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Monday, January 25, 2010

Real reason why Somalis are targeted in arrests

The riots and destruction of private property that occurred 10 days ago around Jamia mosque in Nairobi must be condemned. It was a shameful event with many losers and no winner. The Muslims that triggered the initial demonstration were wrong. Their activities must be condemned in the strongest terms possible.

But it seems the dreary response by the government in stopping the destruction of private property was deliberate. The involvement of some civilians in quelling the demonstration is most alarming. What was the real complaint of the Muslim demonstrators? Wasn’t it a senseless and unnecessary demonstration?

How can some fringe members of the Muslim community be aggrieved by the arrest of a Jamaican national, Sheik al-Faisal? We must never lose sight of the fact that al-Faisal is a hate monger with a criminal conviction. His continued stay, as we saw, is most undesirable. What he intended to preach, if given an opportunity, is anybody’s guess.

Al Faisal is not even an Islamic scholar, no matter how liberal we construe the term. He is a rabble rouser who cut his teeth on the radical fringes of the Muslim community in Britain. The demonstration organised by fringes of the Muslim community was a most unfortunate one, devoid of a cause.

The plight of the Jamaican was highlighted by Al Amin Kimathi, the leader of the organisation called Muslim for Human Rights. He fights endless legal battles with the government in and outside the courts. None of his cases have been heard on the merits. He twice organised demonstrations over the Jamaican preacher’s fate. The first was peaceful.

The second was ugly and bloody. Was he right? He was wrong on both occasions. Was he entitled in law to demonstrate? He was absolutely within his legal rights to demonstrate. To internalise democracy, we must allow Kenyans the right to demonstrate peacefully. Al Amin and his rowdy gang ought to have been allowed to demonstrate under police supervision.

What was the government’s fear, especially since the first demonstration went on peacefully? Prior to the reforms introduced in 1997 through the IPPG, demonstrations were tightly regulated and almost impossible under the Kanu regime. After 1997, the Public Order Act was repealed.

For one to demonstrate, a mere notice to the police officer in charge of the nearest police station is all that was required. This notice doesn’t mean that the police officer sets in judgment or has discretion on whether or not to allow the demonstration. The government went into full swing after the riots.

As expected it zeroed in on Eastleigh and a number of neighbourhoods predominantly inhabited by the Somali community. The announced aim was to arrest and repatriate all foreigners who are in the country illegally. That is a laudable intention and many Kenyans are with the government on this.

In light of the threat posed by terrorist organisations, the government must be supported in this endeavour. But the reason the government is arresting every Somali on the streets of these neighbourhoods is different. It all goes back to the edict issued by the Permanent Secretary in the Office of the President to conduct an audit of property in Nairobi.

I am not privy to the intelligence that informs a new policy being implemented by the Office of the President. It is an open secret that certain sections of government are uncomfortable with the reported ‘‘explosion’’ of population numbers in Northern Kenya as enumerated in the census of last year. The Jamia Mosque fiasco brought to the surface the shameful ethnicity in the security apparatus of the State.

When one saw the TV footage in the evening news showing MPs from Northern Kenya meeting the minister in charge of security, his permanent secretary, the police commissioner, the AP commandant and the director-general of the National Security Intelligence Service (NSIS), one saw something resembling a meeting of two warring tribes.

One armed and in control of the apparatus of the State, the other unarmed. This mono-ethnic monopoly of State security institutions presents the greatest threat to the national security of the country, the phobia of Somalis by the Office of the President notwithstanding.

The MPs, while opposed to the Jamia demonstration, were nonetheless also unhappy with the slow response of the police and the alarming presence of vigilantes who supported the police. Involvement of civilians in quelling the Muslim demonstration also raises questions: Was it planned by government? If so, then this is a most menacing signal to Kenyans of a new weapon in government’s arsenal.

Ahmednasir Abdullahi is a former chairman of the Law Society of Kenya:

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