From Jomo to Uhuru: How Kenya lost the battle for security

What you need to know:

  • Where did the rain start beating us? It began when we adopted what I call development fundamentalism. This is the ideology that the raison d’etre of the state is material progress.
  • The rain beat us harder with the emergence of an incestuous unbelievably greedy oligarchy that straddles the civil service, business and politics. We went one further than other countries, legitimising civil servants active involvement in business.
  • This conflict of interest has created a high cost economy that generates supernormal profits for the corporate aristocracy at the expense of creating jobs and providing affordable goods and services.

Recently, Nigeria’s statisticians momentarily took Boko Haram off the headlines by reporting that Nigeria’s economy was 80 per cent larger than previously thought, eclipsing South Africa as the continent’s largest. Remarkably, nobody seemed to question what neglecting to rebase their GDP for twenty five years might say about Nigeria’s governance.

I have listened to several interviews of survivors of Boko Haram attacks and one question keeps recurring. Where were the soldiers who were supposed to be protecting you? The answer is almost invariably the same. They ran away with us. Africa’s biggest economy is a failed state.

What, to paraphrase Chinua Achebe, is the trouble with Nigeria?

The Sultan of Sokoto, the spiritual leader of Nigeria’s Muslims, sums it in one word: corruption. “Corruption breeds injustice. Injustice is a big barrier to good governance and if you don’t have good governance in any society, you don’t have the people.”

A young Nigerian scholar Akinola Olojo supports the Sultan’s prognosis. “Boko Haram”, he writes, “has been able to draw upon a considerable base of local sympathy and support largely from the ranks of the uneducated, unemployed and impoverished youths in Northern Nigeria. In addition, the group’s ability to manoeuvre and stage-manage the force of religion in achieving its objectives appears to be dangerously reinforced by the influence of political interests and elites.”

The parallels between Nigeria’s security crisis and our own is inescapable. “A man who does not know where the rain began to beat him cannot say where he dried his body” so goes the Igbo proverb popularised by Achebe.

Where did the rain start beating us?

It began when we adopted what I call development fundamentalism. This is the ideology that the raison d'être of the state is material progress. At the extreme it is reduced to economic growth, as we did in Sessional Paper No. 10 of 1965.

The pillars of a state are a cohesive society, security and justice. They are indivisible and mutually reinforcing. But these have been at the periphery of our development agenda.

We have retained intact the repressive colonial security infrastructure whose primary function was to protect the Government from its oppressed subjects.


In this ideology, nation building is exactly that—construction. Roads have historically occupied the pride of place, but railways are the flavour of the month. We lament that we are spending too much money on recurrent expenditure instead of “development” by which we mean building ever grander edifices.

We forget recurrent expenditure includes the salaries for police officers, and money to maintain their vehicles as well as to buy the fuel they need to respond when you call them.

The rain beat us harder with the emergence of an incestuous, unbelievably greedy oligarchy that straddles the civil service, business and politics. We went one further than other countries, legitimising civil servants active involvement in business.

In a capitalist economy, an independent policy maker’s goal is to have as a much competition in the economy as possible. The oligarchs’ interest is the complete opposite—to undermine competition in the industries where they have interests.

This conflict of interest is at the heart of our economic underperformance, unemployment and inequality. It has created a high cost economy that generates supernormal profits for the corporate aristocracy at the expense of creating jobs and providing affordable goods and services.

Case in point. This year’s budget contained an increase in tariffs for the local steel industry. Now, industries don’t come more capital intensive than steel, so why would an economy that needs to create jobs single out the most capital intensive industry for protection? And why now? Standard Gauge Railway, that’s why. It’s the oligarchs sniffing out the opportunities to cash in.

But what has this to do with insecurity, one might ask? It will make importing the stuff that Jua Kali artisans make for us: windows, doors, furniture, karais, and the rest of it, cheaper. As of last year, Jua Kali manufacturing employed 2.4 million people.

This is not only close to ten times the number employed in ALL the formal manufacturing industry (254,000), it is in fact one and a half times the 1.6 million total employment in the entire formal private sector economy.

Let us, for argument’s sake, suppose that this protection will destroy 10 per cent of Jua Kali manufacturing jobs and increase the formal manufacturing ones by 20 per cent. It works to 240,000 jobs sacrificed for 50,000 jobs, that is, a net loss of 190,000jobs — round it up to 200,000. The vast majority will suffer without bitterness, but a few will not take it lying down. Let’s say only one per cent turn to crime. That is two thousand more criminals.


Of these, one per cent might fall prey to Al Shabaab. That’s 20 homegrown terrorists. While you are being mugged, the oligarchs will be raising their glasses to another year of double digit growth.

