On April 2, four heavily armed al Shabaab operatives shot their way into Garissa University College and executed 147 university people including six Police officers.
After the orgy of violence, it emerged one of the terrorists Abdirahim Abdullahi, was a law graduate from the University of Nairobi. What befuddled observers is he was a far cry from the typical confused, downtrodden, terror recruit from the slums of Nairobi or Mombasa.
What would lead a learned, fairly privileged young man to take up arms on such a sadistic suicide mission? Because Abdullahi was a Kenyan of Somali origin, I will delve into the peculiar history of the Kenyan Somali experience in the four-year secessionist “Shifta” wars following Kenya’s independence in 1963.
After the end of the Shifta wars, it became government policy to subject Kenyan Somalis to extra scrutiny if they wanted to acquire a national identity cards. A Kenyan Somali would be required to present his or her school leaving certificate, plot allotment letter, birth certificate, letter from area chief, parents’ I.D cards and screening. They were also required to go through a vetting committee, whereas a non Somali would only have to present a letter from area chief, birth certificate and copies of parents' IDs.
This situation rendered most Kenyan Somalis unable to obtain IDs. It limited their inalienable rights such as the right to participate in the political process, freedom of movement, right to own property, right to social services and the right to employment. As a matter of fact, as things stand today, you cannot access a building or find lodging without presenting your ID. At the time, Somali refugees were buying IDs from corrupt government officers.
A 2007 Kenya National Commission on Human Rights report titled An Identity Crisis? A study Of The Issuance of National Identity Cards In Kenya found that there is a strong institutionalised link between citizenship and ethnicity in the issuance of identity cards. The state applied different and stricter rules with respect to Nubians, Kenyan Somalis and Kenyan Arabs.
According to the 2009 census, the National Bureau of Statistics ranked sixth the Kenyan Somali population standing at 2,385,572. Incidentally, the 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey reported the former North Eastern province has the highest birth rate in Kenya. With such an exponential growth of the ethnic Kenya Somali population, Kenya must now decide whether she will maximize on the potential of all its citizenry or continue on the path of discrimination.
It should not be lost to Kenyans that terrorists do not need a justification for their heinous activities. Today, they may attack moderate Muslims; tomorrow they attack western interests; then they attack only men; then they attack students. To attribute their actions to a whole religion that traces its roots in Kenya from the 8th A.D is erroneous.
Be that as it may, Muslims have a vital role to play in countering the cancer of religious extremism. Their political and religious leaders must convince the Muslim youth that terror is the embodiment of cowardice. Muslim leaders and scholars must work with the government and civil societies to identify, rehabilitate and neutralize terror threats.
State response and responsibility
The Kenya National Security apparatus must hesitate from knee-jerk reactions that, rather than deal with the terrorists threat, victimizes whole communities and end up exacerbating the situation and further radicalising the people.
A case in point would be the April, 2014 Operation Usalama Watch’ in which Kenyan Somalis and Somali refugees were rounded up and detained at Safaricom International Stadium Kasarani following a spate of terror attacks in Nairobi.
The Independent Police Oversight Authority reported that the exercise was characterised by extensive ethnic profiling, extortion, sexual harassment, holding of persons in overcrowded cells, detention incommunicado among other violations.
Kenyans are unaware there was a similar operation targeting Somalis in Kenya in November, 1989. All Somalis, regardless of their nationality were required to always carry IDs, a practice that has endured to date and is quite reminiscent to the colonial Kipande system.
As a lawyer, I know Abdullahi must have sat in the Constitutional law class where he was taught that Article 27 (1) and (4) of the Kenyan constitution provides that ‘every person is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law’; and ‘the state shall not discriminate directly or indirectly against any person on any ground, ethnic or social origin.”
I wonder whether the disparity between what he saw happening around him and what the constitution provides could have led him to the fringes of radicalization. My observation is that ever since ‘Operation Usalama Watch’, the terror attacks in Kenya have become chillingly vengeful and personalised. The terrorists have abandoned the use of explosives and instead preferred to systematically execute in close range those they perceive to be their enemies.
In June 2014, the terror group attacked Mpeketoni in Lamu county and executed 60 men all non-Muslims. In November, 2014 it hijacked a bus, separated Muslims from Christians. They then executed 28 Christians. A week later in December, they killed 36 quarry workers in Mandera county.
Al Shabaab has never had a problem killing fellow Muslims. As recently as April 14, 2015, the group detonated two car bombs at the Somali Federal Government Ministry of Education building in Mogadishu. They killed 12 people and injured 16. Why has al Shabaab changed the manner in which it operates in Kenya?
First and foremost, the security response to the Garissa University College attack must be scrutinized so that we know what we could have done better. This begins with finding out why intelligence reports were ignored. The security forces and the National Intelligence Service new Garissa University College was a soft target but they did nothing to protect the students.
In accordance with the United Nations four pillar Counter Terrorism Strategy, Kenya must curb radicalization, funding and training; spruce up intelligence gathering; build police and other security organs' capacity in investigating and prosecuting terror suspects. We must also follow the constitution to the letter.
Only a well trained, corruption free criminal justice system can nip terror in the bud. Additionally, in the spirit of President Uhuru Kenyatta's State of the Nation Speech regarding historical injustices, the state should be alive to its past misdeeds. It should take positive steps to ensure every Kenyan feels like a Kenyan.
Lastly, corruption is what has crippled all systems in Kenya. It must be purged from the public services as a matter of necessity.
Demas Kiprono is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya
Litigation Counsel, Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR)