Securitisation on parade: Ruto and the response to Garissa

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Our Co-editor SJ Cooper-Knock explores Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto’s speech in Nyeri on Saturday, and asks what the country could and should do in the aftermath of the tragedy in Garissa. With updates added on 14 April as events evolved.

Sometimes, academics need to dig deep into the discourses of political leaders to uncover their underlying logic. In other cases, that logic could not be more apparent.

Little digging is required to understand the logic behind Deputy President William Ruto’s comments on Saturday.

Ruto was speaking in the aftermath of the horrific attack in Garissa, Kenya, which left at least 147 people dead.  The logic behind his speech is of one of securitisation.

Securitisation, a term coined by Waever in the mid 1990s, is a process whereby an issue is framed narrowly as a security threat that needs to be dealt with through extraordinary and militarised measures. Indeed, the nature of the threat is presented as so immediate and grave that political debate around the issue itself – and proposed responses to it – are deemed to be illegitimate.

Having insisted that all political parties must be united in their response to the threats, and reportedly saying ‘politics should not be introduced in security matters’, Ruto spelled out his government’s response.

As of now, he insisted, the UNHCR has three months to remove Somalis from the refugee camp in Dadaab. This camp – a product of Kenya’s encampment policy – contains approximately 600,000 Somalis, including a generation that was born within its boundaries and has never lived inside their ‘home’ state. If Kenya enforces this approach, it is unclear where these Somalis will go: refugees can only be repatriated to their home states when they are no longer in danger of persecution. Otherwise, return is known as ‘refoulement’ and constitutes a breach of international law.

It may be that Ruto is unconcerned with any such breach; these were insecure times, and that justified extraordinary measures. Given that the UNHCR stressed after the speech that it had received no formal request to close Dadaab, however, it may be that he does not intend to follow through on such plans. Rather, this may be Ruto’s way of encouraging or legitimising anti-Somali sentiment in the most direct fashion possible, given his ongoing wrangles with the ICC for incitement of violence in the aftermath of the 2007 elections.

On top of these plans, Ruto also announced the construction of a 700km wall between Somalia and Kenya. Should they carry out these plans, then the Somali-Kenya wall will join a long list of walls from the West Bank to the US-Mexican border, from the Greek-Turkish border to the ‘Peace Walls’ of Belfast, that stand as a concrete testament to citizens’ insecurities, breeding division and resentment rather than havens of safety. Moreover, it ignores the fact that a Ugandan, Tanzanian, Yemeni, and Kenyan have been identified as suspects in the Garissa attacks.

Summing up the Kenyan situation, Ruto argued, ‘the way America changed after 9/11 is the way Kenya will change after Garissa.’

For many, this will ring alarm bells. Arguably, US approaches to security over the last fifteen years have done little to improve the country’s national security but much to whittle down the human rights and freedoms that the US supposedly defends.

Ultimately, securitisation may be popular, but militarised, extraordinary measures infrequently do more harm than good. Sustainable security in Kenya, and indeed beyond, cannot thrive without four key elements: inclusive political communities, fairly structured economies, defensible foreign policies, and effective state institutions. Currently these factors are being overlooked or undermined in the Kenyan context.

Inclusive political communities 

We cannot understand the insecurity in north-east Kenya without understanding its place in national politics.

Back in 1962, the north-east of Kenya voted to join Somalia. This ethnically Somali region has long been marginalised in Kenya and, as a consequence, its residents have tended to associate with other Somalis rather than their fellow citizens. Exclusion by the central government has taken many forms over the years, oscillating between violent confrontation and political indifference, but the message has been consistent: Kenyans in the north-east are Kenyans ‘in name only’.

Tellingly, those arriving from Nairobi to the north-east region are often asked, ‘Habari ya Kenya?’ (What news from Kenya?).

These domestic political grievances both arguably feed Al-Shabab recruitment and create broader resentment against the government. They have also directly driven terrorist attacks: protagonists claimed that the bus attack on 22 November in which 28 passengers were killed, for example, was a direct response to police raids on two Mosques in Mombasa.

