Friday, June 26, 2015

Refugee Versus Migrant: Time For A New Label?

OXFORD, 15 June 2015 (IRIN) - Refugees and migrants have been making the headlines like never before in recent months. With the start of Refugee Week today, culminating in World Refugee Day on Saturday, that focus is only set to intensify. So what exactly is a refugee? How are they distinct from migrants, and why is it important?

The definition spelt out by the 1951 Refugee Convention is deceptively simple: a refugee is someone who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted” has fled to another country and is in need of protection.

The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, acknowledges that since the Refugee Convention was drafted, global migration patterns have become much more complex and refugees now often travel alongside millions of so-called economic migrants. 

UNHCR states on its website that “refugees and migrants, even if they often travel in the same way, are fundamentally different, and for that reason are treated very differently under modern international law.”
It goes on to explain that “migrants, especially economic migrants, choose to move in order to improve the future prospects of themselves and their families,” whereas “refugees have to move if they are to save their lives or preserve their freedom.”

The reality is much murkier. People often move for a number of reasons that may include fear of persecution as well as wanting to find better economic opportunities, and they may move more than once, like the Syrians who initially crossed into Turkey or Jordan but are now boarding boats to Greece. 
In an age when neither refugees nor migrants are particularly welcome, the line between the two is increasingly blurred and the terms themselves have become politically loaded. Most of the boats now crossing the Mediterranean contain both migrants and refugees, a phenomenon that researchers refer to as “mixed migration”. However, it often serves the interests of politicians to refer to everyone crossing the Mediterranean as illegal migrants, while rights groups and activists are more likely to call them all asylum-seekers or refugees. 

Melissa Phillips, a researcher at the University of Melbourne, has pointed outthat such distinctions matter because migrants are generally viewed as much less deserving of our sympathy and support than refugees.

“It is time we stopped talking solely about migrants and start to use more technically accurate and relevant labels,” she writes.
The problem is that the labels themselves no longer seem adequate to encompass people who migrate willingly, those who flee for their lives, and the whole spectrum of forced displacement and self-determination that falls in between.

Refugees and asylum-seekers
International refugee law experts tend to agree that someone becomes a refugee the moment they have to flee their country, even if they are not recognised as such until they seek asylum in a host country.
In trying to reach that country, they may be forced to travel as undocumented migrants, crossing borders clandestinely, often relying on smugglers.

“When people are on the move, they can only be described as migrants or asylum-seekers,” said Chris Horwood, coordinator of the Nairobi-based Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat.
“If an Eritrean gets refugee status in Sudan and then moves on (as most do) towards Europe, even though they may think of themselves as registered refugees, once they leave Sudan they are migrants/asylum-seekers again.”

Even after arriving in a host country, they remain asylum-seekers until they have gone through a process of refugee status adjudication that is supposed to determine whether or not they are really in need of international protection.

Barbara Harrell-Bond, who started the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University and is now an advisor to the International Refugee Rights Initiative, pointed out that “adjudication without legal aid is likely to find many refugees ‘not credible’ and reject them.” 

While failed asylum-seekers may still consider themselves refugees, the state that rejected them now considers them an irregular migrant who must either leave the country or be forced to leave.
The problem of “asylum shopping” has come about because asylum systems vary considerably from one country to the next. So while Norway granted asylum to 95 percent of Eritreans who applied there last year, France only granted asylum to about 15 percent. Unsurprisingly, asylum-seekers gravitate to the countries where they have the best chance of being granted refugee status.

We have to remember that until there is a fair procedure conducted for each person, we really don't know if the person is a refugee or not.
“We have to remember that until there is a fair procedure conducted for each person, we really don’t know if the person is a refugee or not,” commented Michael Kagan, co-director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Nevada. 
Only in situations where there are mass movements of refugees – usually as a result of war – and no need or capacity to do individual refugee status determinations, do host governments sometimes make the decision to recognise all new arrivals from that country as “prima facie” refugees.  

Migrants or refugees or both?

When commentators do attempt to distinguish between the different groups currently trying to cross the Mediterranean on smugglers’ boats, they tend to designate Syrians and Eritreans as the bona fide asylum-seekers, while the many West Africans arriving in southern Italy are all lumped together as “economic migrants”. Similarly, most international attention on the recent crisis in Southeast Asia focused on the Rohingya, a persecuted minority from Myanmar, while the many Bangladeshis who also boarded smugglers’ boats were dismissed as economic migrants.

“This kind of view ignores the very complex reasons for why people set out on these very dangerous journeys in the first place,” said Ruben Andersson, an anthropologist with the London School of Economics and author of “Illegality, Inc.”

He noted that many West Africans have experienced violence and repression in countries such as The Gambia, Mali and Nigeria before going to Libya, where arbitrary detention and violence targeting foreigners forced them to flee again. 

The term “forced migrants” is sometimes used, mainly by academics, to acknowledge the many people who migrate unwillingly but don’t fall under the Refugee Convention’s technical definition of a refugee and are therefore not entitled to international protection. This would include people who have abandoned their homes and countries because of drought or some other natural disaster.

“Public policy relies on the myth of clearly distinguishable categories,” commented Loren Landau at the African Centre for Migration & Society at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
“[But] our research in southern Africa suggests that people who claim asylum or become refugees are, for the most part, little different in experiences or needs than those who don't.”

He added that to say this publicly had become increasingly difficult as it was viewed as giving ammunition to those who would like to place more limits on asylum.

“Our terminology on human movement is in a real muddle,” concluded Andersson. “A fundamental rethink of our terminology is needed that takes account of secondary movement and mixed motivations while still ensuring that international protection is safeguarded.”

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The CIA Didn't Just Torture, It Experimented on Human Beings...

