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Vol 55 No 19

Published 26th September 2014


Security changes mark a sombre anniversary

A year after the Westgate Mall siege, President Kenyatta is reorganising the security services as Somali and local jihadists continue their attacks

The wide-ranging calls for a full inquiry into the handling of the attack by Al Haraka al Shabaab al Mujahideen on the Westgate Shopping Mall a year ago have been met with a confusing silence. Amid claims of debilitating inter-service rivalries, unheeded intelligence warnings and crass criminality by security officers, the public's concerns have been left unanswered (AC Vol 54 No 20, Shockwaves after the shoot-out). The government flatly rejected the idea of a public enquiry, like the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (9/11 Commission). Nor, we hear, has it launched a far-reaching  internal investigation of what went wrong and why.

Just as disturbing is the deteriorating political climate. At the height of the Westgate siege, in which 67 people died, President Uhuru Kenyatta's appeal to national unity, regardless of ethnicity or religious faith, had great resonance with the people. Since then, Kenya's searing political and ethnic divisions have resurfaced and are undermining efforts to improve security and popular support for the security agencies.

During the past few months, Kenyatta has pressed ahead with restructuring the security services, which will give the armed forces more power and influence over domestic policy. Out of these changes, the Kenya Defence Forces Chief, General Julius Karangi, has become the dominant figure in the security system. He is due to retire in 2015. There are no plans to have him go quietly. In April, Senator Kithure Kindiki, a lawyer previously linked to the reformist camp and now a fast-rising Jubilee legislator, introduced the National Emergency Security Bill. Its main thrust is to create an agency on US Homeland Security lines, directly answerable to the President (AC Vol 51 No 24, Ruto takes on the courts). Many insiders say Karangi will head that new body and few believe that he will retire next year.

Last December, there was a clear signal that the military would be far more involved in domestic counter-terrorism and fighting crime: Cabinet Secretary for Defence Raychelle Awour Omamo issued a gazette notice announcing the creation of a Nairobi Metropolitan Brigade, in addition to the KDF's Eastern and Western brigades. There has been no announcement yet about who will run the NMB but it will be an important extension of Karangi's remit (AC Vol 54 No 25, Counter-terrorism force under attack).

Extending military clout
Another sign that some politicians are pushing to extend the military's clout in domestic affairs was the attempt last month to amend the Kenya Defence Forces Act to allow the KDF to deploy troops internally without the authority of Parliament. The bill was introduced in Parliament by Majority Leader Aden Duale, a loud cheerleader for the governing Kenyatta-William Ruto coalition, known as UhuRuto. However, it was withdrawn after a  public furore. Some members of parliament, however, think the matter is unlikely to end there.

For now, it seems, Gen. Karangi has emerged as the power behind a civilian government that wants to use the military to plug the holes in its domestic security system. Yet the government has been unable to produce a comprehensive response to the terrorist threat posed by Al Shabaab, as well as suspected copycat lower-level attacks in urban areas. After lengthy consideration of demands for the dismissal of high-ranking security staff, the President acted in August. In the first major reshuffle of his 17 months in office, Kenyatta announced the resignation of the Director of the National Security Intelligence Service, Major Gen. Michael Gichangi, and demoted Interior Ministry Principal Secretary Mutea Iringo, replacing him with the former Ambassador to the African Union, Monica Kathina Juma. Also shown the door were Nancy Gitau, Kenyatta's Political Advisor, and Jane Waikenda, who was briefly Director of Immigration, a department long seen as a weak point for would-be insurgents who could bribe their way into the country.

These changes are seen as political rather than as aimed at the security problem. Gichangi, Iringo and Gitau had caused friction between Kenyatta's National Alliance faction of the Jubilee coalition and his deputy Ruto's United Republican Party. Indeed, the URP accused the trio of providing the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands with evidence against Ruto (AC 55 No 1, Chickens come home to roost).

Kenyatta inherited the three from President Mwai Kibaki's government and there was much talk that he did so reluctantly, viewing them as necessary baggage that came with his own ICC case. Nor did it help that, alongside other Kibaki government insiders, they were quietly sceptical of Kenyatta's candidature in March 2013, fearing the diplomatic repercussions of his victory and the threat of Western economic sanctions. With the ICC case against Kenyatta floundering badly, their exits came with little political risk.

Their successors in the security department point to Karangi's increasing influence in State House. Maj. Gen. Phillip Wachira Kameru, a close ally of Karangi, replaced ex-spy chief Gichangi, who vied with him for State House's attentions, even in Kibaki's day. Another  Karangi man, Maj. Gen. (Retired) Gordon Kihalangwa, now heads Immigration.

