In the aftermath of the al Shabaab attack on Garissa University College, which killed at least 148 people, the local MP, Aden Duale, vowed to provide a list of terrorist financiers and sympathisers within a month.
That promise passed unfulfilled three weeks back. Now, Duale appears to have stirred a hornet’s nest by declaring that he is accountable to no one and owes no one a list. It is interesting that he felt the need to distinguish between the two, accountability and obligation.
For, as much as many would wish to deny it, the Leader of Majority in the National Assembly is only half wrong. He is accountable to Kenyans, to his constituents and to his party, for both his words and his deeds. However, he is under no obligation to prepare and present such a list for the authorities.
Simply put, it is not his job. And his idiotic declarations do not make it so. It is understandable that Kenyans, who have long been treated to the empty promises of politicians and whose government has appeared impotent in the face of terror attacks, would revel in the opportunity to stick it into one of the more abrasive and empty-headed functionaries of the Jubilee administration.
Like the refugees he is wont to demonise, Duale is a convenient scapegoat. He is being offered as a sacrifice to turn away our wrath from those much more deserving of it. Sure he lied. And he should pay a price for that. Sure he and his fellow politicians from the region made cynical promises which gave false comfort to a traumatised nation seeking easy answers.
They should pay for that too. But we must be clear that asking politicians to provide terror lists can only make us less safe, not more secure. There are several reasons for this. First, it risks politicising security and turning the counter-terror effort into an avenue for settling political scores. That would deepen cleavages within communities that groups like al Shabaab would only be too glad to exploit.
Secondly, it would reinforce the false perception that certain communities are either responsible, or a reservoir, for terrorists and that, as the source of the problem, they should bear the brunt of solving it. This would not only further alienate these communities but, worse, obscure the real roots, drivers and enablers of terror, which are not the monopoly of any one community. To demonstrate the latter point, consider how the current obsession with Duale’s list has obscured another promise made in the aftermath of another equally devastating terror attack.
Following the Westgate attack, President Uhuru Kenyatta vowed to institute a public inquiry into the security failures that permitted and prolonged the siege. Unlike Duale’s, this was a promise made by one who was both responsible and competent to deliver it. Yet 20 months and more than 300 lives later, the inquiry is yet to materialise. That failure has been much more consequential than any politician’s list could ever hope to be.
It lies at the heart of all subsequently botched security responses - from Mpeketoni to Garissa - but is rarely spoken of. Similarly, demanding Pokot leaders and elders account for stolen guns in the northwest has not only obscured all notions of individual culpability for the murder of 24 people last November, but also seemingly put to bed any public discussion of failures on the part of the security forces and thus precluded the possibility of ensuring lessons are learnt and a future re-enactment is avoided.
In the final analysis, Duale is only guilty of practising the empty sloganeering that today passes for serious policy debate, which is in itself a terrible indictment. However, we must not allow ourselves to be drawn into furthering his perverse logic. He and his cohorts should not be excoriated for not delivering the list, but for promising it in the first place. And we must not let that distract us from the real culprits within government and the security and intelligence agencies.
It is their failure to do their jobs that is responsible for the mess we find ourselves in, not the empty promises of a loony MP. We've got bigger fish to fry.