Human experimentation was a core feature of the CIA's torture program. The experimental nature of the interrogation and detention techniques is clearly evident in the Senate Intelligence Committee's executive summary of its investigative report, despite redactions (insisted upon by the CIA) to obfuscate the locations of these laboratories of cruel science and the identities of perpetrators.
At the helm of this human experimentation project were two psychologists hired by the CIA, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. They designed interrogation and detention protocols that they and others applied to people imprisoned in the agency's secret "black sites."
In its response to the Senate report, the CIA justified its decision to hire the duo: "We believe their expertise was so unique that we would have been derelict had we not sought them out when it became clear that CIA would be heading into the uncharted territory of the program." Mitchell and Jessen's qualifications did not include interrogation experience, specialized knowledge about Al Qaeda or relevant cultural or linguistic knowledge. What they had was Air Force experience in studying the effects of torture on American prisoners of war, as well as a curiosity about whether theories of "learned helplessness" derived from experiments on dogs might work on human enemies.
To implement those theories, Mitchell and Jessen oversaw or personally engaged in techniques intended to produce "debility, disorientation and dread." Their "theory" had a particular means-ends relationship that is not well understood, as Mitchell testily explained in an interview on Vice News: "The point of the bad cop is to get the bad guy to talk to the good cop." In other words, "enhanced interrogation techniques" (the Bush administration's euphemism for torture) do not themselves produce useful information; rather, they produce the condition of total submission that will facilitate extraction of actionable intelligence.
Mitchell, like former CIA Director Michael Hayden and others who have defended the torture program, argues that a fundamental error in the Senate report is the elision of means (waterboarding, "rectal rehydration," weeks or months of nakedness in total darkness and isolation, and other techniques intended to break prisoners) and ends—manufactured compliance, which, the defenders claim, enabled the collection of abundant intelligence that kept Americans safe. (That claim is amply and authoritatively contradicted in the report.)
As Americans from the Beltway to the heartland debate—again—the legality and efficacy of "enhanced interrogation," we are reminded that "torture" has lost its stigma as morally reprehensible and criminal behavior. That was evident in the 2012 GOP presidential primary, when more than half of the candidates vowed to bring back waterboarding, and it is on full display now. On Meet the Press, for example, former Vice President Dick Cheney, who functionally topped the national security decision-making hierarchy during the Bush years, announced that he "would do it again in a minute."
No one has been held accountable for torture, beyond a handful of prosecutions of low-level troops and contractors. Indeed, impunity has been virtually guaranteed as a result of various Faustian bargains, which include "golden shield" legal memos written by government lawyers for the CIA; ex post facto immunity for war crimes that Congress inserted in the 2006 Military Commissions Act; classification and secrecy that still shrouds the torture program, as is apparent in the Senate report's redactions; and the "look forward, not backward" position that President Obama has maintained through every wave of public revelations since 2009. An American majority, it seems, has come to accept the legacy of torture.
Human experimentation, in contrast, has not been politically refashioned into a legitimate or justifiable enterprise. Therefore, it would behoove us to appreciate the fact that the architects and implementers of black-site torments were authorized at the highest levels of the White House and CIA to experiment on human beings. Reading the report through this lens casts a different light on questions of accountability and impunity.
The "war on terror" is not the CIA's first venture into human experimentation. At the dawn of the Cold War, German scientists and doctors with Nazi records of human experimentation were given new identities and brought to the United States under Operation Paperclip. During the Korean War, alarmed by the shocking rapidity of American POWs' breakdowns and indoctrination by their communist captors, the CIA began investing in mind-control research. In 1953, the CIA established the MK-ULTRA program, whose earliest phase involved hypnosis, electroshock and hallucinogenic drugs. The program evolved into experiments in psychological torture that adapted elements of Soviet and Chinese models, including longtime standing, protracted isolation, sleep deprivation and humiliation. Those lessons soon became an applied "science" in the Cold War.
During the Vietnam War, the CIA developed the Phoenix program, which combined psychological torture with brutal interrogations, human experimentation and extrajudicial executions. In 1963, the CIA produced a manual titled "Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation" to guide agents in the art of extracting information from "resistant" sources by combining techniques to produce "debility, disorientation and dread." Like the communists, the CIA largely eschewed tactics that violently target the body in favor of those that target the mind by systematically attacking all human senses in order to produce the desired state of compliance. The Phoenix program model was incorporated into the curriculum of the School of the Americas, and an updated version of the Kubark guide, produced in 1983 and titled "Human Resource Exploitation Manual," was disseminated to the intelligence services of right-wing regimes in Latin America and Southeast Asia during the global "war on communism."
In the mid-1980s, CIA practices became the subject of congressional investigations into US-supported atrocities in Central America. Both manuals became public in 1997 as a result of Freedom of Information Act litigation by The Baltimore Sun. That would have seemed like a "never again" moment.
But here we are again. This brings us back to Mitchell and Jessen. Because of their experience as trainers in the military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) program, after 9/11 they were contacted by high-ranking Pentagon officials and, later, by lawyers who wanted to know whether some of those SERE techniques could be reverse-engineered to get terrorism suspects to talk.
The road from abstract hypotheticals (can SERE be reverse-engineered?) to the authorized use of waterboarding and confinement boxes runs straight into the terrain of human experimentation. On April 15, 2002, Mitchell and Jessen arrived at a black site in Thailand to supervise the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, the first "high-value detainee" captured by the CIA. By July, Mitchell proposed more coercive techniques to CIA headquarters, and many of these were approved in late July. From then until the program was dry-docked in 2008, at least thirty-eight people were subjected to psychological and physical torments, and the results were methodically documented and analyzed. That is the textbook definition of human experimentation.
My point is not to minimize the illegality of torture or the legal imperatives to pursue accountability for perpetrators. Rather, because the concept of torture has been so muddled and disputed, I suggest that accountability would be more publicly palatable if we reframed the CIA's program as one of human experimentation. If we did so, it would be more difficult to laud or excuse perpetrators as "patriots" who "acted in good faith." Although torture has become a Rorschach test among political elites playing to public opinion on the Sunday morning talk shows, human experimentation has no such community of advocates and apologists.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Burma’s Boatpeople ‘Faced Choice Of Annihilation Or Risking Their Lives At Sea’...

