NG'ENO: I take great exception to any preacher calling me ‘kafiri’ in my own country - Daily Nation

I take great exception to any preacher calling me ‘kafiri’ in my own country

Tuesday April 8 2014

Said Abubaker Shariff Ahmed alias Makaburi. PHOTO | FILE

Said Abubaker Shariff Ahmed alias Makaburi. PHOTO | FILE NATION MEDIA GROUP

It is not an exaggeration to say that the death of ‘Makaburi’ was greeted with unanimous public glee.

It is very important to make a distinction here; there was a lot of private rejoicing as well, but anyone who was dismayed, or saddened by this hate-monger’s violent death did not express themselves in public.

This event brings to the fore tensions and contradictions in how, as a community, we treat various controversies. For instance, I am thoroughly outraged that someone goes around freely calling me a ‘kafiri’ in my own country. That epithet is uncalled for.

Then again, if one is spoiling for a fight, he or she will signal it through innocuous ways. Someone saying that kafiri is the Islamic equivalent of ‘gentile’ insofar as it constitutes a religious or cultural distinction makes a point as incendiary as the servant in Romeo and Juliet who says “I do not bite my thumb at you, sir; but I do bite my thumb, sir!”

Airy words! Seeds of civil brawls.

But the tensions and contradictions go beyond this all the way to who we claim to be as a society. ‘Makaburi’ was felled extra-judicially. A number of commentators were quick to attribute the execution to the State. Obviously, such judgement is rash and without sound basis.

As a radical preacher widely suspected of facilitating the local Al-Shabaab and even Al-Qaeda franchises, ‘Makaburi’ would have enemies beyond East Africa.

By the time of his death, one can confidently surmise that ‘Makaburi’ had rightly earned the unfavourable attention of the intelligence agencies of all the major world powers.

Depending on what he was up to lately, it might have been decided by any of these powers to inflict a pre-emptive strike on the defiant preacher.


Also recalling doctrinal/ ideological and other intra-franchise squabbles among and between clerics and terrorists, it is clear that Makaburi would have been fair game to diverse entities. Blaming the government, therefore, is disingenuous.

The man was a beneficiary of disgustingly generous constitutional protections, to the extent that he was a decree-holder against the government. A man who urged Muslims to have no truck with a ‘kafiri’ government had no qualms litigating in its courts and picking its coin.

In any event, many consider Makaburi’s elimination to be a major blow in the war on terror, and expect more of such decisive interventions to push back the threat.

At the same time, we share a deeply-rooted suspicion of extrajudicial violations of human rights. This engenders its own conundrum: where is the balance of claims to constitutional protection? Should we observe the rights of all suspects, including violent jihadists, and ignore the threat they pose to every member of the public?

Should we subordinate the rights to life and security of Wanjiku to Makaburi’s freedom of speech, even when such speech targets Wanjiku for extermination?

The Opposition infamously opposed ‘Nyumba Kumi’, on the grounds that the concept harkened to the police state, where citizens spy on each other.

But freedom under a progressive dispensation like ours can afford the space needed for the germination and propagation of all manner of dangerous conspiracies.

Vigilance is the price we must pay for freedom. In the wake of globalised terrorism, democracies all over the world are hoping against hope to find equilibrium where liberty and security can coexist.

The American model in the context of the Patriot Act and so forth is highly unsatisfactory for civil rights types, but it delivers certain assurances of real security, and by extension, freedom from a certain form of fear.

I am sure that North Korea is not troubled in any way by such nuanced considerations, and I am also sure that no one would allude, even accidentally, to its state model as a model. Guantanamo and Pyongyang fall among the choices we must make.


Since none of us would countenance any limitation to the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, we all share the burden of vigilance. As private individuals as well as public officers, we have to remember one thing: justice will always prevail, but is of utterly no use to dead citizens or their families.

Therefore, we must balance the interests at stake to secure the public. It is only a certain obtuse literalness and clerically reductionist interpretation of the Constitution that would impel a judicial officer to unleash all manner of miscreants on the vulnerable public in the name of upholding rights.

Even so, lackadaisical prosecution, both in terms of defending the public interest, professional investigation and other forensic preparation, form the perfect recipe for shambolic doings in our courts.

A “live and let live’” philosophy among the public fosters criminal outrages right under our noses. Certain notions of freedom, justice and rights are nothing but lazy shortcuts. There is no shortcut when it comes to security. And national stability and prosperity require security.

The whole picture is larger, and more complex than bailing terror suspects, then moaning about extrajudicial executions.

Mr Ng’eno is the Director of Messaging, Presidential Strategic Communications Unit. ([email protected])