If there was one productive outcome from President Uhuru Kenyatta’s busy working holiday at the Coast, it was the meeting with security chiefs.
The pow wow at State House Mombasa was attended by the Cabinet Secretary for Interior and Coordination of National Government, Dr Fred Matiang’i, his principal secretary, Dr Karanja Kibicho, Inspector-General of Police Hillary Mutyambai and their subordinates in the national security and administrative apparatus from the national level down to regional and county formations.
The meeting frankly flagged terrorism as a clear and present danger to Kenya’s survival as a nation and came up with a host of recommendations on how to confront the menace.
It also recognised, crucially, the brave men and women of the security agencies who, on a daily basis, put their lives on the line so that the rest of us can enjoy our lives secure in the knowledge that somebody is watching over us.
This came around the anniversary of the Riverside Drive terrorist attack. It was also just a few days after Al-Shabaab militants brazenly raided a Kenyan military camp in Lamu that is also used by American forces helping with the campaign against the terrorist group in neighbouring Somalia, and amid an upsurge of terror attacks in the northeastern and adjacent coastal regions.
A key area of discussion was, obviously, around more efficient, effective and rational deployments to beef up the war against terrorism.
That was on Friday. The very next day, a sizeable contingent of police officers was deployed to block a political gathering in western Kenya called by a clutch of politicians who say they support Deputy President William Ruto.
The gathering was ‘banned’ on the spurious grounds that it posed a security threat. Fact is, there was absolutely no threat to law and order.
No risk of Al-Shabaab or other malcontents detonating bombs around the meeting. No unruly mobs going on the rampage.
The police purported to ban a perfectly legal assembly simply because the date clashed with another event in the neighbourhood convened by ‘former’ opposition leader Raila Odinga to campaign for the Building Bridges Initiative.
I do not here wish to dwell on the Raila-Ruto political duel and the patently partisan role being played by President Kenyatta’s State machinery. My worry is the criminal misallocation of security resources.
The Mombasa meeting recognised that we are in danger of losing the war against terrorism.
The vast region that we used to call North Eastern and Contiguous Districts — the present-day Garissa, Wajir and Mandera counties in the former North Eastern Province; Lamu and Tana River counties in Coast, and Isiolo in Eastern — are witnessing growing insecurity, much of it attributed to unchecked growth of violent extremism.
In some parts of the country, it appears we’ve surrendered to terrorism, allowing Al-Shabaab gunmen to roam around at will, killing security personnel and civilians, waylaying buses, planting roadside bombs and destroying vital communications and security installations with abandon.
Sizeable portions of Kenya are becoming no-go zones. Part of the problem is that we simply do not have enough boots on the ground, even when the military is roped in, to patrol every road and every hamlet.
We’re overwhelmed and in danger of being overrun by terrorists in the aforementioned regions, as well as by assorted bandits, cattle rustlers and ethnic militia in the northern outposts, violent criminal gangs in our urban jungles and white-collar criminals bleeding the national coffers dry.
We live in dread of the next big terrorist outrage. It will come, sooner or later. Security agencies have, commendably, thwarted dozens of terrorist plots, but we would be foolish to let our guard down when we know, for sure, that the merchants of death are in our midst and forever planning to kill the largest possible number of innocents.
In that environment, it is the height of criminal irresponsibility to divert scarce resources from national security imperatives to sterile political duels.
The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) is a noble and necessary initiative championed by President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga.
If as good as advertised, it should sell itself without a helping hand from policemen tear-gassing the reactionary elements in the opposition.
Such primitive action only serves to bolster the campaign by rebel Jubilee politicians keen to incite confrontation, play victim, and depict a Kenya regressing to dictatorship and totalitarianism.
The tear gas also diverts us from the very necessary discourse towards a better BBI outcome that addresses our real problems, beyond the selfish fixation on power-sharing arrangements.
[email protected] @MachariaGaitho