They were carried or staggered ashore, some paralysed by malnutrition, others little more than walking skeletons, burnt and dazed from weeks at sea on boats the UN has called “floating coffins”.
Manu Abudul Salam, 19, had watched her brother die when desperate fighting broke out after the captain of their wooden boat fled on a speedboat, leaving more than 800 passengers adrift with dwindling food and water. “If I had known the boat journey would be so horrendous, I would rather have just died in Myanmar [Burma],” she told journalists shortly after being towed ashore by Indonesian fishermen, one of a few hundred allowed to land.
Salam, a Rohingya from northern Burma, was not exaggerating in her depiction of that grim choice, judging by a report from researchers at Queen Mary, University of London, which warns that her people are facing state-sponsored genocide.
“The Rohingya are faced with two options: stay and face annihilation, or flee,” said Professor Penny Green, part of a group that recently completed several months’ research in the Rohingya’s home state of Rakhine. “If we understand genocide to be a process, that is what this is. Those who remain suffer destitution, malnutrition and starvation; severe physical and mental illness; restrictions on movement, education, marriage, childbirth, livelihood, land ownership; and the ever-present threat of violence and corruption.”
Since 1982 the group has been refused citizenship by the Burmese government, which denies their existence. Officials will not attend events, at home or internationally, where the word Rohingya is used, and last week threatened to boycott a summit on the escalating migrant crisis which had been called by Thailand.
“If they use the term Rohingya, we won’t take part in it, since we don’t recognise this term. The Myanmar government has been protesting against the use of it all along,” Zaw Htay, an official from the president’s office, told Reuters on Saturday. Instead it insists that a group with its own language and a history in Burma that goes back many generations must be called Bengalis, and describes them as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. That alienation has led to a vast chain of “refugee” camps which Green says are more like prisons, home to more than 100,000 Rohingya who require permission to leave them.
In the regional capital of Sittwe, once a thriving mixed city with dozens of mosques, a few thousand Rohingya still live in a ghetto with seven heavily guarded entrances. The number of mosques still standing is in single figures a nd they are deserted, occupied by government forces. A trickle of food aid into the camps keeps people alive but hungry on a meagre diet of rice and lentils, while in the city’s markets there are bags of food aid apparently siphoned off by officials with little care for the camps’ inhabitants. “They live the barest of existences,” Green says. “People were begging us for food. You walk around and see blank eyes.”
The government also tolerates Islamophobia and screeds of hatred in the media, Green said, fostering an ugly atmosphere that easily flares into violence. More than 200 Rohingya were killed in attacks in 2012 for which no one has been tried or even arrested. “We asked why there were no prosecutions or investigations, and the prosecutor said it was because it happened at night, so no one could see what happened.”
It is this living death that the Rohingya have been trying to flee for years, some across the border into Bangladesh, but thousands by sea, even though they know the smuggling trade is vicious and predatory and the journey could cost their lives.
The pace of departures has picked up, with up to 25,000 setting off from the Bay of Bengal between January and March, double the levels in 2013 and 2014, a UN report on “irregular maritime movements” in the region found. More than 300 migrants died of starvation, dehydration and beatings by boat crews, survivors told the UN. It is possible that others died unrecorded deaths as they set off in ships no more seaworthy or less crowded than those that frequently founder in the Mediterranean.
“A few interviewees also told of entire boats sinking, but there was no way to verify such reports or if, and how many, lives were lost,” the UN said in a report on the sea traffic.
Many of the women endure rape or other sexual violence on the boats or while waiting to travel, and many others are forced into marriage with men who pay for their journey. Mothers travelling with children are also particularly vulnerable to starvation, as young travellers are given no rations so women often go hungry to ensure that their sons and daughters can eat. This desperate exodus has been going on for years, largely unnoticed until regional governments that had been taking in the migrants started turning away men, women and children who had spent weeks at sea.
There are perhaps as many as 8,000 people now adrift in a hellish maritime limbo, refused permission to land by the Indonesian, Malaysian and Thai governments after being handed basic provisions of food and water, unlikely to last out their uncharted journeys.
“The situation is very grave,” Joe Lowry, a spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration in Bangkok, told Reuters. “They have no food, no water and are drinking their own urine. This is a game of maritime ping-pong with human life. We expect governments in the region to find a solution rapidly ... or we will be finding boatloads of desiccated corpses floating around in the Andaman Sea in coming days.”
Earlier in the week about 2,000 people were allowed to land; it was not clear how officials were deciding who should receive assistance and who were sent on their way. Turning the boats away was “incomprehensible and inhumane”, the UN’s top human rights official warned, as other UN organisations begged the governments to take them in and promised to help with food and transport costs. “In the name of humanity, let these migrants land,” said William Lacy Swing, director general of the International Organisation for Migration, which has already offered $1m in funding.
Pushing the desperate migrants back out to sea may also be illegal, as it violates obligations enshrined in global maritime law, according to the International Chamber of Shipping. “It’s a well-honoured maritime tradition for ships to rescue anyone in distress at sea, but coastal states also have an obligation to come to the rescue, and we expect them to honour this, including taking migrants ashore,” said ICS spokesman Simon Bennett.
The countries turning migrants away are apparently worried about their capacity to absorb a fast-growing number of poor, uneducated arrivals. But critics say they share responsibility for the current crisis by shying away from dealing with the root cause of the migration – policies in Burma that rights groups say amount to state-sponsored ethnic cleansing.
“Regional countries are reaping what they have sown for their policy of denial for years, and even with boatloads of desperate people in their waters they’re refusing to act,” said David Mathieson, senior researcher on Burma for Human Rights Watch.
“They are tantamount to co-conspirators in the repression of the Rohingya for years, because of their weak response to the export of Burma’s discriminatory policy to a stateless minority that has evinced more hatred than mercy throughout Asia.”
In its first official response to the crisis, the Burmese government denied any of the people stranded at sea were its citizens. “We cannot say the migrants are from Myanmar unless we can identify them,” a government spokesman, Ye Htut, told the Associated Press. “Most victims of human trafficking claim they are from Myanmar; it is very easy and convenient for them.”

