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Too bad Kenya can’t be Ethiopia, it badly needs to

Too bad Kenya can’t be Ethiopia, it badly needs to

By Bereket Gebru



Just days after the mass killings of Garissa University College that claimed the lives of more than 150 people, I was surprised to read an article by Mwaura Samora entitled “Kenya can't, won't be Ethiopia.” The article claims that the Garissa attack along with others in Mandera, Lamu and Nairobi has angered Kenyans triggering debate on why their country is so vulnerable to Alshabaab attacks while their neighbor Ethiopia has managed to protect itself despite both contributing troops to the African Union force in Somalia (AMISOM).  


Since Kenya’s October 2011 intervention in Somalia, Alshabaab has carried out numerous high profile terrorist attacks in Kenyan cities. The Westgate mall attacks in Nairobi that killed 68 people, the Mpeketoni one month terror campaign in Lamu County that claimed the lives of 99 people and the recent Garissa University College attacks that resulted in the death of more than 150 people are the biggest of them.


The writer recognizes his country’s failure to handle the threat of Alshabaab but insinuates that the democratic nature of his country is the reason behind the porous security system. In comparison, Ethiopia is depicted as a socialist totalitarian state with the federal and regional (kilil) government controlling “all spheres of life, from media to people's daily lives.” The writer’s argument on the comparison between the two countries is summed up by the statement: “Unlike in Kenya where opinion on every issue is split between the two main coalitions, Ethiopia is a federal state ruled by a single dominant political party that practices a strict brand of socialism that places the state above everything else.”


The title “Kenya can't, won't be Ethiopia” is intended to show that Kenya, depicted as a democracy, will not become the authoritarian government the Ethiopian state is alleged to be. According to the writer’s line of argument, the more authoritarian a government, the more likely it is to fend off terrorist threats.


Terrorism and model of governance


Although it is not the purpose of this article, the generalization seems to be farfetched and in breach of reality. Contrary to the writer’s argument, all the surveillance technologies, sophisticated intelligence structures and international outreach of the Western states that claim to hold the beacon of democracy for the rest of the world are not there to ensure complacency in the face of terrorist attacks. The controlling techniques in the developed world span political, social and economic activities of individuals and groups locally and internationally. Internally, it is in these countries that citizens are highly spied on and controlled. Therefore, if such states cannot guarantee the safety of their citizens, it could be because of some conspiracies or the failure of their security structures. With all the surveillance, concentrated media ownership and financial slavery in these states, it would not be an exaggeration to claim that democracy is just as a missing value as it is in the rest of the world.  


Let’s just refrain from the hasty and fruitless task of rating ‘Kenyan democracy’ and consider the fact that some of the states that have been labeled as authoritarian by the West have been targets of terrorism. Despite the tremendous job that the Chinese and Russian governments have carried out to take a considerable amount of their people out of poverty and the fact that some of the basic democratic rights ask for the fulfillment of economic empowerment, these states are considered to be authoritarian in the Western dominated “international” system. Both China and Russia have been targets of numerous terrorist attacks over the past years.


From the above realistic depiction of conditions in the “democratic” and “authoritarian” world, it is clear that the model of governance does not have a one-to-one correspondence with how susceptible a state is to terrorist attacks. If anything, the decentralized system in democratic states that delegates authority to the lower levels of local government sounds a much effective method of combating terrorism than the highly centralized authoritarian system.  


Ethiopia, a socialist state?

Another one of the arguments by the writer that contravenes the reality is the statement that the Ethiopian state practices a strict brand of socialism that places the state above everything else. There are two sets of ideas that need to be raised here.


The first is the argument by the writer that the state should not be above everything else. As a sovereign entity that wields monopoly of military power in all corners of the country, the state would not be labeled as one if it does not have the capacity to be above everything else militarily. The legitimacy is this monopoly of power is then ensured through a system of representative democracy that channels the power of the people to the state. Therefore, the state should oversee political, military and economic activities of the society at a national level.


