When criminals saluted State officers after being caned

When Taiwan held a debate on whether criminals should be subjected to public caning. [AP Photo]

There has been a national outcry over runaway crime in Nairobi and other major towns. In the capital city, gangs have literary taken over some alleys, unleashing terror even in broad day light.

Ironically, the wave of lawlessness is coming in the wake of the disbandment of the Special Services Unit. Its officers were accused of extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances. 

The criminals running amok today are lucky. There was a time the government used crude methods to establish its authority, with colonial courts giving this form of punishment legitimacy.

Caning was introduced in Kenya on March 12, 1903. The colonial government introduced the kiboko to tame wayward Africans, who were also occasionally whipped to work harder.

When the cane was introduced as punishment, it was only to be administered to criminals aged 16 and above. For offenders who had not reached the majority age, light twigs were used. Adults, however, were flogged using a cane of not less than half an inch in diameter.

During the colonial times, caning was supervised by the District Commissioner who had the power to delegate this duty to a senior civil servant. A medical officer was also supposed to witness the caning and in the event he was unavailable he could appoint an assistant to ensure that this was administered on the right part of the body using the prescribed form.

The cane was administered on the bare backside which was only covered with a thin wet towel. The corporal appointed to punish the criminal was supposed to stop after giving half the number of canes to allow the medical expert to check the condition of the criminal. If it was certified that the criminal was physically fit, he would then complete the prescribed number of strokes of the cane.

In case a criminal was sentenced to corporal punishment without the option of a jail term, he had to be detained in prison until the punishment was administered or commuted. Female convicts were exempted from corporal punishment which has since been scrapped.

After the whipping was over, the suspect was supposed to stand respectfully and salute the representative of government.

Faced with the prospect of being caned, former Subukia MP Koigi Wamwere and his brother-in-law Captain GG Ngengi mounted a legal battle to escape the cane. The court had ordered that the two receive six strokes of the cane after they were found guilty of robbery on October 3, 1995 by High Court judge William Tuiyot.