For once, I agree with Uhuru Kenyatta. I don’t believe the attacks in Mpeketoni that left tens of people dead were the initiative of Al-Shabaab. I think Kenyatta is correct when he says that politics was at the heart of the incident.
Al-Shabaab sympathisers might have been involved and only too glad to help perpetrate the attacks, just like at Westgate. But have you ever heard of contract killing? Contract killing must be doubly satisfying where it serves the purposes of both the initiator and the perpetrator.
The Mpeketoni attacks were indeed “well planned and orchestrated”, as Kenyatta put it – again, just like Westgate. But it wasn’t the opposition that did the planning and orchestrating.
The politics Kenyatta referred to had nothing to do with the opposition in the form of Cord, much as he came out heavy-handedly to hint – without actually saying so – that it was.
Rather, during the past 50 years of our colourful (and deadly) political history, a terrible, shocking cynicism has allowed our government leaders to embrace, make use of and protect those operating in the murkiest depths of the underworld (drug-traffickers, ivory poachers, international fugitives, shady European ‘brothers’, murderers, thieves etc) to achieve nefarious aims. Now Al-Shabaab sympathisers can be added to that list.
What is most significant is that, on many occasions through history, the resulting incidents have been planned and perpetrated precisely at times when the government has desperately needed diversionary tactics in order to reign in the opposition and shore up fast-receding support.
Let’s briefly revisit 1969, when Tom Mboya was killed. This happened at the height of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and Bildad Kaggia’s opposition to the government through the Kenya People’s Union, which was loudly vocal in its condemnation of the theft of land and property being perpetrated by Kanu’s top officers, led by Jomo Kenyatta.
The KPU had to be stopped. What better way than to assassinate an esteemed son of Luoland (Mboya), in the hope that this might be blamed on rivalry with a fellow Luo (Jaramogi) and would thus undermine support for the KPU?
And it would kill two birds with one stone. At a time when Kenyatta was looking old and tired, and panic was setting in among his kinsmen, leaders close to him would be rid of a Luo who was getting a shade too popular, and who might have been in line to succeed the ageing president. It offered a neat solution.
In the event, the killing backfired, at least in one sense. Mboya’s death only succeeded in galvanising support around Jaramogi, forcing Kenyatta three months later to ban the KPU, and shortly thereafter to detain Jaramogi.
Undoubtedly, Mboya’s death was a political assassination. But no individual in government did it with their own hands. It was it done through a contract killer.
A ruthless government achieved its aim by using someone else to perpetrate the crime and then – in an increasingly common scenario – it engaged in public weeping and wailing over the same crime, in order to fake its innocence.
Mboya, 1969. Then came JM Kariuki, 1975, killed at a time when Kenyatta was frailer than ever. The president’s ill-health was making his henchmen very nervous.
In their eyes, JM was too great a defender of the poor, and too popular with the people. In the event of Kenyatta’s death, he might just win the presidency.
The unholy rich around Kenyatta had much to fear and even more to lose if Kenyatta’s successor was not ‘one of them’. A solution was found. JM’s killer was never apprehended. Was it a contract killing?
A couple of years later came the ‘Change the Constitution’ movement, led by Gema politicians still panicking over ‘losing’ the presidency to a non-member. If Kenyatta died, Daniel arap Moi, as vice-president, was constitutionally in line to ‘inherit’ the post.
Gema, led by politicians including Njenga Karume, Kihika Kimani and Dr Njoroge Mungai, could not stomach this idea, and they hatched a plot to change the Constitution to prevent Moi’s accession.
In the event, they did not succeed. But history shows repeatedly that the Gema hierarchy has never been happy at the idea that someone from outside their own inner circle or from a different ethnic community might take power.
These are facts. They might be stark and difficult to confront but we can’t wish them away. This is history. These things happened.
In 1990 came Robert Ouko’s turn. He was killed for being on the brink of exposing high-level corruption in government, at a time when calls for a return to multi-partyism were becoming a clamour too difficult to ignore.
President Moi and his cohort sycophants still believed they could continue keeping their hold on monolithic power, but they knew the exposure of rampant corruption by senior government members could prove the nail in the coffin. Once again, something had to be done. No killer was convicted of Ouko’s assassination. Was it a contract killing?
Then came the murder of Crispin Mbai, in 2005. He was killed for spearheading a new Constitution that embraced the startling idea of devolving power away from the presidency (something that is still being resisted today – never mind about any new Constitution). Again, no killer was apprehended. Was it a contract killing?
Each time, leaders with sorrowful faces have announced that “no stone will be left unturned” in finding and punishing the perpetrators. Each time, nothing of the kind has happened. (In the case of Mboya’s convicted alleged killer, he was allegedly later spotted safely outside the country, a free man.)
Even where there have been official inquiries into these violent deaths, the resulting reports have been either bastardised or buried. The JM Select Committee report fingered Kenyatta’s lieutenant Mbiyu Koinange. Kenyatta decreed that the report could not be published unless the name of “my minister” was omitted. So it was.
