National Security Under Threat
On Monday this week, the massive explosion that blew up the once iconic Assanads Music Shop, rudely interrupting Nairobians’ lunchtime break was yet another depressing reminder to the precarious times we live in. But even more disheartening was the casual, almost nonchalant, manner in which our politicians stumbled around the scene of the Assanads bomb inciden.
Granted, politicians are expected to show solidarity with grieving fellow Kenyans in times of disaster. Nothing wrong there, for that is as it ought to be. But when politicians rush to a crime scene and hold press conferences on the spot even before the scene has been declared safe—let alone thoroughly inspected, dusted and investigated for evidence and clues—something is not right.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga was among the first leaders to rush to the scene of the Monday bomb attack. He was quick on the draw blaming terrorists for the attack and assuring Kenyans that the Government would do everything in its power to protect them. Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi was just as swift. He too had quick-fix solutions to the vexing problem that has become these now almost incessant terror attacks.
Neither did the Commissioner of Police, Mathew Iteere do much better either. He had his foot in his mouth rushing to offer an instant diagnosis of the cause of the blast. Speaking a few minutes after the blast, the top cop had deliberately implied that the blast had been caused by an “electrical fault” in the building. It is not surprising that some wags quipped that Iteere’s was the quickest “conclusion to an investigation” into a suspected bomb attack.
As anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge about investigations must know, there is absolutely no way anyone can establish the cause of a blast without undertaking painstaking analysis of the debris at the crime scene for traces of explosive chemicals. Now, there is no doubt that we—Kenyans— and our way of life is under attack. The cowardly grenade attacks at soft targets are intended to create a climate of despondence and fear.
The attacks are aimed at creating a situation where our leaders start running around aimlessly tumbling over each with contradictory statement. And the incongruous reactions and statements of politicians are proof enough that as a country, we are not pulling in the same direction in the fight against the scourge of terrorism.
The more our leaders keep pulling in different directions, the more risk we ran as a country of not being able to react firmly and decisively against what has become immediate and present danger to the country’s national security. The media too has a role to play in safeguarding national security. Now, I know there is this perception among fellow scribes that presupposes media freedom exists above everything else.
That assumption is based on a wrong premise. Media freedom does not over-ride the need for media to be responsible corporate citizens because, after all, the media does not operate in isolation. When the media gives what amounts to fawning attention and a megaphone to groups whose agenda appears— to a reasonable person—completely inimical to national security interests of the country, then the media is doing a disservice to the society it professes to serve.
The media, more so with the proliferation of largely unregulated vernacular FM radio stations, has gained larger-than-life influence in rural Kenya. With great power and influence, comes the need for equally great self-restraint and ethical behaviour. It is not the place of media to provide a megaphone to groups or individuals whose agenda threatens national security.
The country is under threat, and as such, it is the duty of everyone—media included—to play their part to help preserve security. The increasing incidents of terrorism attacks point to one thing: increasing confidence and boldness among the perpetrators of these terror attacks. And this has been brought about by lack of concerted and robust strategies to deal with these threats, more so at the levels of political leadership.
For this reason, the talk of resuscitating the Anti-Terrorism Bill that was strangled on the floor of the House a couple of years ago may be just what the doctor ordered. When the Anti-Terrorism Bill was first floated around, human rights groups strongly opposed it arguing that if it was passed into law, this would be tantamount to rolling back the carpet of fundamental freedoms for Kenyans.
For sure, there were some problematic issues in the Bill, but certainly not serious enough to warrant throwing out the bath water with the baby. As in the word of the biblical Isaiah (1:18), time has come for all Kenyans of goodwill where we need to say in all earnest, “Come now, let us reason together.” It is time to stop playing politics with national security and time to start pulling in the same direction to make this country a safer place for us all.