Make the anti-terror bill better and we will support it.

One cannot envy President Uhuru Kenyatta and the security apparatus that he supervises on our behalf. They have been dealt a very tough hand in the form of terror. In the old days, war and civil conflict was well defined. Armies would meet at designated places, away from the civil population and fight it out. There are in fact well told stories about a time in ancient England and Gaul (France), when battles would adjourn for tea and siesta!

Not so today. The battle front that the president and his (mostly) men have to deal with is amorphous. It started out that we could identify the enemy – Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. They were radicalised arabic people of a twisted muslim faith that espouses Jihad and hatred. Later, as Kenya decided to decisively root them out in their homeground, we knew that we were dealing with a ragtag radical Somali band of thugs. They could be identified by their looks.

As it turns out, the face of terrorism in Kenya is now less recognisable and almost impossible to define. The Al-Shabaab militia and their supporters are now no longer just Arabic, Somali or Muslim. Not too long ago, a young man was arraigned in court having been arrested in the high seas and it turned out that his name was Paul and he was brought up in Nairobi’s eastlands area (not eastleigh). Our young men are leaving their families to join terror groups – trained and groomed from within our neighbourhoods by people that are known as pillars of society.

One must sympathise with the president and his security folk, who are having to navigate the fine line between upholding our constitutional freedoms and also keeping us safe. How do you police a society in which you cannot identify the villain? How do you catch the boogy man, when he is invisible and is hiding in plain sight? Giving the government the benefit of the doubt, we must believe that it is in this spirit that the new anti-terrorism bill was created and tabled in Parliament.

We live in scary times and they are not made any better by increasingly ubiquitous media and social media, through which hate messages, gory images and often wanton untruths are published rampantly, causing consternation, fear and generally increasing the overall stress levels of the nation. The drive for eyeballs to our blogs and mainstream media sometimes cause for horrible transgressions to privacy.

Even as we acknowledge the President’s difficult position and the spirit behind the move to parliament to create a robust law to deal with terrorism, we have to decline to support the bill as it is currently constituted, for various reasons.

First, we are a country that is fundamentally founded on rights and freedoms, which we have enshrined in the constitution (that we wrote in the course of decades-long debate and discussion). To give the intelligence agencies unrestricted accommodations to tap our phones without the supervision of the courts contravenes not just the letter, but also the spirit of the constitution. In the grand balance, the scale between the expediency of justice and the protection of human rights must fall clearly on the protection of human rights. While there are criminals among us and it is true we must use all possible measures to get them, we must draw a line at institutionalising in Law, the fundamental freedoms of everyone – including law abiding citizens.

The thing is, while many of us may trust that the president and his security personnel would behave responsibly if given this access, the law would remain in place for future governments to misuse. We still live in the after-glow of former president Moi’s reign, during which we saw many laws changed for expedience – much to the great suffering of many Kenyans. To have laws in place that could potentially send us back there is untenable.

It is true that citizens and their media (including mainstream media) must operate responsibly. It is true many of my fellow bloggers do not respect the law. We cannot however paint the solution with broad strokes. There exist laws through which affected parties could resort for justice and restitution.

Secondly, on a practical level, it is necessary that the president acknowledges that the challenge with the management of terrorism lies in gaps in the enforcement of the law. The rampant corruption that still exists within the police force and other sectors of government such as immigration have not yet been dealt with decisively. While there has been significant movement in the improvement of government services – with the Huduma centres for example – too many officers get away with corruption and perpetration of state violence.

Former British Prime Miinister noted that the purpose of terrorism is to “inflame, divide and cause consequences that justify further terror.” A simple way to get the young citizens to be enticed to terrorism is to further infringe on their human rights – which this bill will do as it written right now.

The so-called anti-terrorism bill is an important one. Let us not rush it through parliament, Mr. President. Let us instead make it stronger and more effective by getting the public behind it. By allowing citizens to contribute to it, we can improve and strengthen the bill and provide the public with the means to contribute to it. It is, after all, in all of our interests to have a strong and robust response to terror within our borders.

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