Ideas & Debate

Why human security should be top on political agenda ahead of August polls

Residents of Geylab in Modogashe, Garissa, draw water from a temporary bore hole. Biting drought in various parts of Kenya  has resulted in famine and water shortage. PHOTO | FILE
Residents of Geylab in Modogashe, Garissa, draw water from a temporary bore hole. Biting drought in various parts of Kenya has resulted in famine and water shortage. PHOTO | FILE 

In the days when it still called itself “digital”, the Jubilee administration made much ado about its promise to move beyond traditional national security (security of the state) to human security (security of the individual).

The Executive Office of the Presidency’s website once featured human security as one of the administration’s most immediate priorities. It does not today.

Yet as the Daily Nation’s ongoing Agenda series is increasingly demonstrating, human security questions pervade all of the key issues facing Kenya going into the 2017 election.

Overzealous borrowing and a growing debt mountain pose great dangers to the economic security of every Kenyan.

Graft and malfeasance are not only an economic security issue but they also represent threats to our food, personal and political security.

Water shortages impinge on our food, health and environmental security. We are still unclear about the likely impact of our infrastructure binge on economic security.

This is a country where electoral debate should — at least partly — be informed by real issues affecting the people. It is not.

Instead this is a country where public institutions raid taxpayers’ pockets to advertise the outcomes and impacts of projects that are yet to be completed. Read Kenya Railways and the standard gauge railway.

But let us start at the beginning. Human security is an idea first popularised in United Nations Development Programme’s 1994 Human Development Report in stating that “the world can never be at peace unless people have security in their daily lives.”

It famously depicted a world with both “freedom from want” and “freedom from fear”. It emphasised security of the individual as of a higher order than security of the state.

In the academic literature, arguments persist about these attributes as “either/or” choices. Think of high Human Development Index Nordic countries as “freedom from want” advocates.

Think of America’s Trump-Bannon duopoly as “freedom from fear” activists. Human security was one of the core underpinnings of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.

Today, we even have a United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security which has considerably expanded thinking on this subject towards a conceptual approach that aligns with more traditional human development and human rights approaches — and is people-centred, multi-sectoral, comprehensive, context-specific and prevention-oriented.

Away from theory and back to Kenya. One way to look at where Kenya sits from a human security perspective is to self-assess ourselves using seven inter-related domains often used in the literature.

So let’s self-assess from observation and anecdote, and give ourselves a pre-2017 election rating on a scale of A (excellent) to E (poor) to F (Fail).

First, economic security. How well is Kenya doing in creating jobs and income opportunities? And where such opportunities do not exist, what sort of safety ropes (incentives) and safety nets (protections) are available?

Jobless growth has been a characteristic of the Kenyan economy since the economic recovery began in 2003. In recent times, however, we seem to have graduated to “job-destroying” growth — basically, hardware, not software (human capital) growth.

If Uwezo and related “opportunity funds” are anything to go by, our safety ropes are terribly slippery. And while the safety net has expanded in recent years, one suspects that coverage is still far from comprehensive. Let us give ourselves a D-plus here.

Next, food security. There is enough recent press — around our recurring drought-hunger-famine — to suggest that food availability, accessibility and affordability represent challenges unsolved, with no fresh thinking since independence, despite all manner of mega-irrigation projects over time. No need for detail, here we score a straight F for Fail.

Health security — the third domain — revolves around the systematic reduction in traditional infectious disease and emerging lifestyle disease.

The fact that we spend a great proportion of our public health budget on cure rather than prevention suggests, despite all the gimmicks over time, we still have not got our heads around the two essentials for health — lifestyle and living conditions.

That this is the one sector in which more than half of the funds invested through State systems are off-budget is indicative of a system where foreign money is invested on a strict “trust, but verify” basis.

We should be doing better, but it is not as bad as food security, so let us give ourselves a C-minus.

In thinking of environmental security, let us remember a former minister who announced to the people that rain does not come from trees, but from heaven.

We passed a constitution that demands 10 per cent forest cover at a time when ours was two to three per cent. I have read that we have recently improved this cover to six-seven per cent, though it is not clear where this has happened.

Environmental security is also about water sources and resources, and the impacts of climate change. One senses that we are still more attuned to the “greenback” economy than we are to the “green economy”, but on balance, let us award ourselves a C for effort.

The final three security domains relate to the individual in three ways.

Personal security is exactly that — protection of every person from state or individual violence, ranging from extra-judicial executions to violent crime and abuse.

The frightening press I read suggests we should be scoring ourselves at the same level as economic security, a grade of E.

Community security and political security relate to primarily to groups in a community context, for example, ethnic or religious minorities or political context, for example, the role of media and non-state actors in a political context that may or may not promote, protect or respect human rights.

Again, anecdotal evidence and observation suggests to me that we rate around E on both domains.

Where does this leave us? An average human security rating between D and E on a scale of A to F. Before considering the dangerous interplay between these insecure dimensions.

Simply, “Kenya can never be at peace unless people have security in their daily lives.”

Our politicians might not have got this in the past, but they just might in 2017.