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Ruto must do more to stop extra-judicial killings

President William Ruto with IG Japheth Koome at State House, November 2022. [PSCU]

Five weeks ago, President William Ruto announced the disbandment of the Special Service Unit (SSU) of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) on grounds that they had become a militia used to execute Kenyans. 

Soon, four senior officers in the SSU unit were arraigned in court for murder in late July of two Indian citizens brought in to support Kenya Kwanza technical team in the August elections.

ODM leader Raila Odinga, however, dismissed the whole investigations as a witch hunt against former DCI sleuth George Kinoti and called for Scotland Yard to investigate unexplained and uninvestigated extra-judicial killings. 

Ruto responded that Kenya didn’t need foreigners since the country had competent investigators. He conveniently didn’t reveal how those investigations might be conducted nor did he respond to calls from civil society to establish a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the killings and enforced disappearances of hundreds of Kenyans in the past few years.

The surprising arrest of a dozen cops for murder of Baby Pendo in Kisumu five years ago could be interpreted as an exercise intended to placate the public who had taken the case to their hearts. Yet, those 12 police officers may well become scapegoats for failure and refusal of public institutions to investigate and prosecute state agents involved in election violence and enforced disappearances.

Groups like the Independent Medico Legal Unit (IMLU), Haki Africa and Missing Voices have documented killings from Yala to Tsavo and everywhere in between but successive police spokespersons retreat into denial mode when presented with their evidence.

It took the Independent Police Oversight Authority (IPOA) over five years to investigate constable Ahmed Rashid of the Pangani Six killer squad whose brutal killing of two unarmed suspects in Eastleigh has been shown all over the world thanks to social media. IPOA doesn't merit praise for recommending that Rashid be prosecuted. Rather, the public deserve an explanation as to why a case with such indisputable evidence lay dormant for so long.

Ruto has said extra-judicial killings will cease under his regime but few will take that promise seriously unless sweeping measures are put in place. Every regime since independence had its killer squad and the public may be forgiven for suspecting that Kenya Kwanza will replace the SSU with its own death squad.

Indeed, the presence and justification for such a squad is part of the rotten legacy of the colonial regime whose model of policing was designed towards protecting interests of the state rather than security of citizens.

There have been mixed signals from Ruto’s government regarding its relationship with and expectations from the police service. The decision to allow police to handle their budget rather than be at the mercy of the Interior ministry suggests that their independence will be respected. This is a progressive move.

However, the plan to assign police to every chief’s office is a backward step and set to cause endless conflicts between the local chief and the OCS. It deals a death blow to vision of the 2010 Constitution that there would be one police service and one chain of command.

Crime is definitely on the rise as is poverty, as the country struggles with global recession and local culture of corruption and impunity. The public are demanding more effective protection but this requires better intelligence and professional policing rather than more violence from state guns.

Ruto’s advice to police, “If any officer is in danger of criminals, they must use their firearms to deal with them. Do not wait until our officers are killed by others”, could well be interpreted as a licence to shoot and kill even when there is no immediate danger.

It is the duty of every state to protect life and not add to a culture of violence. Ruto must be persuaded that it is both possible to stop illegal killings and live in a secure nation.

-The writer is a priest and Haki Yetu executive director