Three soldiers were killed in Garissa in a manner most heinous – we mourn their loss, and unreservedly condemn those that took their lives. The grief is made deeper by the recent loss of over 40 other security officers in a different part of the country. At about the same time, over ten innocent citizens lost their lives in yet another savage and callous terrorist attack on a matatu in Nairobi. Only the hardest of heart, the totally emotionally dead, the psychotically sadistic, would not feel the pain, suffer the grief and weep with their families, their friends, their relatives and their colleagues. Only the truly callous would not demand and pray that their killers be brought to justice and suffer retribution in equal measure.
But Compatriots, sad as they may be, heartbreaking as they are, these were just skirmishes in a potentially long drawn-out war. It does not make strategic sense to lose the war because of misguided acts of revenge that provide opportunity for the inevitable psychopaths and sociopaths within the security forces to freely exercise their deviant tendencies. It does not make sense to alienate a populace that could be an invaluable source of intelligence to pre-empt future attacks and acts of terror. It does not make sense to wantonly destroy property and livelihoods ‘teaching a lesson’ to pupils that are in all likelihood not even in that classroom at the time of teaching the lesson! It does not make sense that so many Kenyans find the action by our security forces in Garissa following that incident excusable, even acceptable. It is even more scary that so many Kenyans support the acts of the hooligans that attacked ethnic Somalis in Eastleigh in Nairobi following the terrorist attack in the city! Every Kenyan that believes in the rule of law, that believes that an individual should only be punished for their personal breaches of the law and nothing else, should hung their head in shame and grief at these events.
“Every time we witness an injustice and do not act, we train our character to be passive in its presence and thereby eventually lose all ability to defend ourselves and those we love.” Julian Asange, Wikileaks Founder
Modern counter-insurgency is first and foremost a battle for hearts and minds. It is a battle fought in the cognitive and normative realms just as much as in the physical theatre of war. The soldier or government seeking to exterminate insurgents must have the people on their side; they must clearly show the people that the insurgent is a common enemy, a danger to both parties. The insurgent often has an advantage – arising from a shared culture, a shared faith, shared grievances and possibly shared aspirations. When he who seeks to defeat the insurgent punishes the entire community for the acts of the insurgent, they are in effect winning the war for the insurgent – they are winning new recruits for the insurgent, disseminating his propaganda for him, providing incontrovertible proof for the insurgent’s disinformation and misinformation. A counterinsurgency operation that is built on brute force and collective punishment is therefore one that loses the people’s hearts and minds, one that serves the insurgent, one that loses the war!
Above all, the rule of law cannot be achieved through acts of lawlessness by officers of law. Our security agencies are not exempt from the law, they are in fact expected to religiously abide by it! The kind of brutal knee-jerk reaction witnessed in Garissa is the hallmark of rag-tag, drug-sodden, blood-thirsty irregulars led by genocidal warlords, NOT a professional outfit like the Kenya Defence Forces! You do not enforce the law by breaking the law; you do not restore order by creating chaos and anarchy; you absolutely do not claim to be punishing the guilty when you torture, rob and rape the innocent; you do not fight terrorism by employing the methods of the terrorists! You cannot punish an entire community for the crimes of a few who may or may not be from that community. Indiscriminately violating the fundamental human rights of Kenyans because other errant Kenyans, and indeed quite possibly hostile non-Kenyans, killed Kenyan security agents and citizens is something all right-thinking Kenyans must condemn. We must demand that the perpetrators be held to account – the perpetrators and those that facilitated their crimes, not an entire community that is by dint of ‘easy solutions’ and pedestrian reasoning assumed to be their supporters or fellow travelers! If there are people in Garissa and Eastleigh harbouring these criminals, let them be dealt with to the full extent of the law – but them and only them, not every member of their community.
The doctrine of mass or community punishment entrenches hate and bitterness, subverts the cause of justice, and aggravates a bad situation. If community punishment is indeed the primitive standard by which our laws are enforced, let us wipe out all the people of Kwale, Kilifi and Mombasa because of the acts of MRC; let us vapourise all the people of Tana River for daring to harbour human vermin that kill Police Officers; let us kill all that moves, both human and beast, in Turkana and Samburu to avenge the deaths of those 42 security officers; let us exterminate all the people of Kiambu, Murang’a, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Nyandarua, Nakuru, Laikipia and Nairobi for the crimes of Mungiki; let us commit genocide in Kisumu for the crimes of the Baghdad Boys, Marines and Chinese gangs; let us live nobody alive in Mt Elgon and Trans-Nzoia for the crimes of the Sabaot Land Defence Force! Indeed let us take it a step farther – let us write into the law that all Kikuyus are thieves and incurably ethnocentric; that all Luos are proud, arrogant and lazy; that all Coastal peoples are ignorant and backward; that all Kisiis and Merus are hot-headed and emotional! Let us legitimise all stereotypes and ethnic insults! Once we have done that, we can in all honesty say that what happened in Garissa and in Eastleigh is fair, legitimate and justifiable!
