What ails Kenya’s national security system

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BY MWENDA NJOKA

There is no denying that in the last couple of months, the country has had to deal with a swarm of security challenges. The knee-jerk reaction of the political class as well as citizens and denizens of social media has been to personalise the problems in a merry-go-round-like blame game.

But while we are quick to blame and even niftier to cast the first stone, we adopt the supersonic speed of a sloth to offer ‘solutions’ to the challenges. We have become like the Medieval Kingdoms where quick-fix ‘solutions’ (if solutions they were) was to have someone’s head under the guillotine.

If for every persist challenge the only way out is to pacify the public by offering them someone’s head on a platter, then it is unlikely that many people would remain with their heads intact on their necks because as a country we face myriad challenges and many of them will be with us for many years to come.

But for now let us keep our focus on the issue of national security. Our problems in this sector are structural, not individual. When we adopted a new and very progressive Constitution by all means, as well as a new political dispensation, we seem to have inadvertently taken home together with the new Constitution a laissez faire system where anything goes.

Enter the Bill of Rights.
Kenyans (and non-Kenyans) seem to have taken their new-found freedoms (thanks to the country having one of the most liberal Bill of Rights in Africa and beyond) as the cure-all license to engage in all manner of activities – especially of the illegal kind – knowing that once they wave a copy of the Bill of Rights in court, their rights were likely to be considered paramount to the damage their illegal activities may have inflicted.

We can’t blame the courts when they release on bond a suspected terrorist who is accused of planting a grenade that kills a dozen Kenyans because our supreme law (the Constitution) says everyone is entitled to be released on bond, including mass murderers.

When a villager suspected of previous murder runs amok and kills a whole family after being released by court on bond, we cannot blame courts for this because we wished it on ourselves when we appended our collective signatures on the new Constitution without amending the clause that entitled everyone to be released on bond irrespective on their suspected crimes.

Knowing where the country has come from, the Bill of Rights was (and still is) a good idea. But it is an idea that is pretty utopian meant for an ideal Eden that does not exist anywhere in the world, leave along a struggling democracy like ours. It is time Kenyans started having real and tough conversations about amending the Constitution to give courts teeth to bite criminals with. Without thinking along these lines, we shall be doing what people from my community call ‘fetching water with a sieve’ and hoping to fill your container.

Now, away from the Bill of Rights, let us take a quick look at other aspects of the country’s supreme law and how they too have contributed to the emasculation of the institutions that hold together a nation state.

Throwing out the baby with the bath water.
As we were trying to make good the mistakes of previous regimes especially those committed by main actors in National Security namely: the Special Branch (as NIS was then known) , Kenya Police Force (as it then was) and Provincial Administration, we threw out the baby together with the bath water.

We over-restructured the pillars of National Security-: the Intelligence, the Police and the Provincial Administration. Whereas in the previous arrangement the command structures were clear and simple, today what we have (thanks to the new laws) is a confused structure where everyone thinks he or she is an independent agent (thanks, once again to the concept of creating independent structures).

The previous systems may have had its own excesses, but it delivered on one key front: security because the country’s security apparatus worked as one seamless machine with no ‘independent free agents.’

The District Security Committee chaired by the District Commissioner made decisions on security priorities and the local Police and Intelligence bosses had to implement the same to the letter without citing ‘operational independence’.

Today, we have emasculated the former Provincial Administration to a point where it is completely unrecognizable. We have created legal structures, which make the actors in National Security, especially at County level, feel they are independent or autonomous units.

But that is not all, we have enervated the Intelligence establishment so much that it is a pale shadow of itself reduced to the levels of being an advisory bystander in the happenings. The same scalpel was used to cut down the Police into a mere ‘Service’. Clearly, this is not how you secure a country facing innumerable security challenges. Until and unless we address structural issues through appropriate legislative action- not politicking and personalizing issues – the country’s security will continue being in jeopardy and unable to respond in kind to terrorists and others who wish to harm us.

What the country did cumulatively as a reaction to excesses of the past was to erode and weaken and progressively security institutions while strengthening human rights component. We must urgently find a way of balancing human rights with national security interests otherwise we will end up with national security institutions which are toothless bulldogs, all bark and no bite.

To paraphrase (and turn around) the words of Stanley Baldwin, former British Prime Minister: “authority without power is the prerogative of the eunuch.” That is the kind of a situation the country’s security agents are working under.

(The writer is the Spokesman in the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government. The views expressed herein are his own.)

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