Following a deadly terrorist attack in the Dubrovka Theater in Moscow, Vladimir Putin issued one of the most striking statements on how to respond to terror. “Russia does not negotiate with terrorists,” he told the world. “Russia destroys them.”
I have thought about this line a lot in the weeks following the Dusit attack, wondering whether this really is the right approach for Kenya. After all, Putin’s comments were followed by a brutal crackdown in Chechnya that left tens of thousands dead.
An alternative viewpoint comes from the former head of the Israeli Supreme Court, Justice Aharon Barak. In a ground-breaking ruling at the height of one of Israel’s bloodiest confrontations with terror, Barak wrote that “[When fighting terror]… a democracy must fight with one hand tied behind its back, but it nonetheless has the upper hand.
Preserving the rule of law and recognition of an individual’s liberty constitutes an important component in its understanding of security. At the end of the day, they strengthen its spirit.”
Let us be clear – nobody can accuse Israel of being weak on terror. For the seven decades of its existence, Israel – with a population one sixth of Kenya – has fought off constant attacks from terrorists with determination and ingenuity. Many of the global best practices in fighting terror were developed by the Israelis, and they have used serious force where necessary.
Fighting with one hand tied behind your back does not mean not fighting. You can still deliver some pretty heavy blows with your free hand.
But unlike Putin’s, this quote I feel is more applicable for the Kenyan experience. We are, after all, a proud democracy. Yes we have had our challenges, but for the past three decades, our democracy has marched on.
At times this leads to difficult sights, such when we see terror suspects sitting comfortably in courtrooms and treated with respect, while we mourn their victims.
To get the right balance in the fight against terrorism you need a strong and ethical leader. Someone both respected by the military and committed to democratic values.
Throughout his term in office, and again during the past few weeks, President Uhuru Kenyatta has proved himself to be such a man.
He has committed the Government to fighting terror with ‘zeal’ and he has stepped up security teams in order to fulfill his promise to “pursue those who planned and financed the attack, using all instruments at our disposal.”
During his presidency, Uhuru has presided over the strengthening of the Kenyan military and counter-terror units, ensuring they are better equipped, trained and funded than ever before, and it was noticeable how much better the response was to the Dusit attack than to previous comparable atrocities.
This has been achieved largely through building ever closer ties with the US, UK and other western nations, centred on the war on terror.
That is why Uhuru has refused to entertain any suggestion of suspending due process or a punitive military response – as other countries have done – and has also been careful to emphasize that the “war against poverty, ignorance and disease” must be fought with the “same zeal and single-minded focus” as the war on terror.
Fighting terrorism as a democracy is not easy. It is much simpler to emulate Putin, ignore civil liberties and fight back with brute force, but the easy path is not always the right path, and that is not who we are.
Under Uhuru’s wise leadership, we will continue to fight terrorists determinedly and forcefully, but with one hand tied behind our backs.
The views expressed in this article don’t necessarily represent KBC’s opinion.