As well as lessening regional inequality amongst its citizens, Kenyans also desperately need to find a way of acknowledging, accepting, and facilitating the integration of Somali refugees into everyday life. Currently, rather than embracing the industrious hub of Eastleigh, Nairobi (known as ‘little Mogadishu’ for the number of Somalia migrants in the area), Somalis suspected of being illegal immigrants or having links to Al Shabab have been rounded up and placed in Kasarani stadium – labelled Kasarani Concentration Camp by some commentators – in so-called anti-terror raids. These raids have tended to rely heavily on ethnic profiling rather than evidence, naturally creating a great deal of resentment in the process.

Containment in Kasarani is just one episode in a series of ‘crack downs’ against Somali refugees. In December 2012, the Kenyan police tortured, raped, bribed, and detained around 1,000 Eastleigh residents. After the Westgate Shopping Centre attack in 2013, tensions rose once more between residents and the state. Following terrorist activity in Eastleigh and Mombasa in March 2014, the state launched Operation Usalama Watch and began rounding up, detaining, and abusing Somali residents suspected of aiding and abetting terrorists. The operation was condemned by Amnesty International as an ‘appalling breach of national and international law’.

Fairly structured economies

Economic underdevelopment is intimately linked to the issue of political exclusion in Kenya. In terms of education, healthcare, and transport infrastructure, northern Kenya lags behind the rest of the country. This underdevelopment has its roots in the colonial era, but successive governments since independence have replicated and reinforced these regional disparities. Whilst government documents such as Kenya’s Vision 2030 might envision a more equitable developmental future, there has been little meaningful progress on this Vision in recent years. A tragic testimony to this underdevelopment was the fact that security services allegedly took hours to reach Garissa University, making attacks all the more deadly, because roads in the area were in such poor condition. It has also become clear that the police helicopter that should have responded was allegedly being used by the family of the Airwing commandant.

Although links between conflict and underdevelopment are complex and may be multi-directional, political leaders would do well to keep in mind that the correlation between conflict and poverty is one of the strongest in international development.

Defensible foreign policy 

Foreign policy must be fair – and be seen to be fair – to minimise backlash from the targets of those policies abroad and from those who might identify with them at home.

The violence in Garissa is entangled with Kenya’s invasion of Somalia in 2011. For many Somalis, this was the climax – not the start – of the country’s jingoistic approach to its north-eastern neighbour.

Kenya’s invasion was forceful but unsuccessful, and it soon merged with the UN peace-keeping force, AMISOM. Whilst many Kenyans initially supported the government’s mission, many others questioned the degree to which external forces should be intervening in Somalia’s domestic politics. Like the US and Ethiopia before them, Kenyan troops were seen as an unethical breach of sovereignty and an ineffective means of furthering peace, security, or justice. The conduct of troops involved in the mission has also been questionable. Less than a month in to its incursion, Human Rights Watch highlighted reports of attacks against civilians by Kenyan forces. Similar complaints against AMISOM continue.

Kenyans might not agree with MP Aden Duale, an ethnic Somali from Garissa, who suggested that the government needs to open up dialogue with Al-Shabab. But these ideas deserve to be discussed as part of a range of policy options rather than villainised as a weak or complicit response.

Effective state institutions

Finally, effective state institutions are needed to deliver both development and security.

Presently, state security efforts are being severely compromised by poor intelligence, corruption, and its valuing of violent security spectacles over viable and strategic policies.

Clearly, creating effective state institutions is a long and rocky road. But, in the interim, there are measures that the Kenyan state can take that play to its relative strengths. One way forward, Kailema suggests, is for Kenya to learn from Ethiopia’s relatively successful attempts to tackle Al Shabab and decentralise its security operations, training and deploying Kenyan-Somalis at its borders, backed by the Kenyan Defence Force.

Pursuing these four factors is a complex task and may be less comforting to an angry and frightened public. But, ultimately, they hold the best hope for future peace. Ruto’s current securitisation only promises to feed the resentment, alienation, poverty, and ideological extremism on which Al Shabab’s recruitment feeds. Rather than capitalising upon Al Shabab’s waning hold in Somalia, Ruto could be actively facilitating its continued presence.


One thought on “Securitisation on parade: Ruto and the response to Garissa

  1. the current Kenya government can never listen, and if they can, the cant hear! especially from Kenyans. i suspect the writer of this truthful article in Kenya he/she is already labeled Al shaabab sympathizer! why can you talk to them!!

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