At times when people have tried to draw attention to the other side of a story, they have been accused (sometimes legitimately) of glossing over the glaring crime that has been committed. Pointing at someone’s burnt house while another’s is currently on fire can sometimes be unseemly. But in the case where someone has to pay for another’s crime, we have to speak up.
At least one hundred and forty-seven people were brutally murdered by Al-Shabaab on Thursday, April 2, 2015 at the Garissa University College. This must not be downplayed or be seen as relative to anything. The terrorists who committed this enormity chose to do so. They deserve our utmost loathing and the condemnation we reserve for the vilest acts. Any legitimate attempts aimed at finding and bringing these murderers to justice must be supported.
So what exactly has been the response? Kenya’s vice president, William Ruto, has asked the UNHCR to remove Somali refugees from the country in 3 months. Kenya is home to about 450,000 Somali refugees, many of whom fled from the civil war that broke out in Somalia in 1991. The UNHCR is calling this action illegal. The deputy director of UNHCR in Africa, Leslie Lefkow, has called on the government to find the perpetrators and stop making the refugees “scapegoats”.
What makes this development more troubling is that nobody is surprised by the actions of the government. In fact, Humans Right Watch was quick to raise concerns about “serious human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, and torture by security forces” just a day after the Garissa attack. Somali-Kenyans (2.3 million, 6% of the population) have been victims of discrimination. There are cases of them facing serious abuses from the Kenyan security services. You can read about that in here, here and the countless other reports you will get when you look up treatment of Somalis in Kenya in an internet search engine. The latest attacks have unfortunately spurred on the government to pursue a policy whose brutality is only matched by its ineffectiveness.
Al-Shabaab’s recent strategy of targeting non-Muslims and letting Muslims go is a strategy aimed at worsening religious tensions which came to prominence in riots in October 2013. Al-Shabaab has never cared for the life of Muslims. They have committed great atrocities in Somalia, killing Muslims in the thousands. Just read about them. Boko Haram, another terrorist group, used a similar strategy sometime in Nigeria. They targeted Christians in northern Nigeria with the objective of sparking religious war. When Nigerians proved that they will not fall prey to this diabolic plan, Boko Haram gave up the act and bombed mosques, kidnapped school girls, murdered whole communities and captured territory. Muslims, of course, were the majority of victims in this case.
Actions of the Kenyan government which are or appear to be discriminatory towards Muslims or Somalis risk giving Al-Shabaab the tactical victory it selectively murdered for. Security analyst, Ryan Cummings, wrote about how the new selective murders by Al-Shabaab were aimed at tipping over an already precarious situation. He showed that the report of Kenya’s 2008 Truth and Justice Commission had revealed that “..the country’s Muslim populace were often subject to undue discrimination, harassment, and distrust on both a governmental and societal level.” [Full article here]
Jason Mueller, a Research Fellow at the ‘Center for the Study of Democracy’ writes “The Kenyan government has been described as its “own worst enemy,” where it has cast a wide net on countless ethnic Somalis as potential al-Shabaab suspects to be rounded up and interrogated. He warns “Like many social problems, it certainly becomes more difficult to ameliorate a conflict after you’ve continually taken steps to exacerbate the issue—giving greater fuel for grievance formation and a calcification of “us vs. the enemy” mentality.” [Full article here]
Al-Shabaab has to pay for the murder of the people at Garissa, just like it has to pay for the murder of the people at Westgate mall. However, innocent blood should not be revenged by the harassment of innocent people. It should not be revenged by playing into the hands of the murderers. It must be revenged by bringing the people who committed the crime to justice.
Somalis in Somalia, Somalis in Kenya, Kenyans of all religions and ethnicities and even foreign nationals have been victims of Al-Shabaab directly and indirectly. In the effort to bring the terrorists to justice though, care must be taken to ensure that the ultimate victim does not become Kenya’s long-term peace and stability.