Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Mpeketoni attack fits into developing scenario blaming Cord for targeting the Kikuyu

Wreckage of two burnt vehicles on a roadside in Mpeketoni, Lamu County, after some 50 heavily-armed gunmen attacked the town on June 16, 2014.   AFP PHOTO/STRINGER

Wreckage of two burnt vehicles on a roadside in Mpeketoni, Lamu County, after some 50 heavily-armed gunmen attacked the town on June 16, 2014. The emerging scenario points to a dangerous political situation that could easily escalate to violence if not well managed. AFP PHOTO/STRINGER 

By MACHARIA GAITHO
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The recorded television statement from President Uhuru Kenyatta broadcast on Tuesday on the Sunday night raid that killed nearly 50 people in Mpeketoni township in Lamu county added an alarming political dimension to Kenya’s recent security problems.

The President was pointing the finger directly, even without mentioning names, at opposition leader Raila Odinga, who since returning from a three month visit to the United States has led a series of high-profile political rallies to press demands for a national conference on problems afflicting Kenya.

It should be logical then that the President follow-up his startling accusations with action, that naturally should include arrest of Mr Odinga and others he accuses of such horrific crimes.

Although Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph ole Lenku had on Monday alluded to political incitement, his statement was largely received with skepticism, as a reckless attempt to divert attention to the political opposition when Kenya is facing serious security challenges.

The President echoing his Cabinet Secretary’s assertion added authority to what is now the official position; That the Mpeketoni attack was not the work of the Somalia-based Al Shabbab terrorist as initially believed, but the Cord leadership – “reckless leaders and hate-mongers, who … create hate, intolerance and fanaticism”.

The President referred more or less directly to the Cord rallies, the last in Mombasa on the afternoon prior to the Mpeketoni attack, as forums for “frenzied political rhetoric laced with ethnic profiling of some Kenyan communities and obvious acts of incitement to lawlessness and possible violence.”

An interesting gist of the president’s statement was that the Cord rallies set out to demonise certain communities and incite other Kenyans to violence against them.

This is a clear reference to the president’s own Kikuyu community, who have borne the brunt of attacks at the Cord rallies for allegedly monopolizing key positions in the public service, and to some extent also the Kalenjin community of Deputy President William Ruto.

The suggestion, then, was that the Mpeketoni attack was not just a random action, but one targeted directly at the Kikuyu, a unique majority population in the settlement scheme established in the 1960 in the Coast region by President Jomo Kenyatta.

The reference to ethnic profiling and deliberate targeting of the Kikuyu stood out in the statements from both Present Kenyatta and Mr ole Lenku.

The interesting thing is that the allusions to an ethnic angle predate the Mpeketoni attack.

In the run-up to Mr Odinga’s much-hyped return from the US at the end of May, Jubilee social media activists went into overdrive on Twitter and Facebook in what looked like a coordinated offensive to depict the Kikuyu under attack.

Early in May, four people died when a Chania Bus Services bus that had just arrived in Mombasa was hit in a grenade attack.

Soon after in Nairobi, four more people were killed in bomb attacks on two buses plying the busy Thika Highway that links the capital city and Central Kenya.

Then in the middle of May, the busy open-air Gikomba in Nairobi famous for imported second-hand clothes was hit in a deadly bomb attack that killed about a dozen people.

That seemed to serve as a signal for the social media offensive pushing the common thread that the three attacks, Chania Bus, Thika Road and Gikomba market targeted Kikuyu interests, and therefore could not have been perpetrated by Al Shabbab terrorists who have little interests in partisan Kenyan politics.

The near unanimous conclusion from the social media deluge seemed to be that the three attacks must have been the outcome of a domestic political agenda that seeks to undermine the leadership of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto.

At about the same time as the Gikomba attack, some key western nations, notably the US and Britain, upgraded their travel advisories on Kenya, cautioning their citizens of the threat of terrorist attacks and specifically warning against travel to the popular tourist resorts at the Coast.

Economic sabotage

Images of British tour companies evacuating their clients from the Coast as a result of the warning were widely broadcast internationally, giving the impression of a country under the threat of imminent attack and facing complete security breakdown.

The government, understandably, was furious, insisting that it had not been not informed of any specific threat. It took the advisories, especially the evacuations, as deliberate sabotage of the lucrative tourism industry.

An angry President Kenyatta publicly denounced the travel warning and said that the western tourists were free to go as Kenya could source tourists elsewhere.

It happened that the bad blood between Kenya and Western governments over the travel advisories came in the wake of the highly successful state visit by Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang.

Soon enough the blogosphere was abuzz with conspiracy theories suggesting that the travel advisories amounted to deliberate ‘economic sabotage’ as western retaliation for Kenya’s growing business links with China.

The spate of financing and infrastructure development agreements sealed by President Kenyatta and Premier Li were cited as evidence that the West had reason to punish Kenya after losing out on lucrative deals it previously monopolised.

