Tanzania Daily News (Dar es Salaam)

23 November 2012

East Africa: As Kenya Bleeds, What Does the Rest of East Africa Do?

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IN the last 7 days, not less than 60 Kenyans have died in incidents that include a grenade attack on public transport.

In the last two months, nearly 150 Kenyans have died in bizarre battles that should have brought a government more attuned to the aspirations of the people out of the office.

Clashes between communities seem to be the hallmark of Kenya's pre-election period that was made into an art form during the 2007 elections when over 1,300 lives were lost.

However, when armed men take the battle to the military and police as they did on Saturday and Monday respectively, then not just Kenya but the rest of East Africa has to stand up and aid a brother or prepare to host refugees in the coming days. The first responsibility of any government is to assure citizens of security of their persons and property.

That security includes against the threat of hunger, war or internal threats of any kind. It may seem easy to pillory the Kenya government for the wanton security situation in that country but that is the easy option. It is true that enough may not have been done by government including a shortage of police officers and inadequate funding for the internal security docket.

The inadequate funding has in part been blamed on lack of funds and on the other hand on a past riddled with corruption. A combination of those factors has led to a police force that does not have enough bullet proof jackets to go round the force, nor vehicles and staffing.

If you combine those inadequacies to the lack of sharing of information between the policing and the intelligence services, one can see, woeful situation in which police officers are sitting ducks when on patrol and thus understand why in the last 2 months, over 70 police officers have been brutally murdered in the course of duty. In every bad situation, there are lessons to be learnt.

With hindsight, we can now say without a shadow of doubt, that when Kenya took the decision to take its Kenya Defence Forces into Somalia after the Al Shabab militants, they never took seriously the issue of the militants' infiltration in their own back yard in Kenya.

It is a bitter but essential lesson in the aftermath of the victory in Somalia that while our men were matching in that country, remnants of the Al Shabab were retreating into Kenya and that areas with a huge ethnic Somali population, i.e. Eastleigh in Nairobi and Garissa in North Eastern Province of Kenya, would pay the prize of this war against terror.

It is the Eastleigh areas of Mlango Kubwa where a public service vehicle and a church have been shattered and death visited on innocent lives in the recent past. All, however, is not lost in that Kenya has by and large, through these acts of terror, learnt its lessons. Terror knows no colour, tribe or religion. The perpetrators of terror are men and women with a mission and it is a task they are sworn to deliver unless someone stops them.

This task cannot successfully be halted by the Kenya government no matter how resourceful. It requires co-operation from citizens, by security arms locally and regional security wings and governments. At the risk of being repetitive, I dare say, a free and stable Somalia should be music to the ears of all East Africans, Africa and the World. Ever since Siad Barre was deposed 21 years ago, Somali has become the haven of bandits and other lawless types.

A stateless nation without any order from where sprouted thousands of freelance mercenaries all profiting in one way or another from the chaos. After the American debacle in Somalia, the world wrung its hands as the great Somali nation crumbled.

Many Somalis have taken refuge all over the World but the poor, the old, disabled, women and children have continued to bear the brunt of this lawlessness that has destroyed a resourceful and great East African nation. In the spirit of being our brothers' keeper, as Kenya mops up Al Shabab under African Union that also includes Uganda and Burundi, East Africa Community (EAC) and the world need to come to Kenya's aid to deal with homeland security.

This type of security is much more covert than the marching of soldiers into another country to wage war. It requires superb intelligence, it requires enormous resources both for intelligence and emergency response, it requires 24-7-365 surveillance and to achieve that partnership must be invoked. A free stable Somali will mean all East Africans can sleep easy. A bleeding Kenya shall mean Tanzania cannot enjoy its haven of peace status.

We must now go beyond joint military exercises to joint military action. There is no point in military exercises and taking soldiers to Darfur when we have situations in Garissa, Eastleigh and Kwale that call for serious security presence. We can wring our hands in silence and praise our peace or come together and do something about the situation.

We cannot claim not to know. Kenya will go to elections in 2013 but from yesterday until June, 2013 Kenya needs a joint East African force of about 3,000 men to police the hotpots in Kwale, Mombasa, Tana River, Kisumu, Eldoret , Turkana, Suguta Marmar, Garissa, Moyale, Kajiado and Nakuru. Dr Richard Sezibera, EAC Secretary General, this is an opportunity for the citizens to know that EAC is about them, not conferences and protocols, important as they may be.

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