In an age of terrorism, many countries — the United States among them — face a difficult balance between security and civil rights. For Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, the fight against al-Shabab is no less than “existential.” But human rights groups here say the way Kenya is fighting terrorists will only cause instability and insecurity in the long run. When Muslims see their peers extorted, or worse, by the police, the natural response is anger. A few may even be drawn into the arms of the terrorists, says Mgandi Kalinga, an investigator with local human rights group Haki Africa. A few is all it takes. And so, “the security situation in Kenya is compromised by the government itself,” Kalinga said.
More than any other U.S. president in history, Barack Obama has the chance to shape the course of Kenya’s fight against al-Shabab, not just because of his Kenyan ancestry, but because the United States has helped fund it and train those who are carrying it out. His visit to Kenya over the weekend offered an unprecedented opportunity to influence its parameters.
Did Obama dodge the difficult questions?
NAIROBI–Barack Obama is visiting his father’s homeland for the first time as president, and he could hardly have chosen a more critical moment. Kenya was once a peaceful nation known for safaris and beaches. But it has, sadly, evolved into something resembling a police state—the result of the Kenyan government’s response to a recent onslaught of terrorist attacks.
As Kenyan security forces attempt to defend their nation, terrorism analysts and human rights activists say they’re going about it all wrong—inflicting collective punishment on Muslims and clamping down on press. Now, one very big question remains: Can President Obama convince Kenya’s leaders to take action on terrorism and human rights?
Millions of Kenyans are celebrating the long-awaited return of Barack Obama, who on Friday will visit his father’s homeland for the first time as president to attend the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi.
Obama’s visit will focus on economic development and counterterrorism efforts within the country against the Somali Islamist group al Shabaab, but it comes amid widespread abuse by Kenyan security forces of Muslims, refugees, and journalists. This has raised worries among rights advocates that he risks lending undue legitimacy to one of Africa’s more unscrupulous regimes.
Obama is visiting a country whose human rights record has taken a notably downward turn. Following years of steady attacks from al Shabaab militants within Kenya, including an assault on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in 2013 that killed 67 and the massacre of 147 people at a university in Garissa earlier this year, local security forces are said to consistently engage in extrajudicial activity in the name of fighting terrorism, and are accused of harassing journalists and undermining press freedoms.