Extrajudicial killings, broad legislation and trumped up allegations of “terrorism” mean Kenya’s Muslims are increasingly under siege. This climate is ushering in a new brutal breed of US-led colonialism on the continent.
In the early hours of September 14, 2014, police stormed the home of Idris Mohamed. They rounded him up, along with his 16-year-old brother and their mother. Police then forcibly photographed her and her teenage son, and while doing so she heard shots coming from the room next door. When police left, she ran to Idris, and found him lying in a pool of blood, dead, with all his clothes removed.
His mother later told the human rights organisation Haki Africa how she had been separated from Idris and heard him surrendering to police in an adjacent room.
Police said they had were “acting on intelligence” and claimed Mohamed was part of a “terror plot” which had resulted in the deaths of two tourists, but his family denies he was even remotely connected to the murders.
The case was never allowed to reach the courts.
Mohamed’s case, like 56 other extrajudicial killings of Muslims recorded by Haki Africa and the Justice Forum between 2014 and 2015 in Kenya’s coastal region, provide a glimpse into the abuse meted out in Kenya in the name of the "War on Terror".
In 2015, an Al Jazeera investigation revealed that Kenya’s "War on Terror" had facilitated an "elimination programme” that was driven by Western (including UK, US and Israeli) intelligence, but which had become “extremely dangerous for ordinary citizens.”
The investigation outlined how police “eliminations” conducted by the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) run into the hundreds every year. One member of the ATPU told Al Jazeera that if police find they’ve made a mistake, they simply plant evidence to make it appear as if the deceased was a terrorism suspect.
The abuse has not stopped.
In its 2017 report, Human Rights Watch stated that the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights, a statutory human rights body, documented at least 100 cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of those allegedly linked with Al Shabab – in other words, Muslims.
During Ramadan this year, the advocacy group CAGE Africa called for the release of several Muslim men who had been arrested and beaten outside mosques by Kenyan counterterrorism police. Complainants spoke about how police in groups of ten or more had swooped in on worshippers as they were attending evening prayers.
Last year, acting on evidence provided by Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI), CAGE called for a full investigation into the killing and burning of three Muslim women at a Mombasa police station on September 11 last year. Human rights activists told CAGE how Tasmin Yakub, 25, Ramla Abdirahman, 19, and Maimuna Abdirahman, 21, had gone in to report a stolen phone and had fought back when male officers attempted to forcibly remove the niqab from one of the women.
Police later said they had fired upon the women to prevent a potential terrorist attack, but no weapons or suicide vests were produced to prove the story. Later video clips came to light that contradicted the police account, pointing a cover up.
Historians in the future will argue that Kenya's "War on Terror" has granted a level of impunity to security forces not seen since the days of colonial conquest by Britain.
The designs behind Kenya’s "War on Terror"
Africa's so-called War on Terror is meted out by governments who are supported by the UN, the United States, Britain and France, and other major powers, whose abuses provide a distilled glimpse at the nature and frequency of injustice perpetrated in the name of this seemingly unending global ‘war’.
It is a war which casts its lens on groups like Al Shabab (and anyone deemed to be supporting them even when such links are tenuous at best). The equally inexcusable and violent—though less documented—actions of Kenyan security services and the international forces it belongs to like AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia), are excused away as “counterterrorism operations."
Kenya’s conflict with Al Shabab is backed by US-allied designs in the region, which culminated in the Kenyan invasion of Somalia in 2011, under the codename Operation Linda Nchi.
The Kenyan government sold the invasion to the world as a pursuit of Islamic militants who they alleged had kidnapped several foreign tourists and aid workers in Kenya – a line that the Kenyan government later admitted was a lie, after it emerged that they had not been kidnapped by Al Shabab.
Alfred Mutua, the Kenyan government’s chief spokesman at the time, revised this rationale, saying the kidnappings were more of a “good launchpad.” He went on to argue that “an operation of this magnitude is not planned in a week, it’s been in the pipeline for a while.”
The Guardian revealed that the invasion had more to do with converting a tourism port in the border region to an oil terminal: "The Kenyan intervention plan was discussed and decided in 2010, then finalised with input from Western partners, including the US and, to a lesser extent, France."
Reprisal attacks have since taken place in Kenya.
The cycles of violence continue and society remains trapped in a state of perpetual fear with Islamophobia running rampant (particularly directed at Kenya’s Somali population), and individuals and organisations beholden to the overt securitization to the government. This is the new state of democracy in Kenya.
A donor system that perpetuates abuse
According to the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), counterterrorism operations in Kenya are being conducted by a dizzying array of security personnel including the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF), National Intelligence Service, Kenya Wildlife Services, various Deputy and Chief County Commissioners, the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit of the Police (ATPU), Kenya Police Reservists, the Rapid Deployment Unit (RDU), the Border Patrol Unit and the General Service Unit.
In a 2015 report aptly titled ‘The Error of Fighting Terror with Terror’, the KHRC painstakingly retells the stories of ordinary Kenyan Muslims who have lost family members to brutal deaths or disappearances under the banner of the "War on Terror".
