Africa : An Open Letter to the Kenyan Authorities
Kenya has much as a country to be proud of and its friends regionally and internationally are happy to salute its achievements. Equally true friends are those that have the courage to be candid about serious short comings, and it is in this spirit that our non-political organisation feels impelled to raise the following concerns. In recent weeks and months normal economic activity in Eastleigh and other parts of Nairobi has been severely disrupted by the over-zealous activities of the Kenyan Police and the General Service Unit (GSU). Whilst no one disputes the fact that security is an issue of paramount importance, it is matter of very great concern that some of those charged by the State with protecting lives and property seem intent on using and abusing their power as a means of extortion. Regrettably such extortion of Kenyan nationals, foreigners and the vulnerable seems to have become something of a tradition in the run-up to Christmas and New Year. This week alone, in Nairobi hundreds of innocent civilians have been harassed, intimidated and rounded up; with the going rate for release being 15,000 Kenyan Shillings per person. Surely it cannot be right that in areas such as Eastleigh a young mother was rudely arrested and separated from her infant of three days, that school age children have been rounded up, people dragged from taxis and elderly women fearful of venturing out of their homes. Trust, including that in the business community is being undermined, something backed up by the fact that Kenya came 139th out of 174 according to Transparency International in its recent Corruption Perception Index(This ranks countries and territories based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be). As an international business association the Horn of Africa Business Association (HABA) recognizes that Kenya’s capital exudes a remarkable entrepreneurial spirit that helps ensure the nation remains a place of innovation and creativity. Education is valued and the vast majority of people are eager to make the most of a generally outward looking country, one eager to be the dynamo of the region. That said, to those prepared to look as well as see there are also a number of disquieting features that indicate serious weaknesses that have the potential to gnaw away at the heart of the Kenyan dream. In parts of Nairobi an ‘us and them’ mentality is fast being engendered, and this can only have a corrosive effect on society as a whole.
To add insult to injury there are some who routinely use the threat of terrorism as an excuse for draconian measures. Those of us who take the time to have a deeper understanding of the root causes of tensions are clear that other factors are at play, including a sense grievance and envy from some of Kenya’s Asian business community who resent the commercial success of Somalis in the capital and beyond. The vast majority of Kenya’s ethnic Somalis, as well as those who have found sanctuary in the country, are law abiding individuals and yet all too often the Somali community and those from elsewhere in the Horn of Africa are stigmatised. Derogatory remarks are made about people who hail from the Horn as ‘the Goat People’ and if Kenya is truly to live up to its democratic and pluralist aspirations such racism and xenophobia must end.
Peace, security and confidence are vital in order that commercial activity prospers. With such activity comes jobs and greater prosperity. Nairobi, Mombassa, Garissa and along with other towns and regions deserve a measured leadership and response that will help law abiding citizens go about their business in a manner that will make Kenya and her friends proud. We at HABA call upon figures such as the Hon. Katoo ole Metito (Minister for Provincial Internal Administration and Internal Security), Mr Matthew Kirai Iteere (Commissioner of Police) and Mr William Saiya-Aswenje of the General Service Unit to use their influence to ensure that calm and a spirit equanimity and mutual respect returns for the good of all.
Mark T Jones
Horn of Africa Business Association (HABA)
124 Cromwell Road
LONDON SW7 4ET