That the character of the new security order remains unambiguously pro-Kenyatta and pro-Kikuyu comes as no surprise but the pressure to distribute the key posts is one of the problems in managing the coalition. That accounts for the placatory gesture made to Ruto's camp, which is predominantly Kalenjin and has benefited from a slew of favourable ambassadorial  appointments. There is some irony in the choice of URP Chairman Francis ole Kaparo to head the almost-moribund National Cohesion and Integration Commission, which is meant to monitor ethnic or other favouritism in government appointments.

Power struggle
The reshaping of the domestic security agenda appears to stem from State House's suspicion of security sector reform, a creature of the new constitution. The reforms have sought to transform a brutal colonial-era outfit into one closer to the liberal democratic ambitions of the 2010 constitution. This was to be achieved mainly by creating the National Police Service Commission (NPSC), a civilian authority, to oversee appointments to the force and the Independent Police Oversight Authority to handle public complaints and deal with internal malfeasance.

The reform process ran into trouble almost as soon as it started. The vetting of senior officers, televised live for public consumption, rapidly degenerated into farce. Police veterans could explain neither their bloated bank accounts nor their dubious sources of income.
Finally, the power struggle between NPSC Chairman Johnston Kavuludi and Police Inspector General David Kimaiyo over who could appoint and deploy senior officers sank the reform project. Kavuludi enjoyed constitutional authority; Kimaiyo had the backing of powerful individuals. As the status quo ante returned, the stalemate appears to have favoured the Inspector General, who now seemingly has unfettered control of police appointments and deployments.

Kimaiyo's victory over his civilian counterpart soon proved Pyrrhic: all it granted him was an embarrassing exposition of police frailties. It was revealed during Westgate that the police had not acted on intelligence about an impending attack. The force defended itself by saying that the intelligence was too general to be used. That claim eventually cost Gichangi his job.

Police failures were starkly exposed during the attacks on the northern coastal town of Mpeketoni in June (AC 55 No 13, Confused response to terror attacks). The KDF eventually took over the hunt for the militants even as Kenyatta, facing heavy criticism, insisted that opposition politicians and not Somali jihadists were to blame. That was despite claims from Al Shabaab that it had carried out the attacks. The subsequent search, including helicopter sweeps over the nearby Boni Forest, yielded little but does not appear to have shaken the President's faith in the military. Many believe that if Gen. Karangi's position in the Jubilee government can survive the devastating Westgate attack, his relations with State House are strong enough to withstand almost any security crisis.

The problems are far wider than security. The attacks on Westgate and Mpeketoni have hugely damaged Kenya's reputation as a secure tourist destination, as their authors intended. There is also growing resentment against those Western governments that put out general advisories warning their nationals of the risks of attacks and abductions. The resulting shutdowns and unemployment along the coast reinforce the vicious circle of destitution and desperation among young people. Jihadist groups are stepping up recruitment there as the government again insists that it will keep its troops in Somalia, whatever attacks these groups try to launch within Kenya.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga's campaign against Kenyatta's intervention in Somalia was in fact launched four years ago when Kibaki was President. Odinga knows that some in Kenyatta's own Mount Kenya support-base question the wisdom of that strategy and he may hope to exacerbate those divisions. The costs of the Somalia intervention to Kenya's security and its political fabric look set to be the main test of Kenyatta's presidency for the rest of its term.

Jubaland, the solution or the problem?
Politicians and activists still debate the real motives for Kenya's decision to send troops to Somalia in 2011 to fight Al Shabaab. Alongside Uganda and Ethiopia, Kenya has become a mainstay of the African Union's military operations in Somalia: it has also borne the highest domestic price by far. Prior to Kenya's intervention, there had been a spate of attacks across the Somali border in northern Kenya but locals say that the fighters did not appear to be linked to Al Shabaab. Some see the intervention as a pre-emptive move to establish a buffer zone and semi-autonomous state to be known as Jubaland, at the southern tip of Somalia, hard against the border with Kenya. Such a plan is absolutely unacceptable to the Mogadishu government, still struggling to enforce its writ in southern Somalia.

If the idea was to cushion Kenya from the conflict, it has failed, as shown by the terrorist attacks on the Westgate Mall and the northern coastal town of Mpeketoni. Now, Interior Minister Joseph ole Lenku has reiterated the government's aim to close down the Dadaab refugee centre in north-eastern Kenya, home to about 500,000 Somalis, some of whom have been living there for over two decades. Kenyan officials say they are willing to build the necessary schools, clinics and housing to accommodate all the refugees in Jubaland. This week, United Nations' officials are adamant that closing Dadaab and repatriating the refugees is impractical. Any forced repatriation would violate international protocols on refugees to which Kenya is a signatory. So, the Jubaland initiative remains frozen.

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