ByÂ Seth Odongo
It often amazes how a man can miss it. In such moments, we are reminded that man’s intelligence can be the only stupid thing about man.
Charles Onyango Obbo, whom I like referring to as ‘learned journalist’, the other day wasted a whole column in Daily Nation creating an absurd Â historical parallel between the murderous extremist Islamic militia Al Shabaab and the Teso rebels in North-Eastern Uganda in the 1980s.
The crux of Obbo’s argument is this: The Teso rebels were persuaded by an affable military general calledÂ Geoffrey Muhesi to put down their arms. In the same fashion, Kenya can have a ‘Muhesi moment’ with the Al Shabaab where a member in the security apparatus magically persuades the Shabaabs to surrender in ‘lorries packed at specific locations’ to be taken to kenyan jails and handled like ‘common prisoners’.
Obbo arrived at this conclusion by making several ‘deadly’ assumptions. Let’s look at some of these:
One, that a Muhesi exists in the current Kenyan military and police structure. The last time I saw a Muhesi-like character in the Kenyan security system was at the peak of the 2007 post-poll violence. A police officer, acting Senior Superintendent of Police Joseph Musyoka Nthenge wrestled down with rioting demonstrators using his persuasion skills. He succeeded four times, with one moment captured on national TV.
The United Nations in 2008 honoured him. Little is known of his current station. The mere fact that he is not the Inspector General of the Police nor any of his two deputies tells you something about the kind of ‘honour’ the police force accorded him. To cut the story short, the Kenyan police service inhibits the development of Muhesi-like officers. Here, the more ‘thorax’ you show, the less you use your brain, the better for the officer.
Two, Obbo failed to recognize our penchant to ‘own’ criminals. The culture of retreating to our ethnic cocoons when the country faces a national catastrophe makes it difficult to effectively confront security challenges. Kenya’s security organs cannot conduct an operation without injuring ethnic sensitivities, sensibilities and, at worse, political arithmetic.
The history of this dates back to decades ago. In the memorable past, the country still remembers the bungling of the 2007 post-poll violence police swaps when politics of ‘our people are targeted’ took centre-stage. The whole operation had to be suspended and as the Director of Public Prosecutions recently revealed, chances of revisiting the atrocities of that era are very slim.
With this historical context, an operation to weed out Al-shabaab from the midst of ‘peaceful somalis’ was never going to remain a purely security issue before politics took over. We’ve seen, as we expected, top somali politicians standing by ‘their people’. Like happens, these politicians also happen to be very high up in the government but are gifted with a scientific mastery of how and when to abandon the ‘government’ for their ‘people’.
In fact, one can argue that the biggest beneficiaries of this ownership of community criminals are the top two in government – President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto. The Jubilee Alliance, at best, was borne out of the desire to protect ethnic criminals from facing justice from a murderous event in our past. One can argue.
Third, Onyango presumed that Al Shabaab, like the Teso rebels, are fighting the government. No, the Al shabaab are fighting a cause. They are fighting an ism. While part of the Teso persuasion strategy included warning the rebels that they would die if they didn’t surrender; and being lovers of life they wanted to cheat death, the Al shabaab welcome death as the final victory – an invitation to martyrdom.
Then there is the matter of justice in Kenyan courts, or Kenyan prisons. If the spectre of those images (of ‘suspected’ somalis under squalid conditions) Â seen at Kasarani is anything to go by, how badly will ‘justice’ be to confessed terrorists? In the Teso scenario, the rebels were made to believe that they would be treated like any other prisoner. In fact, the first rebels to heed to the call were treated that way. This played in the minds of those still at large. In Kenya, terrorists at large saw one Makaburi shot dead metres away from a court of law. How does such events play in their minds? Does any mention of ‘courts’, ‘justice’ and ‘law’ ring a bell to the terrorists at large?
Last, but not least, is what I call the ‘fundamental problem’ of the Kenyan society – silent hypocrisy.
I often give the ‘quail egg phenomenon’ to capture this sad situation. That we Kenyans elevated the quail egg above the hen egg continue to baffle me. I have often wondered, if all things added up on the quail egg, did its ‘size’ add up? We Kenyans believe in the spur of the moment. We want to solve a problem without giving it a context which will make us solve it. Sometimes, the context is utterly flawed that the solution becomes another problem.
A great majority of us are silently hypocritical. We only realize it when we become loud about it. Aden Duale said nothing not long ago when John Michuki was murdering innocent kikuyu youths in the name of fighting Mungiki. That’s because the Mungiki wasn’t a ‘somali problem’ even if it was a human rights problem. We are yet to satisfactorily bring to a close the 2007 post-poll violence. We are lying to ourselves we’ve moved on. Wait till it happens again.
What happened to TJRC? Gosh, for how long should we wait for the several necessary apologies that the head of our republic was required, as a step to ‘justice and reconcilliation’, to make?
So yes, one can argue, learned journalist Onyango Obbo erred.
Dikembe Disembe blogs on politics, ethnicity and higher education issues in Kenya. Read the article by Obbo here.