Those were the days. It’s not so easy to get away with it now but throughout our history there has been a pattern that is difficult to ignore.
And now, because the stakes are even higher, current events are even more brutal, and they affect many innocents who are simply ‘unfortunate’ collateral damage. These innocents fall by the wayside in deaths that are of as little importance as those of victims in a computer game.
In fact, disregard by our leaders for justice and for the lives of ordinary people affected by these high-stakes political games has been Kenya’s story ever since Independence.
Before JM was finally killed, there had been several attempts to assassinate him. These culminated, the day before his actual murder, in the bombing of a Mombasa-bound OTC bus on which he had been scheduled to travel.
The 27 ordinary citizens killed in that incident were collateral damage – just as the tens of people killed in Kisumu during Kenyatta’s visit in 1970 soon after Mboya’s assassination were collateral damage, and just as the 1,500 people killed after the 2007 general election were collateral damage.
For years, so-called ethnic clashes have claimed the lives of thousands in many parts of the country. Strangely, these ethnic clashes hardly ever occur at any time other than election-time, when people need to be intimidated, displaced or murdered, so that they are rendered unable to vote freely, or at all.
They are mere collateral damage. And the increasing blatancy since Independence of murder-for-power has been breathtaking.
Now innocent shoppers and shop assistants, and innocent World Cup TV viewers, killed at Westgate and Mpeketoni respectively, have likewise become collateral damage in what appears to be nothing less than a desperate bid for personal ambition and survival that grows ever more deadly.
It all makes the Moi government-inspired Mwakenya witch-hunt of the late 1980s – which was used to tame the opposition and consolidate power in Moi’s hands – look very feeble by comparison (see box).
Uhuru Kenyatta assured us that Westgate would be investigated via an inquiry. We were promised “full accountability”. That was before he did an about-turn on the matter.
There are many who believe that the Westgate attack was staged to divert attention away from the leadership’s difficulties with the International Criminal Court, and to change international attitudes to that.
If so, it was hugely successful. In such a situation, something had to give – either Kenya’s part in the fight against terror, or the ICC cases. The sympathy vote had been called in and the hoped-for response assuredly came back.
The west’s opposition to the Jubilee head-honchos all but crumbled in the face of Kenya’s role against terrorism, which was characterised by its army fighting in Somalia and by its homeland taking what appeared to be a major revenge hit at Westgate.
Who hasn’t seen the ICC process subsequently dragged out with continual changes and delays – and the near-collapse of the entire process, without a squeak from any gainsayer?
Where are the bodies?
As far as Westgate is concerned, we have been told that the perpetrators had escaped/been killed/been arrested.
But do we know what happened to them? Have any bodies been identified? Has anyone stood trial? Have we seen them? Do we actually know anything about what happened inside that mall? Do we even know the identities of all the innocents who were killed? Are some still missing?
Ultimately, the inquiry promised by Kenyatta was just another unkept promise, just like all those other inquiries and unkept promises made over the years in events where government has acted with complete disregard for human life – and has then found itself with too much at stake, and too much to cover up, to reveal any truths.
In the Westgate case, there remains no proof of anything whatsoever, only a government statement of ‘facts’ forced down our throats: Al-Shabaab was responsible and the attackers are nowhere to be seen. Job done, end of story, how convenient.
Fast-forward eight months and Jubilee is in trouble again. After more than a year in power marked by blunder after blunder, ever-greater tolerance of corruption, failure to deliver on key promises, insecurity nationwide and the possible sale of our birthright to China (who knows what was in THAT deal?), public approval is falling fast and things look elephant.
At the same time, the pesky Raila Odinga is back from the US and is more troublesome than ever. Can nobody stop that man pointing out where things are going wrong and demanding accountability and national dialogue? Can no way be found comprehensively to turn the tide of public opinion against him and stop him in his tracks?
Well, perhaps someone thought of a way.
There are some very curious aspects to the Mpeketoni case and as a result some very pertinent questions are being asked – not least concerning the response of our security personnel. The overriding question is, Where were they?
According to many reports, the authorities received information from residents about a planned attack in the Mpeketoni region a week earlier – and they apparently thought (according to information in a Nation report) that this might be an appropriate time (a) to change the shifts of GSU security personnel in the area, resulting in having a team on duty that was unfamiliar with the terrain, and (b) for all the commanding officers to be out of town and unreachable.
To any reasoning person, this seriously looks as if there was a plan afoot, and that Al-Shabaab sympathisers must have been part of that plan.
What is more, an opportunity was presenting itself irresistibly. Not only was there the background (excuse) of the presence of the Kenya Defence Forces in Somalia, but there was a neat precedent offering a timely copycat idea.
During the World Cup in 2010, terrorists burst into a hall in Uganda where people were watching a match on TV, and massacred 74. Déjà vu.
It is not as if there is not a large security presence in the Mpeketoni area, with GSU camps barely half-an-hour away at Witu and Mukowe, a Kenya Defence Forces base at Magogoni, and an Army base and National Youth Service training centre at Bargoni.
