Colonial-era Tactics to Silence Critics Didn’t Work Then, and Won’t Work Now

Maina Kiai by Maina Kiai
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I sometimes get emails from readers asking me to suggest solutions to the issues I critically write about, despite the fact that the solutions are embedded in the critiques, directly or indirectly.

Thus, for example, when we criticise the policy of collective punishment of Somalis using colonial-era swoops and concentration camp tactics, the obvious solution is to stop these indiscriminate and heavy-handed tactics! Not only is this not effective — as we have seen with continuing terror attacks — but it is also counterproductive, increasing the chances of further radicalisation and extremism.

This is not rocket science: These brutal colonial-era tactics did not work then, and they will not work now, when the population is more educated, more aware and is used to freedoms. We need tactics that are intelligent and respectful of human rights and the law.

Tactics that imply that every Somali or Muslim is a potential terrorist are silly and dangerous. It is like implying that every Gikuyu is Mungiki and should be shot on sight.

While a large number of terrorist attacks in Kenya have been carried out by Al-Shabaab members who claim to be Muslim, Kenya has had attacks carried out by others, and even recently when Al-Shabaab did not claim responsibility for a series of grenade attacks in Eastleigh.

An intelligence-driven approach is necessary. But to work, the regime must stop antagonising and frustrating the very people who can provide intelligence.

Thus the police must stop their extortion and extrajudicial killings so that communities have confidence in sharing information with them.

Second, action must always be taken when obvious failures occur. The recent removal of the security officers in northeastern Kenya is a good step, but not nearly enough.

We need to see CS Joseph Nkaissery and Police IG Joseph Boinnet take responsibility for the inordinate delays at the Garissa University College.

Had their chopper first taken the crack Recce Unit, even if it would have made a few trips, and had they mobilised other transport fast, we obviously would have saved tens of lives!


These two top officials need to apologise to Kenyans and to the families of the victims instead of making constant excuses. And they too should also suffer some punishment, just like their juniors.

But most importantly is ensuring that buffers exist between the state and the most affected communities. This is where civil society, religious leaders, teachers, and others come in, working with the system to ensure that law is observed.

Attacking buffers is akin to cutting one’s nose to spite their face. In this context, the pattern of state harassment against Haki Africa and Muhuri is incredibly foolhardy.

First they are placed on the suspected “terror supporters” list, and this week, they have both been subjected to a suspicious “tax audit” by the Kenya Revenue Authority.

This is not coincidental and the regime has clearly targeted these two organisations on spurious political grounds. KRA carted off hard drives and servers, saying that they can keep them for up to six months as they conduct their “audit.” Who knows what will be tampered with during this time?

This is not about audits. This is about trying to cripple critical organisations and dissent. Audits do not require taking hard drives and servers away: Auditors sit with finance staff and go over the books.

This overt politicisation of the KRA is a new low, and it will come back to haunt the tax agency.

Haki Africa and Muhuri are the most crucial buffers in matters of terrorism and insecurity at the Coast. By ensuring that the Constitution and human rights are followed by the authorities, the organisations provide a non-violent outlet for the thousands of angry, frustrated people who would perhaps turn to radicalism and extremism to counter the negative and abusive effects of the treatment meted out by the regime.

This regime is determined to shut down these buffers. If it succeeds, let it not blame anyone but itself for its short-sightedness and capriciousness if some people decide to retreat from the system.

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