Terrorist attacks, internal conflicts over resources and politically sponsored violence are among the security issues Kenya is facing at present. With a record of violent elections over the past two decades, Kenyans will head to the polls this year, electing in August a couple of thousand public officials, among them a president, senators and county level representatives.
FES has been cooperating with partners in Kenya encouraging dialogue among warring parties. Among the partners is the East African Centre for Security and Strategic Studies, headed by Dr Simiyu Werunga who is an expert on public and international security. For FES Connect we spoke to Dr Werunga on the upcoming elections, terrorism, the wall erected along the border with Somalia and what social democratic approaches to peace and security may look like in Kenya.
Connect: Dr. Werunga, on what issues have you already worked together with FES?
SW: The partnership with FES Kenya and the African Centre for Security and Strategic Studies goes back for several years. Together we ran a few major programes. We started by organizing a national security workshop series and on a second occasion, we continued with security dialogue meetings. Out of that partnership we produced technical security briefs on issues of immediate concern for national security.
The latest project we worked on brought together functionaries from different governance levels and institutions. We discussed security issues affecting the different counties and collated the information to share it with relevant stakeholders. This informed the formulation of a strategy on how to deal with existing security concerns.
General elections are coming up in August. How will this affect peace and security in Kenya?
SW: The only way the forth coming elections may have an impact on our national security is if the process is seen as lacking credibility, conducted in an unfair and non-transparent way. In the event that the majority of Kenyans end up perceiving the elections to lack credibility, the violence will likely erupt.
Previous incidents of post-election violence were thought to be stimulated by hate speech of local politicians. Other incidents had to do also with issues concerning land distribution. These happened in parts of the country where there was a perceived unfair distribution of land by the local communities by former regimes to so called non-locals. The well chronicled 2007/8 post election violence was triggered by well documented facts of a rigged election.
How big is the Al-Shabaab and ISIL threat to Kenya and what could Kenya do about it?
SW: ISIL is not a threat yet to the country since their reach is not yet felt in the region, through Al-Shabaab or otherwise. They are yet to take over certain factions of Al-Shabaab or establish their own presence in Somalia. The region continues to monitor the situation.
Al-Shabaab could become an existential threat to Kenya. Their intentions, though initially centralised in Somalia, have become regional in nature due to their association with Al-Qaeda. In a context of creating a regional caliphate, the threat of Al-Shabaab with the partnership and support of Al-Qaeda is real. This can be seen in the manner they are consistently attacking Kenyan troops in Somalia, their persistent destruction of vital installations in the north-eastern parts of the country and the continued execution of plans to cause serious disruptions to the social fabrics of the Kenyan society.
The Kenya Government considered several strategies to deal with the threats Al-Shabaab poses to the country. At some point, the Government decided to construct a wall along the Kenya Somalia border. The parameters and the magnitude were scaled down to a small portion of the approximately 800 km border near and around Mandera town and county.
What social democratic approaches can Kenya use to enhance its peace and security?
The government should intervene in the free market system in order to redistribute wealth and resources. This was the plan after Kenya gained independence; a way to address historical injustices. Equally important is to educate and empower the public on making political choices not influenced by tribal affiliations. There is also a need to continue empowering citizens to influence governance and development through public participation at the county government levels.
Titus Kaloki is Programme Coordinator at Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Kenya.
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