Al Kags

Garissa #147. Proposals to build on.


147 people lost their lives in Garissa two days ago. I do not feel capable of speaking to that incredible loss. What is there to say, I could reiterate like Boniface Mwangi that Corruption killed them. I could pontificate about the culpability of the government, the apathy of the citizens, the lack of resources. I could go on twitter and share the hashtags and epithets of comfort.

But I am all wrung out on this one. 147 people, many of them young. What can I say? Many of their families lost their ticket into prosperity – not just because these young people were going to literally get jobs and lift their families out of poverty, but also because there are many parents and siblings whose will to fight hard to do more than survive will wane just a little.

Terrorism isn’t so simple (or simplistic) as to be blamed on any one person. Of course, the president and his government are responsible for managing our security – and arguments are well made that they are not doing a great job. Of course we need more police boots on the ground and we need more qualified policemen. But we are missing something if our young men and women are leaving their homes to go join the Al-Shabaab.

In Malindi, my town, there is an area called Shela. It is Malindi’s old town – with houses there that date back to the last century but one. When I was growing up, it was the most vibrant place – old men sitting outside having the local esspresso – “Kahawa Tungu”, women selling pastries, young men hanging out, fisherman walking in from the sea with fish, there was teenagers playing football and young girls playing outside. By 4pm the aromas of cinammon and other spices rent the air.

Today, there is no one about. Everyone is indoors – and there are no young people in the village – especially young men. They either went  to the middle east looking for work or died from drug use or have disappeared, ostensibly to radicalised Al-Shabaab camps. Its a ghost town now.

Yes, its true the government needs to do something. But we as citizens must introspect too – are we truly our brothers keeper? Do we really know whats going on in our neighbourhoods? Do we know what our kids are doing/ going through? Do we have a relationship with them? What are we doing to show them whats important in life – beyond money?

We must ask ourselves how we are in terms of following rules, in upholding our values and in policing ourselves. I started thinking about this over the past few days. the Nairobi county has blocked off several roundabouts in the city’s main artery under the banner of a new “no-right-turn” policy. Nyayo Stadium roundabout and Bunyala Road roundabouts are closed in. Imagine my chagrin to observe people coming from Upperhill at a time that there is not much traffic, and taking a u-turn on the pavement just after the roundabout! Some of these errant drivers even take the u-turn meters away from the Haile Selassie round about, where they would have turned any way. What does this say about us?

As we demand more from the government, we need to demand more of each other – and ourselves.

I don’t think anyone has the answers to the terrorism issue. It is a huge and complex challenge. How do you box an invisible adversary? I do not claim to have all the answers – in fact I am hard pressed to find even one sure answer to that riddle. All that we can do, I suppose is to contribute ideas that we can take up. I propose a series of measures, which like every grand plan, I shall narcissistically give a name: Linda Nyumbani.

  1. The government has decided to build a wall between Kenya and Somalia. I can’t think of one place where a wall has worked as a measure for border management – not in Texas and Arizona, where the US is trying to protect itself from illegal immigrants, not in Palestine, and not in southern Africa when South Africa tried to build a wall between South Africa and Namibia or Mozambique. I propose that we abandon that programme.
  2. I propose that we have a comprehensive Frontier strategy that has the following key points:-
    • Build an extensive road network to every part of Northern Kenya from Isiolo to Wajir, from Wajir to Mandera and Lodwar, from Kitale to Hola via Pokot. One effect that this will have is that it will make it easier for investors to go to the north and start to invest in different businesses. The creation of towns will improve security because of more infrastructural development (police stations, hospitals, schools). We could use concessioning as a model to finance and build these roads. Let entrepreneurs build roads in 50km, 100km, and 200km blocks and be responsible for them. Let tolls or the fuel levy pay a “lease” for every well maintained road for 10 years, after which it reverts to the government – or is retendered for other road managers.
    • Build an army barracks in Wajir, Garissa, Hola, Mandera, Pokot and Lodwar. Build training camps around the border and increase traffic between the barracks. Have a dedicated border patrol for the border manned by a police paramilitary unit – the Border patrol. Just the presence of the military in these areas will have a impact.
  3. Employ more police officers – President Kenyatta directed that 10,000 officers be employed, which is great. But lets improve our selection process. Lets get diploma and degree holders to join the police force and let them earn a bit more (encourage the existing cops to go back to school so that they can earn better salaries). Have a motivation matrix that encourages police officers to get better skills in intelligence gathering, customer care, security management, crisis management etc.
  4. Lets have a public campaign to encourage people to be wangwana – better civilised, to be each others keeper.
  5. Lets re-energise the community policing concept and maintain its energy. This means that the police service build on public trust and dependability by improving their transparency, PR and ‘customer’ service. The more people feel that they can go to the police and have their reports acted upon the more reports are likely to go in.
  6. Most importantly, lets you and I get serious about security. Lets get serious about the Nyumba Kumi concept – we laughed at it when it was formed but it will help.

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