Then came ethnic political mobilisation — and the heavens opened. The first case of pure unadulterated ethnic political mobilisation that comes to mind is the oathing of Kikuyus to defend the regime following the assassination of Tom Mboya in 1969. The regime defenders were to find themselves in an awkward situation when the same fate befell their own JM Kariuki six years later. What goes round comes round.

Moi came to power on a platform of eradicating tribalism and corruption. He did neither but, thankfully, he ran an equal opportunity kleptocracy. Anybody could eat, as long as they were prepared to be a sycophant and to spread the loot. While more economically costly than Kenyatta’s exclusionary one, its inclusivity made for social stability.

Moi ended the political marginalisation of northern Kenya, and the Somali people in particular. If the war with Al Shabaab was in the context of the Kenyatta era post Shifta political environment, we would be like Northern Nigeria today or worse.

The cynical political manipulation of ethnicity returned with a vengeance with the Kibaki regime, in the aftermath of the MoU fallout. We may never know why the Kibaki oligarchy found it impossible to live with the MoU. My own sense, with the benefit of hindsight, is Anglo Leasing.

The connivance required to execute and keep the scams under wraps would not have been possible in the environment of openness that the spirit of NARC would have engendered. We now know that the pillage began on day one. The genteel Moody Awori seemed a rather unlikely choice for Vice President following the death of Kijana Wamalwa — until he was fingered as a key player in the Anglo Leasing scams.

Whatever the case, the oligarchy reverted to the tried and tested—the Luo bogeyman. Even Anglo-Leasing was rationalized thus. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Money was needed to defend the Government from the “munjaruo.”


It is this mindset that blindsided the Government and the security services in the wake of the 2007 election debacle. With all the attention focused on Kibera and Kisumu, they did not see Rift Valley coming. ICC, same script.

When under threat social groups, family, clan, tribe, even sheep’s instinct is to close ranks and fight the common threat. But these syndromes have so damaged our social fabric that even under external threat our instinct is to exploit the very differences we ought to forget for political and financial gain.

Terrorists strike, and our first instinct is how to get political mileage out of it. The need to revamp security infrastructure is high season for dubious single sourced security procurement.

No security infrastructure, however sophisticated, can protect us from our prejudices, intolerance, greed and warped national priorities. “Insecurity must not be allowed to compromise our economic activity” writes a prominent business journalist.

“This political bickering during a national tragedy is an unseemly spectacle that can only repel potential tourists and investors”, warns the editorial of another national newspaper.

It is fine it seems for Kenyans to be massacred in Bungoma, Marsabit and Mandera as long its does not get enough press to alarm tourists and investors.

Prof Abdalla Bujra is no political activist. He is one of Africa’s most accomplished development scholars. He grew up in Lamu. This is what he said in a research interview in February this year. “What you have in Lamu is a question of internal colonialism. All the powerful government people—the PCs, the DCs, the DOs, all the powerful public officers, especially those handing land matters have never been local, they all come from Nairobi.

“In the 1970s, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta opted to tackle the burning land question in Central Province by importing thousands of Agikuyu into Lamu. This was done in total disregard to the interests of the Bajuni, Swahili, Orma, Awer and other indigenous Lamu people many of whom had been evicted from their ancestral land earlier.


Jomo Kenyatta and his acolytes like the former Coast PC (Eliud Mahihu) were in power when local, politically connected elites from Nairobi grabbed a lot of land in Lamu County.

“All these issues planted the seeds of simmering conflict that will explode in the region if local grievances are not dealt with.”

This is what community leaders told the same researchers: “We Lamu and Coastal people have for centuries welcomed and embraced visitors in our midst. Some have become Muslim; intermarried, made Lamu their home, speak in the Amu dialect—you cannot tell they came from Kirinyaga, Machakos, Meru, Kisumu, Bungoma. They have become part of us; they are our neighbours, our friends.

But how do you go to someone’s home, grab their land, kick them out, bring your own family members, recreate and rename the neighbourhoods after your own villages upcountry? On top of that you come into local elections and attempt to usurp power. Can’t the Lamu people govern Lamu?

“We fear that this LAPSSET project which requires a population of one million people will make us, the indigenous people of Lamu, lose our cultural, religious and ethnic identity forever. We are only 100,000 right now in the whole of Lamu.”

Social cohesion, security, justice.

Where were the security services when Mpeketoni exploded? They were in Mombasa. Some were there to protect tourists and investments from the people, some to attend the political rally.

Had they encountered the attackers en route, they’d have taken their bribe and wished them safari njema. They are as corrupt, as divided, as myopic as the rest of us.

Ethnic cleansing is a crime against humanity. But we can’t go there, can we? What goes round comes round. Choices. Consequences.

Dr Ndii is Managing Director of Africa Economics [email protected]


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