If the state is not above everything else, what other entity is supposed to play that role? The usual alternative argument is that the market should be. As has been proven time and again though, market forces are usually highly skewed in favor of the rich. The result is that society ends up with a handful of people at the top controlling the resources of the entire country while the poor are basically left with nothing. The argument that market forces are rational actors that do not work towards their annihilation has also been disproved in the 2008 economic crisis that saw markets effectively commit suicide, as explained by none other than Alan Greenspan. This clearly implies that markets should not necessarily be left to advance all their will. They need to be checked somehow not to bring society down with them through their over emphasis on profit, greed and shady practices.   


Another major point that seems to be entirely forgotten thesedays about the position of markets that advance private businesses over anything else is that private businesses are not elected by the people and thus should not be at the helm of society. With private businesses concerned primarily about profit even at the expense of human lives, society, the ultimate source of power, needs to be led by an entity that has its backing. Therefore, governments elected by the people need to be placed at the top.


The second argument has to do with the claim by the writer that the Ethiopian state follows a strict model of socialism. As noted earlier, private versus social interests in wealth distribution takes one of the major issues on how a society molds itself together. Accordingly, Ethiopia has adopted a developmental state model that works effectively towards equitable distribution of the country’s wealth.


Through this approach, Ethiopia has managed to pool millions of its people out of poverty. This involves the use of a free market economic model mixed with government control of major social services like electricity, water and telecommunications. Apart from that, there are great incentives for the private sector to flourish and it has boomed in the past couple of decades. However, a system that does not let the market go wild without checks should not be taken as strictly socialist.


The economic policies adopted by the government of Ethiopia are transforming the country from a country that represented the embodiment of famine and poverty to one representing hope for the entire developing world, especially Africa. The double digit growth the country has registered over the last decade has turned the country into one of the major investment destinations in Africa. The country’s exports have been diversified and the revenues have increased tremendously. The percentage contribution of the Agricultural sector to GDP is going down while that of the Industry is increasing. Small and Micro Enterprises have received utmost attention as the vehicles for the engagement of the poor in private businesses.


The result of all these positive changes in the country is the third fastest growth rate of any country in the world with better health and educational access to the people of Ethiopia. The country has also achieved some of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with a final sprint to fulfill five of the seven goals.


The above achievements by the country are a reflection of its increased domestic economic performance and strengthened economic ties with the rest of the world. With the triumph of capitalism and the subsequent push of the whole world in the direction of open and liberal market systems, it would be easy to understand for anyone that a country following strict socialism would not be able to achieve these things in this era. Moreover, the participation of 58 political parties in the upcoming national elections is more of a reflection of a democratic system than a strictly socialist one. 


Kenyan media atmosphere

According to reports by Freedom House,

“As the March 2013 general elections—the first since disputed polls in 2007 that led to deadly ethnic and political violence—drew closer, indications that media owners were aligning themselves with certain political personalities became apparent. The concentration of media ownership in a small number of hands, often with strong political affiliations, contributed to this partisan reporting trend. Many local journalists admitted that their election coverage required self-censorship to accommodate the interests of their respective media houses. The government launched an initiative in 2012 to counter hate speech and incitement of ethnic violence as part of the pre-election preparations.”

Kenyan aggressive reporting and objectivity in journalism famously seize to exist when reporters are assigned to report on the wrong doings of people of their own ethnic group. Kenyan journalists are known for protecting people of their own ethnic background while pursuing those of others. This ethnic partisanship is noted as the main reason behind expositions than the spread of professionalism by some scholars.

The scope of terrorist attacks in Kenya

Reports on terrorist attacks in Kenya cite the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) of the country as stating that there had been 133 attacks from the start of Operation Linda Nchi in October 2011, a campaign by the Kenyan military to destroy the terrorists who carried out the kidnapping inside of Somalia, to September, 2014.

The report states that at least 264 people have been killed by the terrorist and 923 injured over the three-year period, according to data from the ATPU which operates under the National Police Service. On average, there has been a terror attack on Kenyan soil every eight days since the Kenyan Defense Forces set foot in Somalia to neutralize Al Shabaab militants.

