Bizarre comparisons are flying on social media about how government responds to different tragedies, catastrophes or security situations. The most popular is the swiftness with which the government responded to the tragedy in neighboring Tanzania when several members of a church women group visiting that country were involved in a road accident.
President Kibaki swiftly ordered their rescue with choppers and medical care, which is usually absent in state responses to local road tragedies, disasters or conflicts such as the current Tana Delta carnage. When several citizens were mowed down in a bomb attack on a church in Garissa, for example, the families of the deceased were left on their own.
It was a sorry sight at a funeral service in Nairobi with a handful of poor relatives, the only saving face being Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka who appeared to console the families mainly from his Ukambani backyard. What does that say about equality of citizens in our country, people are asking on the Internet.
Such queries are stoking the ire of Kenyans who view the government's response to the Tana Delta revenge killings as incompetent and careless. Amid claims that they are sleeping on the job, the police now say they have the weaponry and human capacity to deal with the mayhem but their hands are tied.
That they cannot use force because they fear being prosecuted, like former Police Commissioner Hussein Ali, for abuse of human rights. That they need the authority of Cabinet to do so. Bla bla bla. What hogwash! Do the police mean they have the attackers in sight but cannot apprehend or shoot them because they need Cabinet approval?
Which law requires the Police to obtain Cabinet authorization to use force? Do they wait for Cabinet sanction to shoot gangsters, suspected Mungiki and cattle rustlers? Deputy police spokesman Charles Owino's arguments yesterday are simply unacceptable. The true position is that the Police have not correctly read the situation on the ground.
They have been outwitted by the combatant communities' militia and their response has been ineffective. The fact is that Kenya police do not have adequate means to provide security to all Kenyans - worse if the conflicts are simultaneous. That should be their genuine plea instead of the bravado and chest thumping when they are losing some of their own officers needlessly endangering the lives of more civilians.
But the answer does not lie in deploying the Kenyan military as Parliament urged yesterday. Even though allowed by the Constitution to deploy internally, we must hesitate to employ the military in domestic disputes, which are festering because of government failure. The motion as passed was too broad and drab: "Following the unrest and instability in the Tana Delta, this House urges the government to deploy the Kenya Defence Forces to the Tana Delta to restore peace and order in keeping with Article 241(3 c) of the Constitution."
Its mover, Danson Mungatana, sought to give the President a "blank check" to deploy the "military as in as and when he feels its in necessary". Kenya's armed forces can only be improvised in the service of the citizens and not at the beck and call of the Executive. It must be deployed as a last resort, not excitedly.
Oddly, the motion was passed even after assistant minister for internal security Simeon Lesirma's report that the government had deployed 265 police officers (90 GSU and 128 regular) to the conflict zone and was by today sending an additional 1000 GSU and other machinery to reinforce the operation to tame the violence.
The government has also restricted movement of goods and persons, imposed a dawn to dusk curfew, and embarked on disarmament of an estimated 4000 firearms, ammunitions and crude weapons in the hands of the warring communities. These measures ought to be allowed to take effect first to see if the situation will not ameliorate.
The military must be left to deal with the external threats to the country unless there is a total breakdown of civil order. The present situation, chaotic as it looks, does not merit military intervention. It calls for better equipment and intelligence by the police. It will set a dangerous precedent to begin deploying the military against its citizens regardless of how worrying or deadly their conflict seems without first exploring why the Police have failed.
If the police cant restore peace and order, they should be held to account. The commissioner should explain why he can't stop the carnage and what should be done. Why should the KDF be sent in to halt the killings with brute force by the same authorities that have denied the police the chance to perform their duties? There can be no excuse for Kenyans killing each other and it is squarely the responsibility of the government to remove the threats to peace. But deploying the military is unprecedented and unmerited in the Tana Delta case.