Now that we know that the contest for the country’s top political position in the August 8 general election will be between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his perennial rival Raila Odinga, the next agenda for the top political outfits is to roll out their manifestos and woo as many voters as possible. In essence, the next three months will see high-octane power politics as Uhuru and Raila seek to outdo each other on polling day.
If both candidates remain true to their mission of creating a better society for Kenyans, then I must admit that they have grasped the correct understanding of what politics is really about. However, a look at what the two top contenders stand for reveals that they have a rather lopsided understanding of what measures should be implemented to create a better society for all Kenyans. To these candidates, it appears that a better society only revolves around availing socioeconomic benefits to the downtrodden. But it must be pointed out that a better society includes many other things such as personal security.
The leading political outfits are promising to create a better society but they have ignored certain issues, which the Muslims strongly feel are pertinent. I must point out that Muslims in Kenya are today more worried about their personal security than their socioeconomic welfare. Since the enactment of the 2010 Constitution, the socioeconomic marginalisation that Muslims complained about before is no longer a big issue. It is encouraging to see Muslims in senior and influential positions in all arms of government. The two leading political outfits also have Muslims in senior and influential positions.
However, in this era of war on terrorism and countering violent extremism, almost every Muslim feels that he or she is a terror suspect, and stands to suffer the most severe and un-proportionate punishment, even without going through due process.
It is this sense of fear for personal security that has left the Muslim community doubting the commitment by the top politicians to create a better society for all. As somebody who has made it a civic duty to advise and lead young people away from the narrative of violent extremism that exists in a small but significant section of Kenyan society, I can feel and touch the fear that Muslims have for their personal security.
Article 27 guarantees, among other things, equal protection and equal benefit of the law. But Muslims feel that they don’t enjoy this because terrorism has been elevated above all other crimes such that a Muslim suspected of committing or abetting acts of terrorism does not enjoy the right of presumption of innocence.
For example, as much as our security agencies and other partners are doing a commendable job of fighting terrorism and violent extremism under very difficult circumstances, there are unacceptable cases of extrajudicial killings and unexplained disappearances of Muslim youth. This environment of fear and uncertainty has left many Muslims wondering if at all the leading political luminaries can indeed create a better society when a section of the citizenry is not guaranteed of their personal safety merely because the threat of terrorism is associated with their religion.
Like the rest of the Kenyan people, Muslims have paid a heavy price due to acts and effects of terrorism, especially in Northeastern and Coast, where education and tourism have been affected. Teachers from other parts of Kenya refuse to be posted to teach in Northeastern, fearing terror attacks, igniting an education crisis.
Tourism, one of the foundation blocks of the economy, which constitutes 25 per cent of the GDP, and has been adversely affected by the repercussions of terrorism. The sector, a key economic driver for the Coast, employs more than 500,000 Kenyans. Subsequently, there is a significant increase in unemployment as many Kenyans lost their jobs and as result more youth become vulnerable to recruitment to violent extremist networks.
I, therefore, challenge the leading political contenders to think outside the box about what it means to create a better society for all Kenyans. They should, henceforth, remind themselves that a better society for all goes beyond socioeconomic empowerment to include an environment in which every citizen feels safe and secure from persecution. Whoever addresses the issues affecting Muslims effectively will certainly win their votes.