What you need to know:
- In the same speech, the President’s views about insecurity have now also set the stage for blaming the victims of future acts of terrorism for whatever may befall them.
- While the President’s reaction to the latest terrorist attack is unsatisfactory, the reaction to the previous one, the attack on Mpeketoni, was no better.
- In his last speech, the President attacked two decades of work against gender violence by resorting to victim-blaming, and also exempted the government from responsibility for security.
The lesson from last week’s slaughter in Mandera is that the categories of barbarism are wide open, and limited only by the imagination of the evil people who commit these crimes.
Al-Shabaab is relying on surprise and unpredictability to achieve its designs. After butchering people at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Al-Shaabab varied its act to the Mpeketoni attacks, a rural guerilla war against a section of the local population in Lamu, and has now mixed it up again, with another rural massacre on a bus in the depths of northern Kenya. Al-Shabaab’s main advantage is the element of surprise.
The second lesson is derived from the President Uhuru Kenyatta’s reaction to the Mandera attack. In a speech after the attack, the President indicated that there was no way the government could provide a policeman for each individual in Kenya, that the government had done its best, and that what now remained was for citizens to play their part in ensuring their own security. Thus, the President transferred responsibility to the citizens for the security lapse in Mandera, or any future security lapse.
A discourse that was popularised in the book, Blaming the Victim, authored by William Ryan in 1971, discusses the tendency to hold victims of crimes as somehow responsible for the crimes that befell them. In particular, victims of sexual crimes are susceptible to blame for what befell them, justified by remarks like: “She was asking for it.” This is the exact line the President took in his speech when he blamed the defilement of the three-year-old girl on her parents.
In the same speech, the President’s views about insecurity have now also set the stage for blaming the victims of future acts of terrorism for whatever may befall them. Since, according to him, the government has done all it can to secure the country, what is outstanding is the contribution of citizens themselves. In the event of a future terrorist attack, therefore, the President can argue that it is the failure of citizens to play their part which allowed the attack.
The German sociologist, Theodor Adorno, described what is now referred to as “blaming the victim” as “one of the most sinister features of the Fascist character”. The Jubilee government’s logic about security, based on Fascism, accepts responsibility for nothing, and blames the victims instead.
To be sure, good citizenship requires co-operation with, and information to, security agencies as will support the capacity to deliver on their responsibilities. This obligation, however, presumes competent security agencies that have adequate political and material support to do their work, something that does not obtain in Kenya.
While the President’s reaction to the latest terrorist attack is unsatisfactory, the reaction to the previous one, the attack on Mpeketoni, was no better.
He described the Mpeketoni attack as “politically motivated ethnic violence against a Kenyan community, with the intention of profiling and evicting them for political reasons”, a depiction understood as a sectional war against members of the minority Kikuyu community resident in Lamu.
In the process, the President exonerated Al-Shabaab, the presumed perpetrator of the attack, also pre-empting an independent investigation of the attack. The outrage that had set in, after the attack, was replaced by incredulity about these allegations and also the President’s openly partial reaction to the attack.
In the days that have followed, there has been more clarity about what transpired at Mpeketoni, suggesting that it was an Al-Shabaab activity, after all.
Jubilee’s portrayal of the Mpeketoni attack was a careless political act, calculated at using insecurity to build a siege mentality among the President’s co-ethnics, and without regard to the divisiveness of such an act.
There has been outrage, including demonstrations, over the Mandera attack, and also the absence of the President after it happened, with both houses of Parliament adjourning to discussing the occurrence.
While there have been calls for the resignation of security chiefs including Cabinet Security for Interior Joseph ole Lenku, targeting the unpopular minister is a scapegoat, since the ultimate responsibility for security lies with the President, even though he has transferred this to the public.
After Mandera and Kapedo before, Kenya is in a security meltdown, but lacks the leadership to guide the country out of the situation.
In his last speech, the President attacked two decades of work against gender violence by resorting to victim-blaming, and also exempted the government from responsibility for security. If Uhuru is to save the country, and his presidency, there are a number of things he can consider.
First, the hubris that characterises the Jubilee leadership mocks the victims of insecurity, and shows that the rulers live in a make-believe bubble.
The President personally, and the Jubilee leadership in general, needs a lesson in humility, and must build relations with the country’s thought leadership, as will allow new ideas to address the problems.
Secondly, the President has been depicted as a socialite, watching car races abroad as his own country burns. His incredibly insensitive speech on returning home, shows regrettable flippancy, a lack of empathy for victims of serious crime, and confirms how poorly informed the President is.
While his advisory team needs a shake-up, his image-making, which has sought to establish the President as a superstar leader, in the mould of Barack Obama, has instead driven him closer to the image the late President Muammar Gaddafi — vain and chasing high-profile, but ultimately vacuous, glamour.
People have a right to be angry if, as they die, their President is living like a playboy in a foreign country.