BY MANOAH ESIPISU
When the President addressed the nation after the Mandera quarry attacks, he spoke plainly. He was blunt about the task facing us in terms of security, and in terms of the identity and character of our enemy. No room for confusion remains. This is not mere insecurity: we are at war with a tenacious and malevolent enemy.
We must be perfectly clear. Our enemy is not a threat to one region, location or a certain people. Their ambition reaches further than that: they want to bring pain to each Kenyan. All they need to know is that you believe that women should be educated, or that people of different religions can live together in peace, and you qualify for harm. All they need to know is that the red, black, green and white are your colours, and they will bring you death.
Let me bluntly state my next point: Islam is not our enemy. There have been Muslims in Kenya as long as there has been a Kenya.
There have been Muslims at our coast for a thousand years. Muslims, and Islam, are part of what it is to be Kenyan. Freedom of worship is written into our constitution, and the peaceful coexistence of religions is woven into our social fabric. The terrorists have killed many Muslims, hoping to divide and destroy us. They will fail.
The enemy is the more dangerous because he has agents within our borders. Their children go to the same school as yours or mine; we shop in the same malls, and walk the same streets. They lurk in silence and darkness, waiting to kill.
We have not faced an enemy like this since the colonialists. No generation since independence has faced an existential threat this real.
No President has led this nation with so much at stake. We must respond. He must respond.
The truth is that we are not yet configured to fight this enemy. The conventional way will no longer do. We need to stop attacks before they happen; we need to infiltrate the planning of terror attacks and the recruitment and radicalization of the eventual attackers; and we need to make sure that the enemy cannot use our freedoms against us.
We should begin with structural changes to our security apparatus, so that we can move as quickly and silently as our enemies. If not, the upper hand will be theirs. In a war for the survival of the nation, this is not an event we can allow.
We need also to cut the bureaucracy in the police force, and to allow the President a free hand to hire and fire the top men and women of our security services. This puts responsibility squarely in the President’s hands, which is appropriate, given that he is the country’s senior elected leader. The displeasure of the President, and by extension of the people, will be brought directly to bear on the management of our security. Top cops will then be left no room for laxity in the performance of their duties.
It is also clear that we need to see and hear what those who intend to hurt us are seeing and hearing. It is critical to our ability to stop them. There are those who claim that we should not encroach on the rights of those who seek to do us harm; that the very freedoms terrorists seek to shatter through pain and death cover them as well. They claim that, in the face of an imminent threat, we should concern ourselves more with freedoms and privileges. They are quite simply mistaken.
The changes we seek in our security apparatus do not target the opposition or critics of the government. This administration does not deal with such via security organs. If anything, the opposite is true: the security organs of the state protect the opposition and civil society. Rather than play petty politics with a matter of grave national interest, it is time for both camps to offer alternative solutions to our challenges. They are welcome to do so: if they want to talk seriously about the challenges we face, the nation awaits their contributions. But Kenyans will not pay attention when they cry wolf. We can no longer afford these pointless political sideshows.
We will not allow our freedoms to be used against us. This country has perhaps the freest media on the continent. As we have seen, that freedom has occasionally been misused. A particularly ugly example is the publication of gruesome photos, which inadvertently aid the terrorists. The media do not live in a foreign country. They have an obligation to consider Kenya’s national interest, especially in this time of war. I trust they will take these words to heart.
The threat we face is real, and we must act decisively to defeat it. That is what the President is doing.
(Esipisu is President Kenyatta’s Spokesman)