By Rasna Warah
I don’t know why everyone is surprised that the first Al-Shabaab terrorist to be arrested and jailed in Kenya is not a Somali, but a young Luhya man from Western Kenya.
Kenya is a perfect breeding ground for terrorists and suicide bombers because it has the two ingredients that make recruitment to terrorist organisations so attractive – a high unemployment rate among youth and widespread corruption.
Impressionable and unemployed youth who have nothing much to look forward to can be easily lured to become terrorists, if presented with incentives such as money or a better afterlife.
Jobless, dejected and disillusioned youth may find the idea of becoming a martyr to a cause attractive. Some may become terrorists just for adventure.
Corruption ensures that would-be terrorists escape the security dragnet easily. I wonder how many Al-Shabaab have got away scot-free at police checks and border posts by parting with as little as Sh200.
The problem is compounded by the culture of impunity that is pervasive among our leadership. Young people who see leaders get away with grand corruption may feel emboldened by their immoral actions.
All those youth who might have benefitted from the Kazi kwa Vijana project, for example, but who were robbed of millions of shillings by corrupt officers in government are potential Al-Shabaab recruits.
If we cannot see the link between government corruption and the growth of home-grown terrorism, then the national project of eliminating Al-Shabaab in our midst and across the border in Somalia is going nowhere.
Corruption, incompetence and lack of respect for ordinary citizens are the conditions under which terrorism thrives.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how my calls to police stations in many parts of Coast Province went unanswered. I finally got through to the Nairobi Police headquarters, only to be told by a rude officer that I was wasting his time.
This was even before I told him what I was calling about. When I wrote about the incident, I expected a follow-up call or email from the police spokesperson or my local police station in Malindi. But to date no one has bothered asking me why I had called all those police stations, or what my complaint was. Nor have I received any apology from the men and women in uniform whose job it is to be of service to the nation’s citizens.
This lack of responsiveness probably cost the Frenchwoman Marie Dedieu her life. According to an article published in Newsweek, immediately after she was abducted from Manda Island, her friends and neighbours made frantic phone calls to the police station on nearby Lamu. The phone calls went unanswered for three hours – yes, three hours. When they finally got through and filled out the necessary paperwork, a full five hours had passed. By then Dedieu and her abductors had already made their way into Somalia.
In the 1980s and 1990s, it was very common for Kenyans not to report any crime to the police for fear of being arrested. Quite often one would not show up at court for petty offences because there was a likelihood that the magistrate would order that one be jailed. Hence, jails were filled with petty offenders such as hawkers, ‘loiterers’ and other such persons who were considered a social menace.
It was during that time that I found myself sharing a cell with such people because I had committed the unforgiveable offence of driving a car with one worn-out tyre. Luckily, I had gone to court with a lawyer, who paid the fine Sh500 which secured my release. If I had not gone to court with a lawyer, I might have spent a fortnight or longer in jail.
The police have issued emergency numbers to the public so we can report suspicious-looking characters who may be Al-Shabaab. A local daily reported recently that a bus passenger who had drawn the attention of the police to the suspicious behaviour of three fellow passengers was jailed for ‘giving police false information’ after the passengers were ‘interrogated’ and ‘cleared’ by the same police officers.
I doubt he will make the same mistake again.