#IStandWithKDF was the trending hashtag most of last week as Kenyans from all walks of life woke up to the reality that we are a country at war. It was one of those moments when Kenyans were able to look beyond their tribes, religions and political affiliations in honour of our fellow countrymen who had made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.
In a country where politics dictates national discourse, the two leading national newspapers captured the moment perfectly. The Daily Nation and The Standard ran with the headlines ‘United in Mourning’ and ‘Defiant in Grief’ respectively, speaking for the millions of us who watched proudly as President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga walked together from the Forces Memorial Hospital after honouring the Kenyan Army unit that had been attacked at El Adde in Somalia. It was a moment that gave new meaning to the hashtag #IStandWithKDF.
So how does an ordinary Kenyan stand with KDF?
First, to genuinely stand with KDF one must appreciate what it means to be a soldier. Essentially, a soldier is a person who has sacrificed their individual interests so that the civilian population they come from can go about their business safely; a person who has literally offered to give up their right to life so that other people, most of whom are strangers, can live theirs.
Considering that human beings are genetically wired in such a way that self-preservation is instinctive, military life means that one must be re-socialised first. Re-socialisation is a two-step process that takes place in a carefully controlled environment. The first step is eroding an existing identity such that the value system one believed in before is completely removed. The second step is the systematic development of a new value system such that the person gets a new identity.
Most of us have seen this process (in movies) where this battle-hardened army sergeant takes young military recruits through gruelling training sessions that are so tough the poor recruits wish they never signed up! This is the re-socialisation process that turns a civilian into a soldier; converting the person from an individual who is driven by what is in his or her best interests (which is our default settings) to an individual who will strictly follow orders that derive from what is in the best interests of others, and are sometimes against their own. These are the men and women who make up KDF.
Second, to stand with KDF one must also understand who KDF is up against. Uhuru stated that “we are at war with extremists; we are at war with terrorists; we are at war with fanatics …” An extremist is a person who holds extreme political or religious views and is willing to use violence to enforce them. A terrorist is a person who uses terrorism – violence and intimidation – in pursuit of political aims. A fanatic is a person filled with excessive and single-minded zeal for an extreme religious or political cause. These are the people KDF is at war with in Somalia. The sole intention of these fellows is to make us like them.
Now that we have this understanding, how can you and I stand with KDF?
First, standing with KDF means we do not share pictures of dead or wounded KDF soldiers. Sharing such pictures, of the men and women who are sacrificing their lives so that we can be safe, is not only the greatest dishonour we can do to them, it also means we are fighting against KDF, and on the side of the extremists, terrorist fanatics. These fellows love it when we circulate such pictures, because they demoralise our troops.
Second, standing with KDF means remembering why KDF are in Somalia. KDF went to Somalia because we are facing an existential threat from the extremist, terrorist fanatics. These fellows have declared war on our way of life – the democracy, freedom of speech and freedom of religion we pride ourselves on. They want us to live under their corrupted religious laws. They want to decide for us how to worship, what to eat and how to live. They also do not want our women to be all that they can be.
Third, we must accept that if KDF does not go after them, they will come after us; that if KDF leaves them alone, they will still come after us; that if KDF tries to negotiate with them, they will overrun us. We have no choice. KDF has no choice. To quote Uhuru “this is a war we must win”.
Finally, standing with KDF means we do not play local politics with KDF’s war in Somalia. This message is specifically sent to our Kenyan brothers who live in Northeastern. Do not use KDF in Somalia to play local clan politics in Kenya.
Ngunjiri is a director of Change Associates.