What happened is slowly clarifying. Last Sunday evening, from about 8 pm, three minivans arrived in Mpeketoni on the mainland just south of Lamu.
An estimated 50 armed men began by attacking the police station. They moved on to shooting at men in restaurants, hotels and on the streets. By the time they left, after 2am, cars, homes, the petrol station and government offices had been burnt down.
Surrounding townships and villages were not spared. On top of the 49 now known to have been killed from Mpeketoni, others were killed in its vicinity as well.
It didn’t end there. The following day, armed men returned, called out by name 15 men (including two police officers) from their houses, lined them up and shot them dead too.
Who was responsible and what their motivations were is slowly clarifying too.
Witnesses, including from the provincial administration and the media, spoke of seeing the Al Shabaab flag. Of armed men speaking in Somali and Kiswahili, chanting Allahu Akbar. Of their asking men they confronted whether they were Muslim or not and demanding proof of the same. Of having the audacity to pause the attacks to enter a mosque and pray.
There is also the fact that Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attacks, attributing them to the oppression of Muslims by the government of Kenya, evidenced by the ongoing so-called screening operation and the murders of Muslim clerics and scholars in Mombasa.
What is also clarifying is where official blame should best be placed — not for blame’s sake, but for avoidance of such attacks in future.
The National Intelligence Service was quick to point out that it had issued a warning of an impending attack three days before. This warning was, we are told, received by relevant security services and structures on the ground, who were asked to prepare for quick deployment. But the warning wasn’t heeded.
Witnesses point to the fact that, while police officers on duty tried to defend the police station, they did not come to the residents’ aid, let alone repel the armed men. The descent of security services, high and low, did not happen until all was over.
The question should be whether the warning was as specific as NIS has made it out to be. Whether it was received. If so, why it was not acted upon. Lack of capacity? Laxity? Or wanting to lessen public critique of the so-called screening operation and the unsolved murders of Muslim clerics and scholars? In short, making political capital?
We would be forgiven for assuming the latter, given the outrageous statements from the presidency and his Jubilant Senate colleagues, attributing the attack to the political opposition. Without any supporting evidence being made as public as the claim. Without any apparent arrests based on that claim.
We would be forgiven if our stomachs churned at hearing the claim — framed as it was to flip the script about grievance understood in ethnic terms. We have seen this tactic so many times before.
In the real world — not the world of political fantasy and instrumentalisation of ethnicity — the inadequacy of steps taken in the aftermath is also clarifying.
The residents of Mpeketoni and its surrounding townships and villages are angry—and terrified. Some want public assistance to leave. Others want support from the security services in reporting their losses so as to begin making insurance claims.
Reporting should be easy and straightforward. But no. There is, apparently, an odd reluctance among the police to help them with their abstracts. Why, we must ask? Because they will have to document in these abstracts what they witnessed? Because what they witnessed goes against the Jubilant and public narrative? Or?
Then there are the meaningless, symbolic moves. We are told all provincial administrators and local security service heads have been suspended, some pending charges of negligence. We are told some have merely been transferred. What that will accomplish apparently doesn’t matter — if it assuages the residents’ anger, so be it.
We are told two arrests have been made. One is the alleged owner of one of the minivans. The other is allegedly the person who was hired— for Ksh20,000 — to drive it. Just over $200 being all it apparently takes to aid and abet destruction and murder. Again, our stomachs turn. If these arrests are valid, let us hope they will lead us up the chain to all who facilitated this.
Back to the line between the real world and political fantasy. We do reap what we sow. Not a single Kenyan political party does not have among its prominent members those alleged in public and official reports to have aided, abetted and facilitated political violence in going as far back as 1992.
Either through the state — as in the so-called screening operation. Or through more murky criminal gangs and militias — one of whom we are now told has called for “community defence” further to the statements from the presidency and the Jubilants. How is that criminal gang and militia any different than Al Shabaab? Our stomachs turn again.
Organised criminal violence of the sort wrought by Al Shabaab is bad enough. Organised political violence of the sort wrought by our own political leadership is even worse.
All Kenyans have the right to life. It is the duty of the state to provide it — sensibly. It is the duty of the state to get on with addressing not just who did this but why — with its own acts of commission and omission that provoke grievance, with its continual allowance of impunity.
L. Muthoni Wanyeki is Amnesty International’s regional director for East Africa. This column is written in her personal capacity.