Saturday, January 16, 2010

Kenya Points Fingers at Al-Shabaab

There have been a lot of unease and violent demonstrations on Friday in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city, after Muslim demonstrators took to the streets demanding the release of Jamaican Muslim cleric, Sheikh Abdullah al-Faisal who is being held for preaching religious hatred and awaiting deportation to his native Jamaica. Earlier, the Kenya Police denied Muslim Human Rights Forum a permit to hold peaceful demonstrations. However, on Friday Muslim demonstrators gathered outside Nairobi’s Jamia Mosque to protest against the detention and forceful deportation of Sheikh Abdullah al-Faisal. The demonstrations turned violent after the police used live bullets and lobbed teargas at the demonstrators.

According to George Saitoti who is the minister responsible for internal security, two civilians were killed in the fracas, three others wounded and six police officers injured. However, Government Spokesman Alfred Mutua contradicted the minister, saying only one person died and 11 injured five of them civilians. According to the Standard Newspaper, Saitoti was flanked at the news conference by Ministers Yusuf Hajji (Defence), Mohamed Kuti (Livestock) and Mohamed Elmi (Development of Northern Kenya and Arid Lands) who condemned the protest in the strongest terms and also called for a thorough investigation into the causes of the violence.

Perhaps, the presence of hooligans who were not party to the demonstrations but who were there for the sake of looting the surrounding businesses resulted in the use of force by the police. Since attaining independence from Britain in 1963, the use of brutal force to quell disturbances by the Kenya police and security forces is well documented. A case in point is the Wagalla airstrip massacre of 1984 where hundreds of innocent civilians were gunned down by the security forces that was supposed to protect them. The enormity of this incident is documented in a book titled Blood on the Runway.

Kenya Muslim leaders have called on the government to take action against the police officers who were responsible for the deaths of the innocent unarmed demonstrators. They also called for the sacking of the commissioner of police and the resignation of Alfred Mutua, the government spokesman or else they will take undisclosed action. In a land where human and civil rights activists have been targeted in the past by the state apparatus, the possibility of having thorough investigations and fair jurisdictions must not be taken for granted.

According to the Kenya Government, Sheikh Abdullah al-Faisal entered the country on a tourist visa but attracted the government’s attention after he started preaching religious intolerance. The Jamaican preacher was previously expelled out of the country only to be returned to Kenya because there was no country that would take him. Most airlines have refused to ferry him because he is on the no-fly list.

Now Kenya is pointing fingers at Al-Shabaab, the religious faction fighting for control of Somalia. Currently, Al-Shabaab is in total control of Somalia’s southern provinces and has been expanding territorially for the past few years.

Western intelligence sources have indicated that Al-Shabaab is fighting a proxy war and that its main leaders had previous training in Afghanistan and that it has hundreds of foreign fighters inside Somalia carrying out assassinations and suicide bombings.

Sources report that some of the demonstrators were waving the black flag of Al-Shabaab while shouting slogans in support of the group. If this be the case, then Al-Shabaab has infiltrated Kenya’s social fabric and that its rhetoric of spreading religious upheaval may be coming to fruition.

Unlike Mungiki, Kenya’s underground gang that has been the cause of past civil disobediences, what is worth comprehending is that Al-Shabaab is a well-organized armed group with inflexible intelligence structures and positive logistics and that it is capable of surviving for a long time just like the Taliban of Afghanistan.

In other developing news, the man who is the spokesman for Al-Shabaab in Somalia’s Juba regions, Sheikh Hassan Yakub Ali, has been quoted as saying that the current wars raging in the Hiiraan and Galgaduud regions are being waged by Ahlu-Sunna-Waljamaaca that is in alliance with the Somali Transitional Government against the forces of Al-Shabaab and Hizbul-Islam. The spokesman further heaped blame on the Ethiopian government and AMISOM troops in Somalia for arming the Somali government and Ahlu-Sunna-Waljamaaca.

On the other hand, frustrated by the continuous infiltrations of Al-Shabaab militia into Kenya’s North Eastern Province (NEP) and the subsequent abductions of foreigners, after prolonged deliberations, elders of the Kenya-Somali community issued a strongly-worded statement admonishing the leaders of Al-Shabaab to refrain from destabilizing a peaceful Kenya that is already host to thousands of refugees from Somalia and from around the region.

Obviously, the exhortations directed at the leaders of Al-Shabaab will fall on deaf ears since Al-Shabaab’s intentions are farfetched. Al-Shabaab is first determined to secure Somalia and then establish an Islamic government and from there on it will, presumably, carry the war to the Ogaden region in Ethiopia and the former Northern Frontier District (NFD) of Kenya. The two regions were annexed to Ethiopia and Kenya respectively during the colonial era. Neither Ethiopia nor Kenya is willing to give away an inch of their territory come what may.

In every healthy democracy citizens have a right to demonstrate as demonstration is a sign of alleviating misconceptions and voicing concerns and grievances. A government that respects the rights of its citizens must hold the voices of its citizens in high esteem. In the case of the demonstrations in Kenya, that did not happen because in the first instance Muslims were denied a permit to converge and rally behind what they deemed a just cause.

Kenya has seen enough of civil disturbances and any repeat must be avoided at all cost. The 2008 election irregularities in which the supporters of Raila Odinga, the current Prime Minister and those of the President in the helm, Mwai Kibaki, that left over 1,000 dead and many others injured and displaced, should be enough to forewarn Kenyans of the consequences of political stupidity and absurd human miscalculations.

To this day, the 2008 incidents remain issues of political contention as Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Argentinian man appointed by the International Criminal Court (ICC) is about to indict the instigators and have those found guilty kept behind bars. Luis Moreno-Ocampo is credited with indicting the generals who committed gross human injustices during the reign of Augusto Pinochet of Argentina.

With rising crime and biting unemployment and tense social and political instability adding up to the nation's woes, Kenya leaders should discard any future idea of firing another live bullet at its citizens. Leadership is about having absolute vision, perseverance, patience, observing sanctity of life, and respecting human dignity. The recent squabbling between Uganda and Kenya over the tiny Migingo Island on Lake Victoria seems to have been forgotten.

To avoid unforeseen disturbances, the Kenya government, instead of holding Sheikh Abdullah al-Faisal in detention for such a long time, must do all it can to fly him out of the country to Jamaica-his country of origin-even it means hiring a special jet for this one-time adventure. Then, it will have to embark on the long and arduous journey of having close working relationships with Muslim leaders and also demonstrate to its Muslim citizens its good intentions. Then after the dust settles, the Kenya government must prove beyond reasonable doubt how Al-Shabaab is meddling in its internal affairs so it can have the unanimous support of Kenya Muslims.

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