Kenyatta’s game a risky one
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Kenyan president is making scapegoats of his political and tribal opponents, writes Peter Fabricius
Johannesburg - The deep, underlying historical flaws of Kenyan society – tribalism and corruption – are being cruelly exposed under the pressure of the growing insurgency by the al-Shabaab extremist Islamists from neighbouring Somalia.
Yesterday, the government said that 29 people had been killed in raids in two separate areas on the coast, in Lamu and Tana River counties.
This followed the wave of terrorist attacks last month in Mpeketoni, on the north-east coast near the major tourist destination of Lamu Island, in which 60 people died.
President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government is responding to the rising death toll from al-Shabaab terrorist attacks by heavy-handed and indiscriminate security force action against Kenya’s large Somali community and by blaming domestic political opponents.
The Kenyan security forces embarrassed themselves and the nation last year when al-Shabaab terrorists attacked Nairobi’s Westgate mall, by exchanging fire among themselves, looting shops and virtually demolishing the building to stop the attack.
As al-Shabaab steps up its terror campaign – a response to Kenyan military forces invading southern Somalia in 2011 to take on the Islamist group – the Kenyan security forces seem unable, or perhaps unwilling, to stop the Somali terrorists.
The security services reportedly ignored intelligence warnings of the Mpeketoni attacks and the journal Africa Confidential writes there have been hints of collusion between the intelligence services and al-Shabaab.
Instead of using proper methods such as intelligence-gathering and detective work, the security agents are increasingly resorting to broad-spectrum counter-terrorist methods such as rounding up Somalis indiscriminately for rough interrogation or assassinating clerics.
Kenyatta is making scapegoats of his political and tribal opponents. After the Mpeketoni attacks he said the community of his Kikuyu tribe had been targeted.
The president said the “well-planned, orchestrated and politically motivated ethnic violence” had been perpetrated by “local political networks” rather than al-Shabaab, even though it had claimed responsibility.
All Kenyans understood Kenyatta to be referring to the opposition Coalition for Reform and Democracy, led by his old political foe, Raila Oginga Odinga, whom he defeated in last year’s elections.
Odinga’s party planned to hold a mass rally in central Nairobi on Monday to mobilise rising discontent against the government’s inability to counter the growing al-Shabaab threat – and against its attempts to deflect blame on to others by playing the all-too-familiar and extremely dangerous tribal card once again.
Memories are fresh of the tribal and political violence that engulfed parts of the country after the 2007 elections in which Odinga, a Luo, lost to another Kikuyu, Mwai Kibaki, who is widely believed to have rigged victory.
It was because of his alleged role in orchestrating some of that violence that Kenyatta was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), along with his then political opponent but now his deputy president, William Ruto.
Ruto is standing trial at The Hague, but the case against Kenyatta is unravelling, not least because many witnesses have mysteriously disappear-ed. Kenyatta has also successfully mobilised his fellow African leaders to close ranks with him against the ICC.
The AU has tried – so far in vain – to get the case against Kenyatta deferred and to get the ICC rules changed to grant immunity against prosecution to serving heads of state and government.
Last month at its summit in Equatorial Guinea, the AU changed the draft rules of its own proposed African Court of Justice and Human Rights to give such immunity to serving AU leaders and senior officials.
It was a major victory for Kenyatta – but an even larger defeat for the fundamental principle of equality before the law.
The AU claimed Kenyatta needed immunity from the ICC charges so that he would not be distracted from the pressing demands of fighting al-Shabaab.
Yet now that the ICC case is falling apart, Kenyatta is using his free time not so much to fight al-Shabaab as to play his old game of tribal politics.