The report revealed how they “were kidnapped and their mutilated bodies found in various parts of the country … Other suspects were brutally tortured, held incommunicado without access to lawyers and family members.”
The KHRC recommended, politely, that government condemn, apologise and investigate abuses and that “partner governments and donor agencies supporting Kenya’s security sector must insist and condition their assistance on compliance with the rule of law, respect for human rights and accountability for abuses …”
The biggest donor to Kenya’s counterterrorism operations is the United States. Although exact figures are hard to come by, analysis of official US government documents and reports on US military and police aid to Kenya suggest that the Kenyan government has received over $141 million in security assistance funds since 2010—an amount that rose to $100 million alone in 2015.
In 2015, Barack Obama visited the country and emphasised ties between Kenya and the US. Under current President Trump, this assistance is set to continue, despite increasingly widespread reports of abuse and corruption.
The legislation that sanctions abuse
A legislative climate that gives police broad powers to arrest, indefinitely detain and monitor “terrorism” suspects precipitates an atmosphere of impunity.
In the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, Kenya did not immediately enact counterterrorism legislation. In fact, up until 2012, terrorism was prosecuted under the existing Penal Code.
Since late 2011, in the wake of their Somalia invasion, Kenya has seen an upsurge in violent attacks. In October 2012, Kenya enacted the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which raised several concerns that it violated Kenya’s obligations under its Constitution and UN Conventions. The Security Laws Amendment Act (2014) was enacted to address these concerns.
However, the SLAA continues to violate due process, allowing for the indefinite detention-without-trial of suspects provided "a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the detention of a person arrested beyond the twenty-four hour period is necessary."
With the United States president declaring that “torture works,” and little reprimand from the UN, this attitude filters down and creates an attitude among security personnel that facilitates torture, particularly of Muslims as reported by numerous NGOs.
It remains to be seen whether this will continue with the signing of a new Prevention of Torture Act this year.
The SLAA also allows for the use of secret evidence, when evidence that "touches on matters of national security" or which "discloses some unusual form of surveillance or means of detecting a crime" is necessary. Secret evidence means those accused of “terrorism” and their lawyers are not allowed to see or challenge the evidence against them, a blatant violation of due process.
State sanctioned interpretations of terms like “extremism” and “radicalisation” also facilitate an oppressive legal climate for Muslims. An affidavit seen by CAGE Africa outlines the arrest of a woman after she embraced Islam, She quit her studies at Kenyatta University, moved in with a Somali family and prepared to leave to study at the University of Africa in Sudan, an Islamic institution.
As far as CAGE Africa is aware, as of June 2016, she was still in custody for having “undergone radicalisation”. Such oppressive tactics are more than likely to have a counterproductive effect.
Resisting the war
There are a number of NGOs in Kenya that work hard in an increasingly constrained environment to bring light to these abuses and the detrimental effects of Kenya’s violations of due process under the banner of the "War on Terror".
A 2013 report detailed over 40 interviews with victims of the ATPU’s tactics which included extrajudicial killings, torture and kidnappings. The report traced ATPU abuses from 2007 to 2013 and pointedly “demonstrated that the ATPU’s abuses are counterproductive to combatting terrorism.”
Among the report’s revelations were that Kenya renditioned suspects to torture in facilities in the United States, Uganda and to Ethiopian security forces in Somalia. Such statements are truly courageous in the current climate.
Organisations such as MUHURI and Haki Africa continue to doggedly highlight abuse and call for accountability and justice – and for this they have not escaped unscathed.
In April 2015, in the aftermath of the Garissa University College attack - which killed 147 people and was claimed by Al Shabaab - the Inspector General of National Police Service declared the NGOs as being suspected of associating with terrorist organizations. Their funds and bank accounts were frozen and only released after a High Court challenge seven months later.
This month, attempts by the government to shut down the KHRC continue.
A toxic global climate calls for courage
The "War on Terror" has facilitated not only the militarisation of countries in Africa – the US at any given time, is carrying out nearly 100 missions in Africa alone – but also the widespread abuse of individuals and organisations based on trumped up or outright falsified notions of “terrorism” by the governments of the day.
The end result is a new breed of colonialism on the continent. At times outright brutal, other times more underhanded, this new hierarchy preserves governments, with US primacy above all, backed by her compliant allies.
With notions of equal justice falling away in the courtrooms of terrorism trials in the United States and Britain, and the increasing criminalisation of Muslim communities in these countries under the banner of fighting “extremism”, in countries like Kenya, it only follows that governments with vested interests will follow the example of their Western donors. And yet, as international aid agencies highlight their abuses, there are few that have the courage to highlight the abuses of the West.
In order for our cycles of violence to stop, we need opposing parties to halt their violence and negotiate. Muslims and non-Muslims, the world over, are calling for real leadership in this regard, and full accountability for the abuses they have already suffered.
This is not an unrealistic demand. Rather, it is one that should be championed and brought to the fore, no matter how scary it may be to speak this truth.