GAITHO: Increasing use of military in domestic operations worrying

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By MACHARIA GAITHO
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President Uhuru Kenyatta’s decision to have the military tackle the serious situation wrought by land invasions, banditry, cattle rustling and ethnic militias in northern Kenya is welcome, at first glance.

We can’t deny the urgent need to restores peace and security in the affected regions.

It is worrying, however, the rate at which the Kenya Defence Forces are increasingly being deployed in domestic security operations.

I’m not sure at this stage whether the proper legal proclamations have been issued allowing military activity in Baringo, Elgeyo Marakwet, West Pokot and Laikipia counties.

Already, in response to terrorist threats, a large part of Kenya had been officially gazetted as military operational areas.

These include the former North Eastern Province comprising Garissa, Mandera and Wajir counties, together with adjacent counties such as Isiolo and Marsabit in the former Eastern Province, and Lamu and Tana River at the Coast.

Also technically under military rule are all the major highways leading from those zones to Nairobi and Mombasa.

The latest decision significantly extends areas where the military, by law mandated to tackle external threats, is now engaged in domestic policing.

This could be dangerous if not well-managed, for the military forces are usually not encumbered by the usual restraints such as respect for human rights, due process, or Police Standing Orders on the use of firearms.

BAD IDEA
Even if we acknowledge that the deteriorating security made it imperative to add military muscle to restore normalcy in the affected areas, that itself serves as a severe indictment of the government and its regular security machinery.

It is an admission that the National Police Service has failed, despite its once-vaunted units such as the paramilitary General Service Unit, the Anti-Stock Theft Unit and the border security and rapid deployment units of the Administration Police Service.

The military engagement also comes at a time when the government is boasting of having dramatically increased the number of police officers to surpass the United Nations recommended ratio of at least one officer for every 400 persons; and equipped the service with the tools, equipment and weaponry needed to maintain peace and tackle crime.

Despite these concerns, I’m sure all well-meaning citizens would welcome any intervention to once and for all neutralise the armed irregulars that have for far too long roamed as if some parts of the country were autonomous killing fields.

However, the licence to go in with superior firepower will by itself not be the solution unless underlying social, economic and cultural issues are addressed.

To start with, the problems of armed pastoralists forcibly moving into private ranches in Laikipia County bears little resemblance to the ethnic blood feuds over cattle, pasture and territory that wreak havoc in Baringo, West Pokot and Elgeyo Marakwet; as well as Samburu, Turkana and Isiolo counties.

These are all conflicts that have been going on unchecked for years, peaking at times of drought like now.

Hundreds of Kenyans have died in these confrontations, so it is strange that the government only found it necessary to move in aggressively after a white farmer was killed.

That speaks volumes about the priorities of a government that cares much more about protecting a privileged few rather than addressing the grievances of a large majority.

Now, I’m not one for land invasions, or official seizures. I believe in the sanctity of private property; and hard work, thrift and perseverance as the route to wealth.

Neither would I advocate cutting up large successful commercial farms and ranches into tiny unproductive plots for political distribution to the allegedly landless people.

Some 50 years into independence, we are well past the time when everybody can sit back and expect to be gifted free land.

However, we would be living in a fool’s paradise if we failed to see the very real inequities that make land ownership in Laikipia a powder-keg ripe for ignition by selfish politicians every ready to stoke up ethnic and racial flames.

No racist interventions from British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson will alter this fact.

All those affected Kenyans should be looking not to Britain for help, but inwardly for solutions that address serious problems to the satisfaction of all.

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