiment?  Lots of hardware but no software?

There might be a third way. It is a way that accepts our limits. It is a perspective that takes Kenya away from instrumental to philosophical thinking about our security, and then our nation’s. Fortunately, the United Nations did a bit of this thinking in popularising the concept of human security in its 1994 Human Development Report.

A Commission on Human Security was established in 2001 to add meat to the initial conceptual thinking based on two interlocking ideas: Freedom from want and fear.

The result of the commission’s work, in its own words, was a call “to protect the vital core of all human lives in ways that enhance human freedoms and human fulfillment.

Security means protecting fundamental freedoms – those that are the essence of life. It means protecting people from critical (severe) and pervasive (widespread) threats and situations.

It also means using processes that build on people’s strengths and aspirations and creating political, social, environmental, economic, military and cultural systems that together give people the building blocks of survival, livelihood and dignity.”

Three points emerged from this new view on security.  First, it was less about protecting the State (mostly from external aggression) and more about protecting and empowering the individual. Second, it offered a positive spin on the idea of security by linking it to rights-based human development. Finally, its definition spoke to a modern and integrated take on security beyond guns and gunships. That is the history and the theory.

What would a security agenda for a governance and rule of law leader look like? To quote from the literature, there is a ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ perspective to security. The ‘top-down’ perspective is a call for State protection from threats beyond human control. 

The ‘bottom-up’ perspective speaks to empowerment of people to develop their resilience and adaptability to difficult situations. Note two key words here; protection and empowerment. Are these not the terms differentiating our two-horse presidential campaign before OKA decides what or whom it wants?

What of the agenda itself? To put it simply, the UN’s work identified seven ‘types’ of security. Let us walk through each in turn.

First is economic security. The agenda here is to address poverty, inequality and unemployment while second, food security. Think about an agenda that addresses hunger and famine, not drought.

The third is health security. Our current Covid-19 moment is a case in point, but the broader agenda must speak to health care access, food and nutrition and people’s lifestyles and living conditions.

Security means protecting fundamental freedoms. [File, Standard]

Fourth is environmental security. This is about dealing with the impact of degradation and disaster, and the really big idea of sustainability in a world struggling to cope with climate change.

Smart readers will see that these first four security strands are the self-same ones that would drive a coherent socio-economic agenda for Kenya. To which we may now add the final three. Political security that fights repression and human rights abuses; community security that deals with unfortunate “madoadoa” language and other forms of identity-driven exclusion and personal security that harks back to our private and public places, and deals with the extremes of terrorism on the one hand, and domestic violence on the other. To reiterate an earlier article, a human-secure nation is a livable country.

What could this sort of agenda mean for the design of government?  Maybe we establish the world’s first National Human Security Council that extends beyond our men and women in uniform to our humanity. Possibly, a fresh view on why our internal security agenda for the people is just as important as our external security agenda about the monopoly of violence that we call the State, and its government agents.

However, here’s the really big game-changing idea for the ‘governance and rule of law’ leader we seek; that the only thing that makes true sense to Kenyans might be the fine balance between ‘top-down’ protection and ‘bottom-up’ empowerment across the seven-part human security agenda we have just described. Put differently, if we got macro-governance right through this security lens, our micro-economics will too.

Yes, safety and security are private and personal. What we miss in our electoral lenses, especially for the presidency, is this three-dimensional view; the interlocking spurs between governance, security and the economy.  Which suggests the next national leader should be someone who can walk the stairs and chew gum at the same time.

In the meanwhile, why not try a human security discussion with the next tough enforcer you encounter?