Kenya’s most guarded VIPs
By Standard on Sunday Team
It could be addiction to and affliction of power, paranoia or the legitimate fear for one’s life in high office.
For public office earns one friends and enemies in equal measure. It could also be a status symbol or fear you never know when your head is on crosshairs of a gunman’s binoculars.
For out there could be lying a vile criminal or lunatic baying for your blood.
Whichever the case your average Kenyan politician is not far from a concealed gun that could be whipped out anytime to his defence. He could be the wielder or the mean face around him.
But dig deeper into the entourage of our leaders and you will be surprised: they are well guarded, pampered and flattered.
Matters of the economy that last year grew slower than that of lawless Somalia and barely outpaced Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, behind the faÁade of untaxed huge salaries, razor-wired homes, with heated swimming pools, the palatial homes that only pale in comparison to Microsoft founder Bill Gate’s, your leader could be living on another planet.
For starters, in a country with runaway crime, questionable human rights record, raging famine, and harsh standards of living, each member of the bloated 41-member Cabinet is entitled to at least nine police officers.
Four or three, including the driver, who is always a police gunman, are always with him in public and social functions, shopping malls, and church.
The rest are shared out evenly among the sentry boxes in Nairobi, rural homes, spouses and children.
This means about 369 police officers wake up every morning to guard Cabinet ministers, their spouses, and homes. An equal number takes over when the first lot signs off.
Police sources say about 2,500 police officers – out of the national tally of 40,000 (half of whom assist traffic lights and hunt for drunken, careless and unlicensed drivers) – guard ministers, select MPs, politicians and top Government officials.
About 1,600 officers from the 22,000-member Administration Police supplement them. The General Service Unit’s contribution to VIP protection stands at 600.
Top on the list of the most-guarded VIPs is President Kibaki. With his family, and presidential installations, the President has a pool of 200-member elite squad drawn from the General Service Unit.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka each have 45-member armed guard at their service.
The rest of the ministers officially are entitled to at least two armed guards at their homes at any time. They are either drawn from the regular police force, General Service Unit or Administration Police.
But curiously there is a set of ministers who have a higher entitlement of armed guard at any one time. At least four of them are known to enjoy up to 10-armed police officers in chase cars at any given time.
Retinue of guards
They include Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, Internal Security Minister George Saitoti, John Michuki (Environment) and William Ruto (Agriculture).
Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe could not explain why Uhuru, Ruto, Michuki and Saitoti enjoy preferential treatment. But he argued police duties include protection of life and property.
Kiraithe explained escort, by use of chase cars, are reserved for the Prime Minster, who could soon acquire outriders. The VP, Chief Justice, Central Bank Governor, Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission Director, and the Speaker of the National Assembly, could also join the league of the fortified. He said this cadre of public officers could at any time be needed by the President for consultations.
The Standard on Sunday enquiries found out these public officers each have a chase car, at least five guards, and another division protecting their spouses and children.
The Commissioner of Police, the Chief of General Staff, and other section commanders also have a retinue of guards from their formations.
The strain on national security establishment can be discerned from the fact that an unspecified number of influential personalities, former Cabinet members, and retired public servants also have police guards – because of risks posed by decisions they made and information they accessed while in office.
Peddlers of influence
Literally, each minister has enough officers to man a patrol base at time insecurity for wananchi is spiralling out of control.
There are no clear criteria for allocating guards to VIPs though some argue it is informed by assessment of individual risk, as security intelligence determines. But our sources, who because of the sensitive nature of this story, asked they not be named, conceded some of the lower-ranking VIPs use their personal influence in Government, to get more officers at their service.
Senior police officers claimed some politicians, businessmen, and influence peddlers also do the same. "There is nothing you can do sometimes because these people use their connections in Government. They intimidate our bosses to get more security," said a senior police officer.
These officers also guard Government buildings and foreign missions, which raises concerns such deployments increase pressure on a strained police force.
According to official policy, every one of 222 MPs is entitled to an armed guard, while two are assigned to each minister and their assistants.
But Cabinet ministers enjoy the services of additional police guards, who are posted to their urban and rural homes.
Some permanent secretaries and heads of parastatals are also accorded up to three police bodyguards.
Former Justice Minister Martha Karua told Parliament last month some former ministers were enjoying police security despite being out of Parliament. It was then thought it was a case of soar grapes as she had just quit the Cabinet. The Government is yet to deny her claim.