BY MACHEL WAIKENDA
“As president of the United States, I’m also somebody who deeply believes that part of the bedrock strength of this country is that it embraces people of many faiths and of no faith…While the United States is still predominantly Christian…we have Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, and . . . their own path to grace is one that we have to revere and respect as much as our own.” – Barack Obama.
Once the guns fell silent, 17 teachers lay dead in Mandera County, alongside 11 others, whose only crime was that they were Christians and could not recite sections of the Koran. Next to them were shaken and traumatised fellow bus passengers who had been forced to witness cold-blooded executions, conducted ostensibly in the name of God.
The country was outraged – both Christian and Muslim alike – and am sure adherents of all other faiths; an intense blame-game ensued; threats and denials were made; the National Intelligence Service came up for further scrutiny; and the faceless Al Shabaab top brass gloated at the bloodletting their foot soldiers had wrought.
Police blamed their lethargic response to the gun assault on a shortage of personnel and equipment of inferior quality. They pointed an accusing finger at the “sophisticated weaponry” in the enemy’s arsenal for their inaction. Meanwhile Al-Shabaab recorded its 135th successful assault on Kenyan targets since Kenya defence Forces entered Somalia in October 2011.
Even as scores of villages mourn their dead, coming so soon after the Lamu ambush that claimed 100 innocent lives and the unforgettable Westgate Mall outrage of September last year in which 67 people were mowed down, questions linger.
At whose doorstep does the buck of runaway insecurity stop? What is being done about addressing the shortfall in numbers of boots on the ground to UN-recommended levels?
We know that the National Government has instituted major reforms in the security sector as promised in its manifesto. Sh4 billion has been allocated for purchase of new security equipment while 17,000 new police officers were employed during the first year of the Jubilee government. Sh1.6 billion has been put into the CID forensic lab to be ready by 2016 while construction of 20,000 police houses has commenced in Ruai. Why then it this investment not paying off by securing the country?
Further, is the budget sufficient to upgrade the weapons arsenal of the police service? Is the delicate issue of motivation of the rank-and-file members of the security teams being prioritised? What efforts are being made to ensure recruitment is streamlined and corruption-free?
Surely, Kenyans should not cry foul about the ineptitude of security agents when the recruiting grounds have been so compromised and the bar lowered so that only “paying customers” get to join the police ranks. Is the issue of devolving some aspects of security to county governments being discussed, just like the conversation regarding other resources and functions?
Is Al Shabaab becoming stronger or have they changed tack and left Kenyan security agents flat-footed? Have the scattered victories KDF has registered made Kenyans misconstrue Al Shabaab to be a disorganized, clueless rag-tag militia on the run?
Have religious and political leaders downplayed the rise and rise of Islamic extremism? Is there any credence to the refrain of systematic discrimination and marginalisation of Muslims? If so, what are the concerned authorities doing to address the hopelessness and victim mentality stoking the embers of radicalization?
Extremism thrives on engendering fear because there are criminal elements that thrive in lawlessness. The Lamu assault has mortally wounded the tourism industry at the coast. The frequent attack on transporters is raising a fearful nation so that passengers will cut down on moving goods, services.
Mandera is the latest victim and true to profile, doctors and teachers unions are calling on a brain drain from the region. Why should we give in so meekly? Americans, for instance, hunt down killers of their citizens to all corners of the globe. There must be something to learn from this resolute action.
Constant anti-government rhetoric in the political echo chamber makes us miss one unstated fact: where are the voices of moderation and true Muslims to avoid the blanket profiling that is just waiting for one such unfortunate opportunity to be sprung?
Will the real Muslims stand up for their faith, clean up their places of worship so they do not become dens of jihadists intent on derailing our chosen way of life? Can they prove that theirs is religion of peace and way of life rather than an instrument of fear and intolerance?
We have a collective responsibility to ensure that we remain secure as individuals and as a society. And like Obama says, only then shall we respect every person’s diversity, race, creed, culinary taste and “path to grace as much as our own”.
(The writer is a political and communications consultant. Twitter @MachelWaikenda)