Thursday June 26 2014

War on terror in Kenya should not be lost in a political football

By Karoli Ssemogerere

Tempers in Kenya continue to rise. Kenya is East Africa’s largest economy; Africa’s fourth largest economy. Instability in Kenya can quickly turn into a regional catastrophe. Kenya shares borders with the epicentre of conflicts in Africa today; South Sudan and Somalia. Its seaboard, the Indian Ocean from time to time has escalated into lawlessness as pirates have turned the sea into a venue for merchandising forcibly boarding vessels. In 2013, Kenyans concluded nearly a decade of constitution making with a historically close election. Coming so close after the 2007 election which ended in an ethnic bloodbath, this was a historic achievement. New political institutions have sprung up and partly due to the stakes, formal political dealing has gifted Kenya with two fairly matched political blocs. A pluralist political platform means more checks on government’s excesses. The County experiment, dispersing political and spending power across 47 counties has opened new opportunities all across Kenya.
Visiting Kenya during the March 2013 election and travelling deep in its heartland to Nakuru scene of some of the worst ethnic clashes in 2007 was a big eye-opener. A strong economic recovery had mitigated tensions and people patiently waited for election results. The subsequent presidential election petition kept Kenya and the world on its toes until it was determined. Unlike neighbouring Uganda, the results of the petition were accepted by the losing side. But this flowery phase has not been able to break into some of the more disturbing features of Kenyan society. The steep divide between the capitalist divide and the working classes is alarming. Kenya has a large middle class built on decades of stability but also a rapidly rising under-class. Kenya also has another disturbing feature; ethnic enclaves of large ethnic minorities specifically Somalis and Asians whose social and economic lives are independent of the mainstream around them. These don’t bode well for an egalitarian society. Kenya’s political economy has always been harsh on people outside power but the current political dispensation on both sides of the divide comprises the same political elite that has been in power since independence. All leading presidential candidates in 2013, for example, had served as either cabinet ministers and senior state officials in the last decade and therefore were as much part of the past as the future.
Kenya’s notorious corruption has not spared the new Uhuru-Ruto administration. Corruption networks are as pervasive today as they have been in the past. It is accomplished by a stroke of the pen and use of state power. Such is the spoils system. However, the underlying anecdote that connects the Nairobi terror attacks and the Mpeketoni bloodbath last week, is that deeper into the structures of the state, the security apparatus supposed to ensure existence of the very state the rot is being glossed over. The recent reports of smuggled ivory and armed poachers operating with impunity in Game Parks, and the likely wheel dealing that may surround a necessary materiel build up to bolster Kenya’s defenses are worrying.
Kenya’s political classes can be selfish and this may delay a unified response to the threat facing Kenya today. Undoing the spoils system that is five decades old will not come overnight. This explains even why routine house-cleaning like the historical recasting of the historical Judiciary did not prevent a major corruption scandal from engulfing the high and mighty, including the Chief Justice and Registrar of the Courts. Reformers have proven no match for rough and tumble of Kenya’s streetwise politics.
At a certain point, however, everyone has to wake up. No economy can sustain blood bathed stories for long. With its lofty economic goals and tight finances, the government cannot afford to put the wrong step forward at any cost.

Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law and an Advocate.