Reacting to the killing of 28 Christians in Mandera, Deputy President William Ruto said: “Terrorists (al Shabaab) are criminals who are driven by criminal intent.” Not entirely.
At best, Islamic terrorists are religious crusaders for an Islamic world and at worst, misguided Muslim fanatics using Islamic radical ideology as their recruiting motif, vision of the world and legitimisation. Islamic terrorists are not criminals in the ordinary sense of the word. They would be easier to beat.
Kenyan current conflicts are not driven by a class ideology pitting the poor against the rich but by negative ethnicity between Pokot and Turkana, clannism between Borana, Gabbra, Rendille and Burji in Marsabit and Islamic terrorism that separates Muslims from Christians and then kills them in cold blood in Mandera, Mpeketoni and Westgate.
Many Muslims deny al Shabaab terrorism is Islamic or even religious. They argue it is driven by unemployment, poverty, historical injustices, hopelessness and marginalisation. But same problems are in other places where there is no terrorism.
Social and political conflict in predominantly Islamic regions may not be driven by Islam but by Islamic terrorism that uses Islam to legitimise itself.
Al Shaabab, al Qaeda, ISIL, Uamsho or Boko Haram are all Islamic terrorisms. If we do not admit their religious nature, we shall not succeed in eradicating or protecting ourselves against it.
Al Shabaab Islamic terrorism in Kenya is like Boko Haram Islamic terrorism in Nigeria. Boko Haram started small but is today taking over villages and towns with conventional war like ISIL in Iraq and Syria. As for al Shabaab, it started attacking Kenya as a friend of America and later for taking Kenyan army to Somalia but in the name of unemployment, historical injustices, lure of secession – Pwani si Kenya – and possible Islamic caliphate for Muslims under Sharia law.
Whether Islam allows terrorism or not, al Shabaab embraces Islam for legitimisation of the religious war it is waging in Kenya. Though Kenya is multi-religious, it will fight a religious war to repel the one of the al Shabaab.
Many Muslims rightly and correctly argue that Islam does not support terrorism. However, in defending Islam, Muslims cannot deny that al Shabaab and Boko Haram are Islamic terrorisms that fight in the name of Islam. But unless the heresy of mixing terrorism with Islam is repelled by those who do not condone terrorism, Islamic terrorism will hijack Islam and with it overwhelm not just non-Muslims but moderate Muslims who don’t believe in terrorism.
That the conflict between al Shabaab and Kenya is religious cannot be denied. To do so would be to deny people the truth they need for self defence. Yet accepting al Shabaab is Islamic terrorism does not mean every Muslim is a terrorist or Islam is inferior to Christianity.
What is the genesis of Islamic terrorism in Kenya?
Muslims say terrorism is caused by Kenya government for its failure to resolve unemployment, hopelessness and injustices in Islamic communities.
But Kenya government says Islamic terrorism is brought to Kenya by al Shabaab, an offshoot of Al Qaeda and its ideology of Islamic radicalism that radical Muslim clerics propagate in mosques.
In addition, al Shabaab says to withdraw its terrorism from Kenya, government must pull its army out of Somalia. Mombasa Republican Council adds Coast must secede from Kenya and be an independent state.
Kenya government also insists that al Shabaab terrorism must be eradicated by the Kenyan army both in Kenya and Somalia.
But there is a third opinion suggesting that because “if you roast two yams, one is likely to burn”, KDF must first establish security, peace and stability in Kenya before Somalia.
Second, Kenya must counter ideology of Islamic radicalism with ideology of religious tolerance and political nationalism.
Third, KDF and Kenya police must drive al Shabaab out of Kenya by all means necessary.
Fourth, that Kenya must learn from shifta war and Ethiopia how best to defeat al Shabaab.
Fifth, war against al Shabaab should not be sacrificed on the altar of conflicts among Jubilee partners, some communities threatening to withdraw support for government in protest against its operations against terrorism.
Sixth, Kenya must distribute national resources equitably to all corners of Kenya to end marginalisation of any part of Kenya.
Seventh, Kenya must launch large-scale infrastructural projects to take youth away from possible recruitment by al Shabaab.
Empirically, Islamic terrorist attacks have increased rather than decreased in Kenya. For bungling the war against Islamic, ethnic and clan terrorisms, people are asking Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph ole Lenku, Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo and Kenya's Chief of Defence Forces Gen Julius Karangi to resign.
But while the three are guilty of failing to guarantee security, they don’t bear highest responsibility for it. President Uhuru and Deputy President Ruto bear the highest responsibility for errors of judgement in appointing the three, and for their failure to stem spiralling terrorism. If ole Lenku, Kimaiyo and Karangi are the only ones to go, Uhuru and Ruto might reappoint others like them to replace them.
As American Presidents Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon bore highest responsibilities for failures of their administrations – bungling a rescue operation in Iran and not telling the truth about Watergate by resigning – President Uhuru and DP Ruto must also resign when terrorism puts their Jubilee government on the defensive. If Kenya continues to take unceasing blows from al Shabaab, and leaders are not pressured to resign, what will be their incentive to win?
Ultimately, the war against Islamic terrorism will succeed only with fullest participation of Muslim leaders and scholars to win hearts and minds of Muslim youth from Islamic radicalism. Without fighting al Shabaab, Muslims will look like its supporters.
Whatever our internal differences are, Kenyans must unite to fight our collective external enemy – al Shabaab. That said, it is tragic and success for terrorism that non Muslim Kenyans want to leave Mandera en masse for fear of terrorism. For Kenya, they must not; but the government must do everything to protect them. But will it? If the impending exodus materialises, Kenya will be no more.