Raila Odinga – Beware: Kenya on the brink

Partly because of my background, my father’s influence in particular, and then my own love for my country and commitment to see it flourish in every way, I have been involved in Kenya’s political life for longer than the vast majority of our young population has been alive.

Together with like-minded patriots I was there when the agitation towards a freer or more just system of governance in Kenya started in the 1970s through the 1980s. I was at the heart of calls for political pluralism and constitutional change in the 1990s and have remained true to the vision that informed these calls ever since.

I have spent more time as a political prisoner for my belief in a better, fairer, peaceful and united Kenya than any other citizen of this country.

With that in mind I request Kenyans to lend me their ear in good faith. It matters not whether you are a CORD supporter or even if you don’t like me as a person. We are all Kenyans and what I’m about to say affects us all and the future of our beloved country.


When I returned to Kenya after a sabbatical in the US this past May, I found Kenyans, ever creative and full of humour, had created the hashtag on Twitter #BabaWhileYouWereAway.

I retain the humility and have been in public life long enough to appreciate something important. The massive energy unleashed by #BabaWhileYouWereAway on social media and even the huge rallies that showed up as we subsequently toured the country were not only about me — Raila Odinga. It was and remains the symptom of a deeper, more troubling malaise regarding governance in Kenya. It threatens the very continued peaceful existence of Kenya as a coherent nation-state.

Unless we are collectively extremely careful, Kenya can fail.

At the heart of the current condition is fear and despondency that has gripped Kenya particularly because of the collapse in security in a country that had always prided itself as a bastion of peace and stability in a troubled region.

I’m not saying incidents of insecurity in various parts of the county are new to us, only that since the last elections, things have gotten dramatically worse.

One key reason for this is cowardly terrorist attacks by al Shabaab especially since the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) invaded Somalia in 2011.

Until our incursion into Somalia, terror attacks on Kenya were scarce and far between. We recall that in 1980 a bomb flattened the Norfolk Hotel on New Year’s Eve, killing 20 people and injuring 80.

A Palestinian group claimed responsibility, saying it was in retaliation for Kenya allowing Israeli troops to refuel in the capital en route from rescuing 100 hostages being held by pro-Palestinian hijackers at Entebbe Airport in Uganda.

Then came the August 7, 1998 bombing of US Embassy in Nairobi by Al Qaeda affiliated suicide bombers killing 212 and leaving an estimated 4,000 wounded — mostly Kenyans.

On November 28, 2002 there was a missile attack on an Israeli plane shortly after it took off from Mombasa airport, but missed.

At the same time, a car carrying explosives smashed through a barrier the Paradise Hotel in the city as it received 60 Israeli tourists checking in. Ten Kenyans and three Israelis died in the attack.

The situation has deteriorated rapidly since our troops moved into Somalia. We have since then been subjected to regular attacks against churches, bars, bus stations, military sites and shopping centres around the country.

This escalation intensified when the Jubilee administration came to power in March 2013. In 2014 alone, there have been 25 attacks!

When on August 4, about eight armed men hurled grenades at the Mandera County Government offices, Kenya media reported that the attack marked the 100th successful such strike in the country since October 2011.


The Mandera attack happened weeks into the first anniversary of the highly coordinated Westgate attack in which 68 people were killed and more than 175 others injured.

The other significant attack has been the Lamu-Mpeketoni massacre where about 100 Kenyans were shot dead or their throats slit.

Once again I take this opportunity to condemn these attacks most emphatically while condoling the families and friends of the hundreds of Kenyans who have been murdered or maimed.

The fact that Al Shabaab has been able to mount so many attacks within Kenya’s borders points to a systemic failure in our security system.

Even ordinary wananchi have been able to deduce that while countries such as Ethiopia, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda also have troops in Somalia under Amisom’s mandate, they have not suffered the same fate as Kenya. This is not for want of trying on al Shabaab’s part. In July 2010 they set off a device that killed 74 and left 70 injured in a Kampala pub where people were watching football.

Clearly, our neighbours have demonstrated that they could have more effective security agencies despite the huge sums of money spent on ours.

In truth, a working security system is not about CCTV cameras and other gadgetry.

The effectiveness of disciplined forces is first and foremost heavily dependent on the quality of leadership they have. Ours has been found to be severely wanting, compromised by tribalism, partisan politics, favouritism, corruption and nepotism.

Corruption is a particularly major but unquantified issue in our security threats. I intend to address this comprehensively on the International Anti-Corruption Day.

In regard to the failure of leadership in the security services and the contradictions within — the buck stops with the President. Under public pressure he took the positive step of removing the Cabinet Secretary for Interior and Inspector General of Police earlier this week.

It is too early to celebrate, however, as the entire security apparatus of the country clearly isn’t working and is in a state of deep dysfunction. As Commander-in-Chief, President Kenyatta knows final responsibility lies with him.

Thus far his response to the spate of attacks since March last year has been to propagandise the issue instead of tackling its root causes.

Additionally, the statements made by senior officials after the attacks have served to demonstrate insensitivity, incompetence and even outright dishonesty.

The Jubilee manifesto’s border security programme and the promised Commission of Inquiry into Westgate both have been blatant non-starters for example.


After the first Mandera attack two weeks ago Deputy President Ruto claimed that Kenyan forces had killed more than 100 al Shabaab militants only to have them literally ‘rise from the dead’ to strike a week later with impunity.

After the second attack, the Deputy President blamed the dead, saying they had been asked to leave but they declined. A country becomes ungovernable when its citizens cannot believe the statements of the leaders on the most critical aspects of national security.

In part this loss of trust is what has fed the fear and despondency in Kenyans. Governing by propaganda and slogans has failed. The time is over for politics of photo opportunities and sound bites. The time for a review and overhaul of our entire security system is now.

In particular the ‘Tonje Rules’ that articulated the process via which military officers are promoted and retired should be reinstated.
Abandoning them has left us in a situation where its not even clear whether the current Chief of General Staff is legally in office. Besides, he is one of those in the security sector who should also exit the scene for public confidence to be renewed. If Ole Lenku and Kimaiyo failed, so did Julius Karangi and Ndegwa Muhoro. They too must leave. I was a member of the Cabinet that approved Kenya’s incursion into Somalia in 2011. However, what was approved was a rapid response move to secure our borders and protect Kenyans and our tourism industry.

At the end of 2014 we are still in Somalia without clarity on the KDF’s mandate or an exit strategy. The updates the public used to get have stopped. An exit strategy is needed urgently.

In June, I offered President Kenyatta the opportunity to dialogue about issues of national importance such as security and was rebuffed.

The safety of the lives and property of Kenyans is above politics. If we continue down the road we are headed then the bloody consequences will injure us all and undermine the coherence of Kenya as a nation.

Many government supporters and even some officials respond to criticism from those they deem the opposition by asking for ‘solutions’. The opposition is not a think tank for the government. If the government has ran out of ideas it should reach out to experienced Kenyans of integrity to help or stand down.

The writer is former Prime Minister and Cord principal

By Mzee Posted in kenya

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