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When Kenyan troops crossed into Somalia, former Internal Security minister GG Kariuki wrote an
interesting opinion article in this newspaper.

He predicted that the Kenyan military would have an easy time of it in Somalia, praising their relative
sophistication compared to other regional armies.

But he said Kenya would have a mountain to climb in dealing with the challenge of maintaining security at home, fingering corrupt and inept
elements within the police force, the administration police and the immigration department as weak
spots that would be ruthlessly exploited by the terrorists.

Time has proved him right.

Kenya is now confronted with a challenge unlike any it has faced
in the past.

The nation’s leadership needs to recognise this and come up with a response that is sophisticated
enough to prevent the nation from turning into a terrorists play field.

So far, the reaction to the menace posed by Al-Shabaab – the ludicrous swoops which see the arrest of hundreds of people, the extortionist raids on innocent Somali families which have become a lucrative trade for the police – depicts a
government that thinks it is facing the same old problems posed by carjackers and bank robbers.

These unco-ordinated reactions recall a story narrated by University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist
Stephen Dubner in their book Freakonomics, to illustrate how the strategies public officials adopt
to deal with problems can end up making the situation worse.

Fed up with a plague of venomous cobras in the streets of Delhi in India, a British colonial official is
said to have offered a reward to any local who killed a snake.

The strategy worked quite well at first and numerous residents collected their prize money for
killing snakes.

However, things soon went sour.

Some calculating fellows started buying rats with the prize money for breeding cobras at home, killing
them and presenting them to claim more prizes.

They made quite some money and the cobra breeding business thrived.

Soon enough, the colonial officials uncovered the racket.

They halted the reward programme and, on hearing that, the cobra breeders let loose their snakes,
meaning that there were now more cobras on the streets than before the reward programme was
re-launched and the dangerous vicious circle of never ending cobras in the streets continued.

Historians can’t agree on whether the story that gave rise to what economists call the “cobra effect”
actually happened but another one involving rats is a true story.

Again, meddlesome colonial officials were at the heart of it.

Concerned with a huge number of rats in the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam, French officials offered a reward for killing a rat.

To claim it, one needed to present a tail to prove they had done the deed.
Soon enough, the officials noticed there were many rats without tails on the streets.

Apparently, cunning youth were catching rats, chopping off their tails and releasing them so that they could breed and bring forth more rats.

In sum, the solutions that these officials came up with ended up making the situation worse, not
better.

The Kenyatta administration must avoid falling into this trap.

A good first step would be to convene a national conference to formulate a comprehensive
programme to tackle terrorism.

Party/political divisions should be set aside and opinion leaders across the ethnic and religious divide should be
involved.

The same united front shown in the wake of the 2007/8 crisis, which yielded landmark legal changes and an overhaul of the Constitution, is
required to tackle the menace of Al-Shabaab.

While some short-sighted Kenyans appear to be celebrating the departure of tourists and the sense
of siege on the security front, everyone will bear the burden when the shilling slides against a backdrop of declining foreign exchange reserves and the cost of everything rises as a consequence.

This is a massive challenge that requires a more far-sighted approach than knee-jerk tactics that will only yield more cobras and rats on the streets.

A national dialogue on the way forward would be a good start.

And wise old heads such as GG Kariuki must be among those roped in to propose how Kenya can return to the good old days of Hakuna
Matata and avoid being associated, like Somalia and Syria, with bombs, grenades and improvised explosive devices.

“The African Story as told by Africans”.©African News Digest®

“The African Story as told by Africans”.©African News Digest®

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