Monday, May 4, 2015

Kathmandu's Kung Fu Nuns Have Refused To Be Evacuated - They're Staying Back To Help Victims...

300 women have refused to be flown by plane and chopper out of an earthquake ravaged Nepal. Clearly, they aren't ordinary women - they are nuns of the Ladakh-based Drupka order.
nuns kung fu
Or, as the world calls them, 'Kung-Fu Nuns'. These women have grown up learning kung fu and meditation their entire life from a Kathmandu nunnery, and now they're planning to stay back and use their strength to help earthquake victims here.
nepal kungfu nun
In fact, their leader, the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa  expected them to be shaken, like the rest of Nepal. He told the Daily Mail: “I was expecting the nuns over there to be under trauma. Many people were saying that they should be evacuated but they decided to stay back and help others." 
kung fu nuns
"It’s raining continuously, earthquakes are repeatedly happening, the walls are falling and none of them can go back to their rooms so they have had to camp in the garden.
nepal kungfu nun
Despite all these problems, they are willing to help.”  
kungu nun
According to him, these disasters show nature’s unhappiness with mankind's greed.: “From a spiritual point of view, we should not blame God but, instead, work with nature and respect it. Some people say that the earth is a mother. I don’t necessarily say that one should worship.
kung fu nuns
Respect, instead, means not being destructive. Scientists also say that,” he says.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Kenya: Five Things About Al-Shabaab and the Somalia Question...

