Saturday, June 15, 2024

A Diaspora open letter to Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta

You don’t know me, but I know you, arguably better than most of your voters. My name is Vincent Wanyoike and for the past two years, I have been an undergraduate student at Sciences Po Paris. I moved to France to study at Sciences Po Paris shortly after you were elected. The reason: I felt that if I understood politics, I would one day make a tangible difference in my country, just like you did in your Jubilee alliance manifesto. The same manifesto that resulted in your election with 50.07% of the popular vote. I was one of the few Kenyans that actually read that manifesto. I predicted your win even before you announced you would be running.

You see, Mr. President, I have been one of your staunchest supporters, in every sense of the word. I had just turned eighteen a month before the March 4, 2013 polls that led to your election. Despite the fact that I could not vote, I rallied anyone who could. One by one, I made sure that they all exercised their democratic right. Afterward, I camped on the living room couch non-stop until March 9, 2013, when the Independent Electorate and Boundaries Commission officially announced your win.

Like 50.07% of Kenyans that day, I celebrated. History was made, Mr. President. It was a great day for Kenya.

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My support for you, Mr. President, dates even further. When you served as Minister of Finance, I could not have been more impressed by your resolve to curb government waste. Every Kenyan still remembers your directive to all government officials to return affluent Mercedes Benz guzzlers and opt for the more cost-effective Volkswagen Passat.

When retired ICC prosecutor Louis Moreno Ocampo accused you of allegedly committing crimes against humanity, I believed that justice would prevail. Justice eventually cleared your name. Justice did, albeit controversially, prevail. Yet again, you restored the faith of the Kenyan people. You proved the Kenyan people were right when they voted for you. You, Mr. President, won their hearts, over and over again.

I wish I could say the same was true today, Your Excellency.

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I want to you to understand the context from which I am writing to you. I have spent the last two years in France, learning about political systems with a regional concentration on the Middle East and the Mediterranean. A lot has happened during these two years. On January 7, 2015, at around 11:30 AM, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi forced their way into the headquarters of the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo. They killed 11 people and injured 11 others. French authorities eventually unearthed their identities and acted swiftly, launching one of the largest manhunts in recent French history. A manhunt that ultimately led to their death. This attack led to the #JeSuisCharlie campaign denouncing any form of Islamic extremism.

On April 22, 2015, French authorities, even more alert given the January attacks, foiled a terror plot to attack churches in Paris. The Islamic extremist was apprehended and a potential attack avoided. Given what happened in January, France cannot allow similar attacks to happen again, knowing far too well the threat that is posed by radical Islam.

I was also in France when the Bardo National Museum attacks in Tunisia took place on March 18, 2015. The response was the same. High alerts and increased security measures, and as I

looked at how the Tunisian government responded, I had no doubt in my mind that these events could not repeat themselves so easily.

These are just two countries. Countries that have learned from devastating events with the aim of making sure they do not happen again. As George Santayana would put it, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Do not get me wrong, Mr. President. I am very well aware of the fact that Kenya has more resource constraints than France or Tunisia. I could not, even in my wildest dreams, expect Kenya’s reaction to be a replica of the French or Tunisian one. However, Your Excellency, there is a wide array of lessons to gain from these events. Lessons that, unfortunately, your government has yet to learn.

The attacks on the Westgate Mall on September 21, 2013 left 67 dead and over 175 wounded. It was the most shocking event of its time. Al Shabaab militants had made it all the way to Westlands, a part of the capital city by extension. The thought that they could get to us in our own backyard was terrifying. You reaffirmed that security was not a favor to the Kenyan people. It is their democratic right, protected by the constitution. A newly promulgated constitution under which you serve as the first president.

Your Excellency, we believed you. We believed you because you also experienced a personal loss in the attack. You mourned your nephew alongside other innocent Kenyans that died that day. As we picked up the pieces and strived to be a stronger nation with a firm resolve on terrorism, we never once imagined that security would take a back seat in your government. Not after this. Not after a death toll of 67.

Yet, we were wrong.

April 2, 2015 is the day I lost hope in the Jubilee coalition’s security agenda. At 5:30 AM, gunmen stormed into Garissa University College in a massacre that left 147 dead. Over 79 were injured, and for a long time during the rescue operations, more than 500 students were unaccounted for. It had happened again. Stronger. Deadlier. Higher death toll.

Northern Kenya is one of the most volatile regions in the country, a fact that you are well aware of. I would have expected you to beef up security given the Westgate Mall attacks. After all, the attacks marked a time of high alert and increased vigilance. However, your government put in place insufficient measures or hardly responded with increased alert. Any security measures, such as curfews, were only implemented after the Garissa University College attacks.

My greatest surprise is the ease with which the gunmen in Garissa were able to massacre innocent students. Have the Westgate Mall attacks taught us nothing? The fact that gunmen can attack a known hotspot like Garissa and kill so many civilians is enough to prompt serious security reforms.

Furthermore, there were a series of a micro attacks that I believe should have kept your government on its toes and made it even easier to foil any attack of the magnitude of Garissa. The 2014 Nairobi bus bombings, the 2014 Gikomba bombings, the 2014 Mpeketoni attacks and the 2014 Lamu attacks all come to mind. As minor as these attacks were, their proximity to the September 2013 Westgate Mall attacks makes them a huge concern for security authorities in Kenya. I am confident that had security authorities remained on high alert in light of these attacks, they would have foiled the Garissa University College attacks.

Unfortunately, they did not.

Given how long and how much I have supported you, I feel that your presidency is approaching a turning point that will be defined by how your government deals with security issues. My support for you, however, is no longer that obvious. While I agree with most of the policies proposed in the Jubilee Coalition manifesto, we do not see eye to eye on how you deal with security matters.

For now, I remain a disturbed, disheartened, and disappointed man.


Vincent Wanyoike

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