The report further states that terrorist attacked Kenya 14 times on just March 3 and 4, 2013, the day the country held elections, but security agencies suppressed this information to prevent panic among voters. The surprising thing is that this much number of attacks occurred although the Kenyans collaborated with the Tanzanian government to foil other numerous attacks.

The report further states that the data indicate 2012 as the highest number of attacks after militants hit the country 52 times. It further states that this saw the slaying of 75 people by terrorists who injured 385 others. However, it goes on, 2013 was the year that accounted for the highest casualties after 42 attacks left 151 dead and 287 injured. It is clear that the deadliness of the attacks has increased immensely as the recent Garissa University College attack by Al Shabaab has claimed the lives of over 150 people – equal deaths as the deadliest year of 2013.

The report further states that ATPU data for the period of October 2011 to September 2014 show that 39 percent of the assaults occurred in the town of Garissa which has borne the biggest brunt of attacks. Nairobi was second with 23 percent of the attacks, while Mandera took 15 percent of the attacks. Wajir and Mombasa accounted for 11 percent and 9 percent of the total attacks respectively, while Kwale, Lamu and Kilifi had one percent of the attacks each. However, Lamu, Nairobi and Mombasa have the highest numbers of human casualties.

The need to overhaul the Kenyan security apparatus

All the above mentioned attacks by terrorists, the human lives they claimed, the injuries they caused, the people they displaced and the children they orphaned in Kenya are reflections of the presence of a problem of the security apparatus in carrying out its duties. Ndung'u Wainaina, executive director of the Nairobi-based International Center for Policy and Conflict as quoted by Bloomberg, argued that the attacks could have been foiled had the country implemented reforms introduced five years ago to reorganize its police, intelligence and defense forces.

The article quotes him as saying: “The so-called Waki Commission provided “clear recommendations” on how to address failures by the National Intelligence Service to act on information it had and established that the service was more focused on politics than security. It also characterized the police force as highly politicized, ethnicized and corrupt.” Strengthening the need to reform the security apparatus, he also explains that the legacy of the colonial system that focused on protecting the authorities in Nairobi has never been about people-centered security.

In line with the admission by the Kenyan writer of the article “Kenya can’t, won’t be Ethiopia,” Bloomberg wrote: “Kenya’s police force is among the most corrupt institutions in East Africa, with officers accounting for almost half of all bribes paid in the country last year, according to Transparency International, the Berlin-based anti-graft watchdog.”


Although Ethiopia also contributed troops to the African Union force in Somalia and Alshabaab has repeatedly spoke of its intent to attack the country for that move, it has found the Ethiopian people and security apparatus to be impenetrable. The attempts that the terrorist group has made to attack Ethiopia have successfully been foiled by the country’s security apparatus.


Strengthened efforts towards human development, technological adoption and efficient structural units by the security and intelligence apparatus of Ethiopia have proved more than a match to the challenge posed by terrorist groups including Al Shabaab. The result is a peaceful and stable country where citizens are guaranteed their safety from terrorist attacks despite the region being fairly volatile. This reality has made it easier for the people of Ethiopia to focus on efforts geared towards poverty reduction, growth and development. Even more amazing is the fact that Ethiopia managed to build an effective security, intelligence and military apparatus with just 1.2% of its GDP allocated for the military. 


The writer of the article “Kenya can’t, won’t be Ethiopia” raised some points as to why the Ethiopian security is much better at its job than its Kenyan equivalent. As explained earlier, some of them are just theories that do not hold water while others are realistic depictions of the Ethiopian security and intelligence apparatus. However, instead of concurring the need to overhaul the Kenyan security apparatus for all its shortcomings, it goes a long way to criticize the whole Ethiopian state and the system it has adopted though it cannot deny of its efficacy.


Therefore, it is urgent and compulsory for the Kenyan authorities to admit their shortcomings and come up with some viable solutions to rescue their own people from the ruthless attacks of terrorists. In that regard there is a lot they can learn from Ethiopia.


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