A hundred and thirty five days at the helm, Inspector General of Police Hilary Mutyambai has moved to stamp his authority in the National Police Service as reforms he has initiated begin to bite.
This week’s reorganisation of police leadership in Coast region added swell to the “disruption” he has caused in the Traffic department, the mop-up of illegal guns in North Rift, recall of VIP security and the centralisation of command has not escaped notice.
Even then, critics say the sustained onslaught on police independence by the Executive remains the biggest obstacle towards the realisation of a professional, responsive, disciplined and respected service Kenyans are yearning for.
The former spy man told the Sunday Standard that he is turning around the fortunes of the service in a “slow but sure” manner and “one step at a time.”
“I have quite strong operational grounding and you are unlikely to find me lounging around the office unless I have to. My training and disposition in life is slightly different,” Mutyambai said when we reached out to him.
The reforms initiated in the Traffic department, he told us, are turning out well although he has had to re-draw his initial plans.
Without revealing much, he said, he has had to retouch a few buttons in the last one week to secure the progress.
Most of the roadblocks and checkpoints which were largely used as extortion points are now gone.
And the ticketing system where traffic offenders are fined on the spot is taking root. But still, the complaints persist, especially in major highways.
International Centre for Policy and Conflict boss Ndung’u Wainaina agrees the restoration of operational control of the service to county commanders with regard to roadblocks was a good, but too small a move for a service seriously wanting in devolution of power.
“He need to do more of the same but even more importantly, they need to find their way into the Police Act to enable him secure them from abuse,” he said.
Wainaina says Mutyambai’s success as an IG is hinged on his ability and will to rescue the service from the “state-centric” philosophy it has always been. He pities him for having been thrust into “straight-jacketed” reforms.
“He has the opportunity to bend the arc from the regime policing tradition. It’s unfortunate that he found predetermined reforms rolling and the service fully emasculated. All the constitutional gains on police independence, oversight and welfare had been clawed back.”
Mutyambai says he has not closed up on his approach to reforming the service.
He says he has been listening a lot to what the public have been saying and reviewing the progress of the reforms and mapping out areas requiring special interventions.
He says owing to his strong operational background in the service and intelligence wing, he is no stranger in the security business and he knows which buttons to press and when. Part of his assignment in the last few months has been to silence the recurring strife in North Rift pitting communities against each other.
“In actual fact, it is only my office that changed, otherwise I had been involved quite a lot in moving a lot of things from the background. Our resolve is to put paid to this senseless violence which has brought a lot of shame to our country,” he says.
According to the International Justice Mission, the organisation that lost a lawyer in the hands of police, there is palpable change in terms of police discipline, command and order.
Wamaitha Kimani, IJM’s Director of System Reform, told the Sunday Standard that the IG should prioritise the rejuvenation of police stations to respond to community needs. He must also attend community dialogue sessions to bridge the gap between police and the people.
“We must note that there have been less reports of cases of police killings during the period the IG assumed office. Similarly, the DCI has made commendable efforts in sustained investigation and arrest of officers involved in criminal conduct,” Mr Wamaitha said.
She said the transition of 24,000 APS officers to general duty in KPS, the holistic approach in ensuring prior training of regional and county commanders and generally the reorganisation of police under one command structure, have been critical
“The IG is also encouraged to connect with the civilian communities (his customers) across the country in order to appreciate the public experience of the unified service in terms of service delivery and accountability,” she said.
Mutyambai also agrees that proper policing must entail a broad-based partnership with communities, institutions and other stakeholders. He said he cannot afford to play a lone ranger and swim in the dark.
“Ours is a broad-based, technical and science-based approach to security. We are also harnessing on our experience, partnerships and goodwill to sort out these problems in sustainable manner so that even when we are not here, our predecessors have a basis to carry on,” he said.
Citing the need to protect the current generation, Mutyambai says no drug lord will escape the wrath of the service under his leadership. He said the momentum, will and means to cripple drug networks is available and is being deployed around the country.
“I have never experienced the kind of goodwill I am seeing with regards to this anti-drug purge. The communities themselves are volunteering a lot of information. It’s incredible,” he said.
Wamaitha’s other wish list is that the IG takes firm leadership on the issue of police housing and works closely with the NPSC to harmonise disciplinary control and processes of the service to ensure fairness and consistency in how cases of misconduct are addressed.
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