At around the same time, Cord was beating the drums for Mr Odinga’s anticipated return from the US, which was to be marked by a major rally at Uhuru Park.

Also brought into the mix was the International Criminal Court indictments of President Kenyatta and Mr Ruto, which their supporters fervently believe were engineered Mr Odinga and his western patrons in an abortive bid to block the Jubilee duo from ascending to power.

The confluence of events seemed tailor-made for the Jubilee social media brigades, and soon enough the ongoing blitz made an association between Mr Odinga and his American links, the bombing allegedly targeting Kikuyu interests, and the political drive he was set to launch on return.

By the time Mr Odinga came back to star at the huge Uhuru Park rally, Twitter and Facebook were aflame as supporters of the ruling Jubilee and the opposition Cord coalitions went for each other in vitriolic attacks laced with ethnic venom and threats to violence.

Out in the respective Jubilee and Cord strongholds across the country, the situation was equally poisonous; as propaganda and hate messages driven initially on social media seemed to have spread to ordinary people in villages and townships all over.

Mr Odinga’s main message at the Uhuru Park rally was the demand for a National Dialogue on critical national problems such as security and terrorism, youth unemployment, tribalism, corruption and the economy.

He however threatened to launch as series of public rallies to take discussion to the people if the government rejected dialogue.

Jubilee supporters were not amused by what they saw as threats to launch mass action, which to many was the sort of activities that preceded the post-election violence of 2007-2008.

Intemperate language

The intemperate language employed in Uhuru Park and subsequent rallies already staged ahead of Saba Saba, July 7, angered and alarmed Jubilee supporters who interpreted some of the messages as signalling an imminent push to oust the government through mass action.

Again, links were made to Mr Odinga’s fabled penchant for demonstrations, possibly violent, and the western-sponsored ‘Arab Spring’ that ousted governments across North Africa – Libya, Tunisia and Egypt.

Not a single shred of proof was offered for the growing narrative linking Mr Odinga to terrorist attacks, an anti-Kikuyu offensive and western-backed push against the Uhuru-Ruto regime, but the Jubilee heartland eagerly lapped up the propaganda.

In parts of central Kenya and the Rift Valley, the government looked on without intervening as Jubilee Governors, MPs and other political leaders launched vicious public attacks against Mr Odinga, purporting to ban Cord rallies in their jurisdictions and even priming the youth to violently repulse any supposedly anti-government activity.

By the time the Mpeketoni attack came about, it was almost as if to confirm the prevailing narrative about a domestic anti-Kikuyu plot. President Kenyatta’s statement now takes that out of the murky realm of Jubilee social media activism and soapbox political rhetoric and elevates it to the official government position on a key national security issue.

The president warned of strong action against the politicians who are allegedly behind terrorist attacks previously attributed to Al Shabbab and supposedly planning similar acts of destabilisation.
The warnings indicate that the government cannot sit on its hands and do nothing if it indeed knows those responsible for mass murder in the Mpeketoni attack.

The prevailing view in the Jubilee government, as seen when the Senate went into a special session on Tuesday to debate the Mpeketoni attack, is that Mr Odinga is responsible for serious crimes and must be arrested and punished.

Outside statements driven by political fever, however, the question must still be asked whether the government actually has any evidence on which to act against Mr Odinga and his Cord colleagues.

It will be noted that a government notoriously slow to investigate and take action on a long catalogue of very serious crimes moved at superfast speed to point the finger at Mr Odinga even before investigators had reached Mpeketoni.

Dangerous political situation

The emerging scenario points to a dangerous political situation that could easily escalate to violence if not well managed.

Politicians seem keen to goad their supporters into freelance counter-actions, as seen with the brief blockade on Nairobi’s Ngong Road by Jubilee supporters on Monday targeting Mr Odinga, and the purported bans on Cord rallies being pronounced by Jubilee political leaders.

The speeches in the Senate on Tuesday were strong with demands from Jubilee MPs that the planned Cord rallies be banned across the country, but experience shows that banning rallies for unclear security reasons is often what leads to violence.

At the same time, government security operatives at the highest levels were keenly feeding the media with ‘leaks’ from classified Intelligence signals on threats off attacks against Kikuyu residents and businesses in Kisumu, Bungoma and other Cord strongholds.

The purported signals reported that the two towns had been ‘flooded’ with troopers from the Kenya Police paramilitary General Service Unit to deter such attacks, but checks by reporters on the ground indicated the information was false.

However the same misinformation was on social media rapidly spread by Jubilee adherents to feed the growing paranoia and state of siege.

If the Mpeketoni massacre came to fit neatly into a scenario that was already developing, Cord leaders accused of bearing responsibility might well wonder if the stunning development bears any resemblance to President Moi’s warnings in 1990 that the multi-party campaign would result in violence.

It turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, as his regime plotted the infamous Rift Valley ethnic clashes that were a precursor to the last bout of post-election violence that has President Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto in the dock at the International Criminal Court.

mgaitho@ke.nationmedia.com
@MachariaGaitho on Twitter