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Speak loudly against forced disappearances of Al Shabaab suspects

By Suleiman Shahbal | November 15th 2021

I have read hundreds of books and watched many movies and documentaries about the dirty wars of South America, the most notorious being the Pinochet regime in Chile. The recurrent feature in all those stories is the case of disappearing men and women, abducted, tortured and murdered by the security forces.

The story is always the same, it's justified as the war against the communists, terrorists, the guerillas or some similar dark excuse. But ultimately there is no justification for such violent actions. Ultimately, such tactics do not enhance democracy or strengthen security. In fact, countries that use such tactics end up with authoritarian regimes with no respect for human rights or rights of any kind.

I never in my wildest dreams ever imagined that our country would come to that. According to Haki Africa, more than 43 young men suspected of being terrorist sympathisers or members Al-Shabaab have been abducted by security forces in Mombasa. Today, the best excuse is Islamic extremism.

Sadly, some of these young men are indeed Al-Shabaab sympathisers, but the vast majority are not. Many are picked up on pure suspicion. One cannot imagine the agony of the parents of these young men. The mind is a powerful tool for the imagination, and one starts to imagine all the dark thoughts that can possibly go into their minds. Many of these young people have completely been “disappeared”.

What happened to constitutional rights? Isn’t this the one defence that we should all have? “Justice be our shield and defender” as the national anthem says. This has been going on for years but no one has been called to account over the abductions. Why? Many foreign embassies often criticise our government for various reasons, but they stay silent when people disappear.

In the past, it was the fight against communism that was used to justify supporting unsavoury regimes like Mobutu Seseko’s. With hindsight, we can now see that supporting such regimes did not do any good; most of those countries are still suffering from the results of misrule.

The silence of the newspapers has been deafening. Lawyers, students and citizens have disappeared. Next journalists will also start to disappear for writing unfavourable stories. The disappearance of politicians is news, but people soon lose interest when ordinary people disappear. This must stop.

Any study on terrorism tells us that torture and the disappearance of people only increase the appeal of terrorism. Kill one and it creates an army of sympathisers. A study of American torture tactics against Al Qaeda suspects only led to false intelligence and unreliable intelligence. It also led to increasing in terrorism.

We need to go back to our core values and respect for human rights. If sympathisers believe that they will never get justice and could be arrested, tortured or killed, then we are pushing them into a corner and making them more radical. If they feel they have no chance of returning home, they will continue being terrorists.  

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