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We need a governance and rule of law leader

By Dennis Kabaara | Jan 16th 2022 | 5 min read

Security tends to be a private discussion in Kenya. It has many definitions. For the ordinary person in Kenya, it is about safety and security in private places and public spaces. This is a personal matter; according to one of the five family/household needs that this column advocates.

But security is also a government matter. We have the Ministry of Interior where police and prisons are located. We also have the national security sector comprising armed forces and intelligence personnel. Combined, it is a finely and delicately balanced mix of “Officers and Gentlemen”, to paraphrase that unforgettable movie.

Presenting this simple framework as initial context, a colleague asked testing questions across our WhatsApp group in the context of disturbing events in Lamu. To quote, “all these Kenyans facing death, torture and maiming in a country where there are various layers of security bodies? What are the victims supposed to think and do? Lamu, the West Pokot/Baringo/Marakwet/Turkana barbaric triangle, the Samburu/Marsabit/Isiolo/Meru killing field going on unabated since independence? Why have our successive presidents never been held accountable for these atrocities?” These are starting questions.

A more holistic perspective might ask these questions of the entirety of Kenya, beginning with our North Eastern frontiers, coming to our Coastal regions, delving into our Rift to Western Kenya and not forgetting our country’s central, south-east and west. But yes, you guessed it, security is not on any single presidential agenda presented to Kenyans so far.

As a state secret, it will not feature in any manifesto. An important reason for this is that security, as said before, needs a justice system to protect people’s rights. And no politician wants a justice system that works. This is a particularly neo-colonial African problem.

On WhatsApp, colleagues offered interesting perspectives. The “death” of Moi-era civil society was offered as a challenge in that there is no longer voice. The larger point is civil society has not transitioned into “civic society” - a societal group that promotes civic behaviour. Or, put differently, a popular movement that understands that civic education is the first, important step; but civic empowerment is the real game-changer.  In a practical and visual sense, this would be about standing up to the harassment of enforcement authorities – police, “kanjo” and the like. This is why Kenya needs governance and a rule of law leader, not an “it’s the economy, stupid!” banjo player. Its leadership discipline, then we’re good!

A further WhatsApp response suggested that our national security infrastructure treats conflict as an insecurity problem. Or rather, that all conflict is unnecessarily classified as insecurity. If this is the case, it is a failure of our government and governance. More cynically, it might also be that official and unofficial banditry by enforcement authorities on Kenyans is within a national social and economic design that separates the advantaged from the disadvantaged. The uniformed dress style of these enforcers might confirm this different perspective. Unlike the investigators who prefer ill-fitting suits.

There are two big security pictures in all of this. First, we don’t really mind internal security. The legendary story we are told is that your normal public enforcer (start with the police) has multiple sources of income – badge, cap, gun/fimbo, uniform, boots etc. This is why one of the critical success factors in policing – combating crime – is a side exercise, while another – preventing crime – is not lucrative.  Before we get to real work – investigating (researching) and then detecting (finding) crime.

Second, in a place where advantaged must not meet disadvantaged, it makes more sense to focus on security threats at our borders, rather than within them. In other words, let us keep our core security agenda foreign, not domestic. Colonialism, imperialism and the threat of foreign invasion and occupancy are far more deadly than local poverty, ignorance and disease. The “freedom from fear” trumps the “freedom from want”. Which ironically creates the exact insecurity that follows inequality and injustice.

There is an obvious contradiction and dilemma here. As the last question on WhatsApp asks, “why have (our) successive presidents not been held and brought to account?” After all, as this column has said before in seeking governance and rule of law leaders, we have effectively had three securocrat and one technocrat presidencies. It is not beyond our “sights and sounds” to observe that the current presidency revels in security (internal), military (external) and intelligence (both) matters; has basically transferred key functions to the same; and loves the occasion to dress up in the necessary regalia.

To be fair, he has also multiplied our security budgets with a massive load of the hardware.  There are new toys, tools and buildings now available, if not visible. We can now manufacture guns and bullets. Ostensibly, this is an export strategy. In reality, it is more unaccountable public money with pending results. In truth, it is unclear if this is part of our internal or external national security strategy framework.

Mostly, how has this bettered our public places and private spaces? How has this addressed our Vision 2030 dream of a country (and people) free of predictable danger and actual fear before we address the “wants” at the source of our internecine conflictual bad habits? This raises the bigger point of where our supposed future governance and rule of law leadership is thinking. And how he or she addresses those WhatsApp questions. For “little people”, Kenya does not change or transform without a proper security frame that is non-invasive. For the avoidance of doubt, ‘proper” means internal before external.

This brings us to a second interesting contradiction with the Uhuru administration formerly known as Jubilee Administration. Akin to the powerful parastatal reform agenda set out in the early days – which has not happened - there was a human security agenda. It was easy to believe that these were not mere words, but fresh thinking around the idea that an internally-secure Kenya is, by default, externally secure.  Tragically, initial posts and space on the Executive Office of Presidency website are as dead as a dodo.

Part of the rationale for this loss of focus clearly resides in a realisation of the advantaged versus disadvantaged agenda that sustains a state of Kenyan politics that uses aggression from police and local enforcement while diverting massive public resources to the protection of the self-same politicians.

The frightening part for 2022 is that in the governance-economy-security framework that will define our next leader, security is the private secret.  In the next part, let us revisit security from election-winning governance and rule of law perspective. 2022 is not about terribly harsh questions, but truly hard ones. We shall explore a couple of crazy thoughts to fix our politics, society and economy using a security lens.

To repeat, our safety and security in private places and public spaces is not up for discussion. An insecure country never actually grows or develops, and it is no one’s right to attribute this to the bent of culture.

And, no presidential candidate (security being a national function) is talking security. Watch this space.

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