We cannot normalise the relationship between Kenyan communities by advancing or perpetuating stereotypes and inter-ethnic insults. Law enforcement must be done within the provisions of the law – and those laws should be enforced without fear or favour, but also without prejudice. Northern and North-eastern Kenya have been subject to more rampages by security forces than any other part of the country – massively disproportionately so! I am a firm believer in the law, and retribution for those that break the law – but I reject indiscriminate community punishment because it is unjust and ultimately counter-productive.
We absolutely cannot afford to have any part of the country feel so alienated and disenchanted. Every Kenyan must believe they have a valuable stake and an inalienable interest in their country! It is only those that feel like this, who KNOW that they have invaluable treasures to lose should our country collapse into chaos and anarchy, that will do everything they can possibly do to ensure that the country is protected from all its enemies – both foreign and home-grown.
Of course it would be grievously wrong to condemn the entire KDF for what transpired in Garissa – or anywhere else for that matter where our soldiers have been associated with gross indiscipline and violation of human rights. But both the military authorities and the civilian authorities that have oversight over the military must act decisively when these things happen; that way the message will be clearly sent out that this is neither official policy nor will it be tolerated when it happens. Case in point – a KDF soldier in Operation Linda Nchi was immediately arrested and confined pending investigations after he gunned down a group of Somali nationals at a roadblock . Because of the competent and expeditious manner in which that incident was dealt with, it did not degenerate into the chaos that similar incidents have caused in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere where foreign militaries are engaged. The military and civilian authorities must move very quickly to show that chaos and anarchy are not sanctioned as a means of investigation by either the KDF or Police; they must reassure us that our security and national defence agencies will abide by the law in enforcing the law and when pursuing lawbreakers and enemies of the state. There must be concerted effort to recapture the lost faith of the people of Garissa – and it all starts with a simple apology from the authorities.
The Garissa Community, the KDF, the ethnic Somali community in Eastleigh and Kenyans at large who are suffering fear and uncertainty due to the repeated terrorist attacks are all without doubt feeling a deep anger – the kind of burning anger that only comes from a sense of the great injustice of being attacked for no reason at all; of being punished for crimes that they have not committed; of being victimised by those charged to ensure we receive justice. But this is a time for cool heads and steady hands, a time for sage and thoughtful leadership – a leadership that will prevent a terrible situation degenerating into full-scale chaos and anarchy; a time to appeal for de-escalation, not escalation. What has happened has happened and we must now work for calm and restraint by those aggrieved – we must not let anger and bitterness have free reign, for that can only lead to even greater tragedy. Let us demand that the perpetrators be dealt with to the full extent of the law: both the killers of the security officers and the colleagues of those security officers whose misguided actions tarnish the sacrifice of their fallen brothers; both the terrorists that bombed the matatu, as well as the citizens that attacked ethnic Somalis in Eastleigh following the terrorist attack. Let us all urge the people to stay calm.
Let us pray that the people of Garissa and contiguous areas will have the benefit of good counsel, that will keep them safe from the real dangers of crossing over to the other side in their anger and bitterness. Let us pray that we the citizens will, even in our anger and bitterness, reject any suggestion that every ethnic Somali is a terrorist or potential terrorist – and that by some twisted reasoning, every ethnic Somali is guilty of the acts of the terrorists and must hence be punished for them. Nothing, absolutely nothing, will be gained if the situation were to escalate any further, riding on incendiary rhetoric or intemperate statements by the local leadership, government officials, or ordinary Kenyans.
We have been so infinitely proud of the professionalism, the courage and the strategic prowess of KDF – it is my ardent prayer that in a country where we have so little in government to be proud of, KDF are not about to be cast onto the dung heap of infamy by their own misguided actions. Because we have trained them well and armed them well and hence made them potentially dangerous, we impose a higher expectation of conduct and behaviour on our security agents and agencies. Indeed that is why all over the world martial laws are so much more demanding and severe. Our troops have every right to be angry, but they must never be allowed to be vengeful! As officers of the law, they should never by their actions become outlaws – they must never be allowed to act in a manner that is contrary to the law, or that may appear to place them above or outside the law. Let them relentlessly pursue the killers, and let those killers once arrested be subjected to the full force of the law (including martial law if they are combatants), but let not our troops and police officers engage in gross and indiscriminate violations of human rights and the destruction of painstakingly-built livelihoods. For that kind of action, there can be no justification – most definitely not outrage or sorrow or frustration.
“Once the Prophet Muhammad (SallAllahu Alayhi Wasallam) was sitting with his Companions, and one person used insulting words against Abu Bakr (Radhiallahu ‘Anhu) causing him pain. But Abu Bakr (RA) remained silent. The person again used bitter words against Abu Bakr [RA], and still Abu Bakr (RA) did not respond. The third time when this ignorant person hurt Abu Bakr (RA) with his tongue, Abu Bakr [RA] tried answering back. At this point the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) got up. Abu Bakr [RA] asked him, ‘Are you displeased with me, O Messenger of Allah?’ The Prophet [SAW] replied, ‘No, but (when you remained silent) an angel came down from the heaven responding to this man’s talk. But the moment you started replying to that man, the angel went away and the devil sat down. And I cannot sit where the devil is sitting.’ Abu Dawud B41#4878, lifted from Paul Samson