Lamu operation hurting tourism

Lamu Officers Attack

Officers remove the wreckage of the GSU vehicle in which four officers were ambushed at Milihoi in Lamu County on Friday January 7 morning.

Photo credit: Wachira Mwangi | Nation Media Group

More than 20 bodies has reportedly been retrieved from River Yala as at last week. This comes after discovery of more bodies in River Tana last year. The victims appear to have been murdered elsewhere and dumped in the rivers, according to human rights groups and eyewitnesses.

This is a gruesome and disturbing pattern now emerging in the country. But despite the shocking findings, the government is silent on the issue. However, they had time to comment on and commute metal vandals of state infrastructure that can easily be replaced. Has human life in Kenya now been reduced lower than that of inanimate objects?

The discovery of bodies comes on the back of concerns about young men allegedly being disappeared after they were picked up by ‘police’. I have argued in a recent article that if the police are not involved in kidnappings and dumping of the victims’ bodies, then other forces must be behind them. Even then, it is the government’s responsibility to investigate and put a stop to the crime.

Terrorism has been a scourge globally and countries that have been affected have put measures in place to tackle the menace. But Kenya’s anti-terrorism measures leave a lot to be desired, given the many grey areas on its approach. One of those is suspension of human rights principles. Many believe that terrorists do not deserve human rights protection but they do; otherwise, we will end up in an environment where police accuse innocent citizens of terrorism, then hang and quarter them. ATPU cannot be the police, judge and executioner in their own case.

The kidnapping of unarmed, innocent young men in the name of fighting terrorism and executing them without following due process of the law is infringement of human rights principles. The right to fair hearing is key to international law and that extends to alleged terrorists. Kenya has signed up to nearly all international legal instruments and is obligated to respect not just the spirit but the letter of the law on human rights. The summary execution of suspects picked up by ‘security agencies’ goes against the law and inculcates a culture of lawlessness that is bound to inspire criminals.

The anti-terrorism security operations appear to be choreographed by a small select cabal of officials in the government with Parliament pushed to one side. It is understandable that security matters require a degree of secrecy but there appears to be abuse of systems along the way worth challenging.

Cloud of mystery

It should concern the nation that a huge defence budget has gone into purchasing arms with the approval of a small clique of officers rather than MPs. Terrorism has offered a cloud of mystery under which to commit the country into importing expensive artilleries, fighter planes and military gear to deal with a handful of terrorism activities that regular police can easily handle.

Lamu County has been turned into the epicentre of the anti-terrorism war without a convincing reason for the operation. This is a county that has a history of cattle rustling and banditry in some areas which has been handled by regular police for decades. The current security operation is heavy-handed and is leading to instability in the area. It is also adversely affecting the lucrative tourism industry. Foreign tourists cannot distinguish between the Lamu that is undergoing security operations to flush out phantom terrorists and the Lamu that is a beautiful and peaceful archipelago with a healthy tourism industry.

If the best adviser to the Lamu insecurity is a politician with penchant for criminality, then it does not add up. One was pictured with security team in Lamu to give this phoney operation a legitimacy it does not deserve. It is not his place or any other officer’s to issue a shoot-to-kill decree in an area with a questionable security operation and potential human rights abuses.

Kenya can go about its peace and security agenda without causing so much suffering to the citizens or negatively affecting their livelihoods. That requires emphasis on following due process of the law—even for terrorists. Giving security agencies carte blanche powers to ‘deal with’ insecurity without checks and balances will lead to more bodies ending up in rivers, not to mention destroyed economies and internal displacement of citizens following unnecessary heavy-handed security operations.

Kenya also needs to be transparent on its defence operations to save the country from huge financial commitments in purchasing ammunition it does not require. Our priorities should lie in investing in the economy, peace and security and not stocking up on arms for the sake of kickbacks.

With the ongoing overzealous security operations that it doesn’t need, and neither does the country, Lamu is suffering an image crisis. The new Lamu port and world-famous tourism cannot thrive under artificially created security fears. What the coastal county needs is quick restoration of image to bounce back and benefit from its globally acclaimed tourism market and revival of its economy. The vague security operation is causing Lamu more harm than good and should end without further ado.

Ms Guyo is a legal researcher. [email protected] @kdiguyo


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