Early Thursday morning militants from the al-Shabaab terror group stormed Garissa University College in Kenya and killed at least 147 students. The second worst terror attack in Kenya’s history lasted 13 hours and was made excruciatingly horrific by the fact that many of the victims remained in communication with their loved ones until the very last moments. Unbearable images of young students laying dead in their own pools of blood in classrooms will forever be etched in Kenyans’ memories. The attack echoed the September 21, 2013 Westgate Mall terror attack that killed 67 people. After Westgate many Somalia analysts insisted that such daring missions were the kicks of a dying horse, and cited successes by AMISOM and AFRICOM in taking back territory from al-Shabaab and decapitating the organization through drone strikes against it leadership.
Following Garissa, it might be time to reconsider this persistent narrative and overall Somalia policy in the Eastern African region. Here are my thoughts:
Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 9.51.35 AM1. Regional powers do not want a powerful central government in Mogadishu: Since independence several governments in Somalia have espoused a dream of re-uniting all the Somali lands and peoples in eastern Africa (under “Greater Somalia,” see map). That includes parts of Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, and more recently the breakaway regions of Somaliland and Puntland. A strong central government in Mogadishu would most certainly revive this old irredentist dream, despite the fact that the irredentist dreams of Somalia’s pre-Barre governments and the costly wars with Ethiopia (and proxy wars with Kenya as well thereafter) were the beginning of the end of stability in Somalia. Nairobi and Addis are acutely aware of this and that is part of the reason Kenya has for years maintained a policy of creating an autonomous buffer region in southern Somalia – Jubaland. The problem, however, is that a weak Mogadishu also means diffused coercive capacity and inability to fight off breakaway clans, militias, and terror groups like al-Shabaab.
The situation is complicated by the fact that Ethiopia and Kenya do not see eye to eye on the question of Jubaland. Addis Ababa is worried that a government in Jubaland dominated by the Ogaden clan could potentially empower the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), a separatist Somali insurgent group it has fought in its southeastern Ogaden Region.
2. The African Union and its regional partners do not have a coherent game plan for Somalia: To a large extent, African governments fighting under AMISOM are merely carrying water for Western governments fighting jihadist elements in Somalia. The West pays and provides material and tactical support; and the West calls the shots. Ethiopia and Kenya have some room to maneuver, but overall policy is driven by AFRICOM and the Europeans. The lack of local ownership means that African troops, especially the Kenyan and Ugandan contingents, are in the fight primarily for the money. Kenyan generals are making money selling charcoal and smuggling sugar (the UN estimates thatal-Shabaab gets between US $38-56m annually from taxing the charcoal trade). The Ugandans are making money with private security contracts dished out to firms with close ties to Museveni’s brother. Only the Ethiopians appear to have a clear policy, on top of the general international goal of neutralizing al-Shabaab so that they do not attack Western targets.
What kind of settlement does Kenya (and Ethiopia) want to see in Somalia? (See above). What does the West want? What do Somalis want? Are these goals compatible in the long run?
3. The internationalization of the al-Shabaab menace is a problem: Western assistance in fighting al-Shabaab and stabilizing Somalia is obviously a good thing. But it should never have come at the cost of unnecessary internationalization of the conflict. Al-Shabaab has been able to get extra-Somalia assistance partly because it fashions itself as part of the global jihad against the kafir West and their African allies. Internationalization of the conflict has also allowed it to come up with an ideology that has enabled it to somehow overcome Somalia’s infamous clannish fractionalization (although elements of this still persist within the organization). Localizing the conflict would dent the group’s global appeal while at the same time providing opportunities for local solutions, including a non-military settlement. AMISOM and the West cannot simply bomb the group out of existence.
