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Kenya's Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiangi (right) with UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace when they signed an agreement in Nairobi in January 2021.

Fifth Estate

The UK can do more to strengthen Security relations with Kenya

Kenya and the United Kingdom continue to partner in key security cooperation programs exhibiting the two countries’ commitment in strengthening long-term diplomatic ties.

For the past three years, Kenya has attracted renewed interest from the UK that led to official visit by President Uhuru Kenyatta to London in January 2020 where he met UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The visit was preceded by one to Kenya by the former Prime Minister, Theresa May, in August 2019, which was the first time in close to three decades a UK Prime Minister had been in the country.

As part of the pillars of the Strategic Partnership agreed upon during the visits, the Kenya–UK Security Compact was established, and has since seen security dialogues become a consistent feature in the bilateral relations between the two countries. Three high-level meetings have been held so far between delegations co-chaired by Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Interior, Dr. Fred Matiang’i, and the UK Secretary of Defense, Hon. Ben Wallace, with a view to exploring more areas of collaboration in addressing shared security threats, including serious organized crime, human trafficking, cyber security, corruption and terrorism.

In the most recent security meeting held in Nairobi, Dr. Matiang’i highlighted the extent to which illegal firearms have emboldened criminal youth engaging in cattle-rustling, banditry, and farm invasions in the Northern part of the country. Many civilians – both local and foreign – as well as Kenyan security officers have lost their lives in these violent crimes. Interestingly, the UK has a British Army Training Unit (BATUK) stretching from Laikipia County to Isiolo through Samburu. The facility has been operational since 1964 following a memorandum of understanding signed between the Kenyan and British governments.

Owing to the varied forms of BATUK’s training that are customized for the hilly terrain and harsh climatic conditions of Northern Kenya, the UK has the capacity to offer more support programmes to Kenya’s Anti Stock Theft Unit, including ground and aerial surveillance. Drills in techniques such as transit flying along valleys as well as landing on remote sites and ridges can go a long way in securing the Kerio and Suguta valleys. Similarly, non-proliferation of illegal firearms strategies as well as anti-gun trafficking tactics would be welcome to complement Kenya’s ongoing disarmament efforts.

On preventing terrorism and countering violent extremism, Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Amb. Martin Kimani, earlier this year made a public policy-provoking case advocating countries to develop approaches that protect religious and cultural sites against terrorist attacks. In his statement, he delved into the significance of such sites and monuments on the local communities’ identities. This in mind, the war against terrorism in the Coast region of Kenya, with a focus on the Al-Shabaab, is much in the ideological sphere of identity as it is in the combative.

Youth are radicalized to believe in distorted histories and false religious narratives that are a far cry from the indigenous Kenyan cultures as well as religious identities unique to coastal communities. With the UK already being one of the greatest partners in documentation and archiving of Kenya’s natural and cultural heritage, there need to intensify efforts to restore the collective history of Coastal communities in collaboration with the Museums of Kenya and other relevant stakeholders. Cultural sites, traditions and monuments must regain their place and dignity in cultivating a sense of belonging among Kenya’s youth and future generations.

The author is a Postgraduate Student in Public Policy at the University of Nairobi, Kenya

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