Al-Shabaab’s modus operandi has usually involved military targets, and they were certainly spoilt for choice in this area. But instead, in a complete departure from their usual style, they went into a village. Or so we are supposed to believe.
In addition, Al-Shabaab strikes indiscriminately. It doesn’t leave aside women and children, as the attackers did in Mpeketoni. Its adherents certainly don’t go round asking who is a Kikuyu, as the Mpeketoni attackers were reported to have done.
Isn’t that a bit of a giveaway? If you want to tarnish the opposition, feign an attack on your ‘own’ people. That’s an old trick. (And – viewed very cynically – with 1,500 people killed in post-election violence and no one yet held accountable, what’s a few dozen more, if it serves the purpose?)
One officer in charge of a GSU platoon has said that, during the attack, he repeatedly tried to get help from his senior officers but they were nowhere to be found – one of them, notwithstanding the threat of a terrorist attack hanging over his area, reportedly up in Nairobi.
To add to the difficulties, the mobile phone networks jammed. How much of a coincidence was that?
This all brings back too uncomfortably the way the police stood by and watched as people were butchered on Rift Valley roads during the 2007 post-election violence. Were these personnel, in both cases, under orders?
And what about the Mpeketoni police? Where were they? One police officer was killed, said to have been off-duty at the time – something senior officers have strenuously gone out of their way to deny so that it looks as if police were in combat.
No one else thinks so, and anyway, Lamu County Commissioner Stephen Ikua is reported as having said that the perpetrators knew exactly where police officers were situated. How, unless they had been tipped off?
Perhaps the most curious thing about the Mpeketoni attack is the so-called claim of responsibility by Al-Shabaab. This was made on the Al-Shabaab-friendly website Somalimemo, which regularly hosts Al-Shabaab propaganda, and on the pro-Al-Shabaab radio station Al-Andalus, operating from Mogadishu.
Neither of these is Al-Shabaab per se – but no doubt any self-respecting Al-Shabaab-sympathising organisation would be only too keen to align itself and Al-Shabaab with any ‘successful’ operation. Also, perhaps the claim was part of the ‘contract’.
Those people saying airily that “Al-Shabaab doesn’t claim responsibility for things it hasn’t done” should get a reality check. We are talking about extremist murderers here, engaged in a jihad.
Are they likely to be bound by the kind of moral code that prevents their cashing in on any kind of publicity and propaganda they can get? Let’s be realistic.
In the responsibility claim, the terrorists are alleged to have said that Mpeketoni was a Muslim town before it was “invaded by Christian settlers” – apparently a reference to the mostly Kikuyu immigrant population there.
Al-Shabaab terrorists are not in the habit of politely referring to their enemies as “Christians”. They call them ‘infidels’ or ‘kafir’. Additionally, they are more prone to issuing such triumphant declarations as “Allahu Akbar! May Allah’s anger be upon those who are against us” – than to indulging in the somewhat chatty nature of the alleged statements by Al-Shabaab after Mpeketoni.
These went something along the lines (after the second night’s raid) of “We raided villages around Mpeketoni again last night … We have been going to several places looking for military personnel.”
Nonsense! Which conquering jihadist speaks like that? Was this reference to ‘military personnel’ employed to make it look and sound as if it was Al-Shabaab searching for their usual targets – because very clearly the attackers were certainly not in villages searching for soldiers, when several military encampments lay untouched close by.
Was whoever issued these statements speaking to a script? Was this a torturous shared plan, out of which everyone was supposed to emerge a winner – that is, if you discount the ‘collateral damage’ and Kenya’s political opposition?
Was the ‘Al-Shabaab’ claim of responsibility and Kenyatta’s almost open accusation of the opposition meant to give the impression that Al-Shabaab and Cord were working together, to divert suspicion that it might in fact be Al-Shabaab and certain authorities in Kenya who had a common plan?
In the aftermath, to top it all, Kenyatta, having pinpointed interior secretary Joseph ole Lenku, inspector-general of police David Kimaiyo and CID boss Muhoro Ndegwa as having serious questions to answer about the response to the incident, decides to put Kimaiyo in charge of a cluster of security forces!
How sincere can we believe Kenyatta was in questioning the conduct and abilities of the three? It looks as though this was simply for form’s sake.
And the latest decision looks like an offshoot of the main objective – or perhaps it was even the main objective, and the start of a plan for executive control of the security sector in its entirety, completely reversing the gains (so far only on paper) of the new Constitution.
Clearly, some people know exactly what is happening. Nothing is as it seems.
Is a ruthless government again achieving its aims by contracting someone else to perpetrate a crime, and then engaging in public weeping and wailing over the same crime, in order to fake its innocence?
Many current events could be seen as part of a plot to ensure the ‘100 years’ rule. We ignore the undertones at our peril. And we need to ask ourselves: Are we being set up?
Sarah Elderkin is a freelance journalist