4. Kenya is the weakest link in the fight against al-Shabaab: Of the three key countries engaged in Somalia (Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda), Kenya is the least militarized. It is also, perhaps, the least disciplined. According to the UN, Kenyan troops are engaging in illegal activities that are filling the coffers of al-Shabaab militants (charcoal worth at least $250 million was shipped out of Somalia in the last two years). Back home, Nairobi has allowed its Somalia policy to be captured by a section of Somali elites that have other agendas at variance with overall national policy. The Kenya Defense Force (KDF) risks becoming a mere pawn in the clannish struggles that straddle the Kenya-Somalia border. It is high time Nairobi reconsidered its Somalia policy with a view of decoupling it from the sectional fights in Northeastern Province. The first step should be to make the border with Somalia real by fixing customs and border patrol agencies; and by reining in sections of Somali elites who continue to engage in costly fights at the expense of ordinary wananchi. The government should adopt a strict policy of not taking sides in these fights, and strictly enforce this policy at the County level.
5. Kenya will continue to be the weakest link in the fight against al-Shabaab: Of the countries in Somalia Kenya is the only democracy with a government that is nominally accountable to its population and an armed force with a civilian leadership. This means that:
(i) Generals can run rings around State House and its securocrats: Unlike their counterparts in Uganda and Ethiopia, the Kenyan generals do not have incentives to internalize the costs of the war in Somalia. The cost is mostly borne by the civilian leadership. They are therefore likely to suggest policies that primarily benefit the institution of the military, which at times may not be in the best interest of the nation. And the civilian leadership, lacking expertise in military affairs, is likely to defer to the men in uniform. The result is makaa-sukari and other glaring failures.
(ii) Kenyan internal security policies are subject to politicization: With every al-Shabaab attack (so far more than 360 people have been killed) Kenyans have wondered why Ethiopia, which is also in Somalia and has a large Somali population, has remained relatively safe. My guess is that Ethiopia has done better in thwarting attacks because it has a coherent domestic security policy backed by unchecked coercion and surveillance of potential points of al-Shabaab entry among its Somali population.
Now, Kenya should not emulate Ethiopia’s heavy-handed tactics. Instead, focus should be on an honest assessment of how internal security policies in Mandera, Garissa, Wajir, Kwale, Kilifi, Mombasa, Nairobi, and elsewhere are playing into the hands of al-Shabaab. What is the best way to secure the “front-line” counties that border Somalia? What is the role of local leaders in ensuring that local cleavages and conflicts are not exploited by al-Shabaab? How should the security sector (Police and KDF) be reformed to align its goals with the national interest? What is the overarching goal of the KDF in Somalia and how long will it take to achieve that goal? How is the government counteractingdomestic radicalization and recruitment of young Kenyan men and women by al-Shabaab?
These questions do not have easy answers. But Kenyans must try. The reflexive use of curfews and emergency laws, and the blunt collective victimization of communities suspected to be al-Shabaab sympathizers will not work.
I do not envy President Uhuru Kenyatta: Withdrawing from Somalia will not secure the homeland. Staying the course will likely not yield desired results given the rot in KDF and the internal politics of northeastern Kenya. Reforming the police and overall security apparatus comes with enormous political costs. A recent shake up of security chiefs and rumors of an impending cabinet reshuffle are signs that Kenyatta has realized the enormity of the insecurity situation in the country (and overall government ineffectiveness due to corruption). But will Kenyans be patient and give him the benefit of the doubt? Will the president be able to channel his laudable nationalist instincts in galvanizing the nation in the face of seemingly insurmountable security threats and ever more corrupt government officials?
Meanwhile 2017 is approaching fast, and if the situation doesn’t change Mr. Kenyatta might not be able to shrug off the title of “Goodluck Jonathan of the East.”
For the sake of Kenyan lives and the Jamuhuri, nakutakia kila la heri Bwana Rais.