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Kenya's Proposed Military Legislation Faces Opposition

Kenya Defense Forces guard the main gate of the Garissa University College compound that was the scene of a recent attack by al-Shabab gunmen, in Garissa, April 6, 2015.

With terrorism a rising concern in Kenya, lawmakers are considering new legislation that would allow soldiers to deploy in civilian areas to keep order. The proposal has run into strong opposition, however, even before it gets to the floor of parliament.

Following multiple attacks in Kenya by Somalia-based militant group al-Shabab, legislation is being proposed to make the military work with internal security agencies.

The bill is facing stiff opposition, though, from legal experts and some politicians.

Some critics say the bill as written would shield military finances from public scrutiny. Kenya Law Society Chairman Eric Mutua said spending for all institutions in the country must be open to inspection, and the military should not be different.

“Every public money expended is subject to account through the constitution and through institutions, which have been set up in the constitution for the purposes of scrutiny, so you cannot have any funds whatsoever which cannot be a subject of scrutiny,” said Mutua.

Defending the bill

However, homeland security expert Richard Tuta said the legislation is trying to make the military more useful in the fight against internal terrorism.

“The intention of the bill itself is not a wrong intention. One thing you realize the bill wants to do [is make clear] how can we use our Kenyan Defense Forces to supplement the issues to do homeland security, and at what point can they be called upon, and when they are called upon how do they relate with other internal state operators within the country,” explained Tuta.

But the bill also proposes deploying the army to civilian areas to maintain order. Opposition politicians insist the army should stick to its role of protecting the country from external aggression.

The chairman of the Political Parties Collaborative Forum, Benjamin Mwema, said some lawmakers are using security fears to push a bad bill.

“There is overreaction on the insecurity caused by terrorism and maybe people are trying to cure terrorism issue through making laws that are not well thought out, so it will be prudent for the laws to [conform] with the constitution and also not infringe on the rights of other Kenyans,” Mwema said.

The chair of parliament's Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee said this week the panel will listen to all the concerns raised by the public, political leaders and legal experts before sending the proposed legislation to parliament for debate.