Is Kenya a hotbed of terrorism?

Immense energy has gone into demonizing CNN over a recent report about Kenya. This report suggested that Kenya was a hotbed of terrorism and that it was not safe for the President of the United States (POTUS) to visit the country. President Obama is actually in the country to co-host a Global Enterpreneural Summit (GES) being held in Nairobi. The objectives of the summit include, among other things, empowering the youth as a countermeasure for radicalization into terrorism. So what was the problem with how CNN reported this visit?

Hotbed? Really?

One thing that Kenyans on twitter (#KOT) appeared to be incensed with is the use of the words ‘hotbed of terrorism.’ According to the CNN report President Obama was visiting ‘not only his father’s homeland…’ but a country festering under the weight of AlShabaab. The show continued by incorporating two ‘security experts’: one a former secret service agent and the other a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agent. These two experts proceeded to provide their ‘expert analysis’ about how unsafe Kenya was for Obama’s visit.

What caught my attention the most is lack of credible data as well as use of spurious facts to make conclusions that are invariably wrong and, dare I say, offensive. One of the analysts suggested that the ‘11%’ Muslim population in Kenya made the country a dangerous place for a POTUS visit. The other cemented this idea by stating that Kenya was more dangerous than Iraq and Afghanistan! Is this depiction accurate?

Is Kenya the most insecure country on earth?

When discussing matters of security, there seems to be a lack of a coherent definition of the term. Traditionaly the referent object (or the unit of analysis if you like) has been the state. Therefore matters of security have – since the cold war era – been framed within the language of state survival. It is no wonder that nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) are the mainstay of international security agendas. But is this really security?

Other schools of though have emerged to challenge this state-centric approach. These other schools focus more on the wellbeing of the human being; the person living within the confines of the state rather than the state itself. This is what is referred to as human security. The proponets of this school make their case by comparing the average number of deaths and destruction caused by phenomena other than war or state conflict. To this end their scope of security includes economic, enviromental and social factors that impact on the prosperity of people.

However, I digress from the main pont of this post. The issue here to find out whether Kenya is the most insecure nation in the world. To do this I will restrict the security issue to the deaths caused by terrorism. Although quite a narrow conceptual frame of security in academic terms, it will serve the purpose of this post by comparing the fatalities in Kenya in 2014 compared to those of Iraq and Afghanistan.

According this Global Terrorism Index report, Kenya is ranked third most affected state in Africa as far as terrorism is concerned. It comes behind Nigeria and Somalia which occupy the first and second positions respectively. Looking at the facts, Kenya has been on the receveing end of AlShabaab attacks particularly after the former’s incursion into Somali in an operation dubbed ‘Operation Linda Inchi.’

However as compared to other countries in the world, Kenya is in position 12 globally in the list of countries most affected by terrorism. The top five countries on this list include Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria in that order. Further terrorism related deaths in these five areas accounted to 82% of the global average according to the report. This means that, in essence, these are the most dangerous places on earth as far as terrorism is concerned.

Further more, comparing the number of terror related deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan with those of Kenya reveals inconsistencies between the CNN’s ‘expert analysis’ and the reality on the ground. In 2014 a reported 306 Kenyan lives were lost due to terrorism. Compare this figure with that of Iraq’s 9,929 and Afghanistan’s 4,505 and one begins to wonder how CNN came to the conclusion that Kenya is a hotbed of terrorism.

Was the framing of Kenya by CNN wrong?

I tend to think so. In light of statistics provided, the so called analysts got it wrong. Just because Kenya has been severally attacked by AlShabaab does not make it the most dangerous place on earth. Secondly, CNN erred in accepting the notion that Kenya was more dangerous than Iraq and Afghanistan without asking for substantiation. This action underscores what I have been increasingly observing in today’s media; the use of ‘experts’ whose justifications for their conslusions in arguments is nothing more than their credentials. Students of philosophy have a name for this; they call it expert fallacy.

Concluding thoughts

No Kenyan can suggest that Kenyans have not faced problems with terrorist or terrorism, unless they have been living under a rock. However the way CNN framed the issue made Kenya appear like a failed state; like terrorism is what defines the Kenyan people. This, in my opinion is very irresponsible reporting and should be shuned. It should also not be forgotten by CNN producers that Kenyans have neither forgoten nor forgiven you for this report on the 2013 general elections.