Covid-19 unquestionably presents an era-defining challenge to Kenya’s national security. As it is with every region of the world, the first case of the Coronavirus disease in Kenya came from exposure to international contacts — travel, trade, tourism, or business.
For Kenya, the pandemic came at an exceptionally delicate moment with the country facing numerous development challenges. Emerging as a public health issue, the pandemic quickly transformed itself into a security, governance, and development concern affecting the entire political and socio-economic spectrum.
Furthering terrorism course
Terrorism often thrives in an environment of instability and chaos. As the Covid-19 pandemic engulfs the country, Al Shabaab has escalated its campaign in counties bordering Somalia.
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In a February 16 recording, an al Shabaab spokesman attempted to persuade ethnic Somalis in the area to support the group in arguing that that non-Somalis treat ethnic Somalis in the region like second-class citizens and appealed to economic anxieties driven by unemployment.
As Covid-19 spreads, and measures to contain it begin to bite, the Government will certainly face a surge of public discontent if it cannot keep the pandemic under control. Conversely, al Shabaab could exploit socioeconomic and political anxieties arising from Covid-19 related disruptions.
Rise in masked crime and police recklessness
The economic impact of cessation of movement to and from Nairobi has devastated low-income businesses. The restriction on movement has disrupted trade and food supply as the volumes of goods arriving in the city have drastically reduced.
The decline in job opportunities has increased economic deprivation and idleness — two factors very integral in influencing crime. As a result, there has been an upsurge of crime in Nairobi’s Runda, Lavington, Ruaka, and other neighbourhoods.
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Exploiting the use of masks, and the commitment of the police in enforcing Covid-19 mitigation and suppression measures elsewhere, criminals have intensified their activities often striking at will.
Additionally, reports of violence meted on the public by police enforcing curfew and other directives have also been rife. Police brutality has resulted in run-ins and flare-ups with motorcycle taxis (boda boda) and other members of the public resulting in the death of innocent Kenyans.
The death of a 13-year-old boy following stray police bullets in Kiamaiko, Nairobi illustrates the scale of violence police has meted on the public under the guise of enforcing Covid-19 containment measures.
Strangling crisis management and conflict resolution structures
The Covid-19 pandemic has damaged Crisis Management and Conflict Resolution Mechanisms, severely weakening the capacity of national institutions to serve conflict-affected areas.
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More broadly, the disease means that national leaders, focused as they are on dramatic health issues, have little to no time to devote to conflict or peace processes.
As a result, there has been an upsurge of banditry and cattle-related conflict in areas that had initially been managed like the Baringo-Turkana border and in Nkararo-Enoretet in Trans-Mara West sub-county leading to the extension of the dusk-to-dawn curfew from 4 pm to 7 am. This limits the time available for productive activities further increasing economic vulnerability.
Covid-19 has placed great stress on society and the political system, creating new while exacerbating existing crimes. Its effects have so far laid bare the strains that the government is facing in trying to curb contagion while keeping economy afloat and public order intact.
If the coming period is not dealt with wisely, it could be marked by major disruptions in already conflict-ridden areas and a far more fragile system.
To mitigate the possibility of Covid-19 bringing about a new generation of security crises, the government is aiming to limit the pandemic’s impact could consider keeping peace processes and conflict prevention efforts alive by working with peace/security envoys and other mediators in hotspot counties.
The government should also consider reducing the number of security personnel on private assignments and redeploy them to areas that have witnessed an upsurge in Covid-19 induced insecurity or those facing unique challenges that could be exploited by radical groupings.
-The writer is a researcher at ACAL Covid-19 Thinktank