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Chiefs laud plan to give them firearms as ODM leaders say public consensus is necessary

Nairobi County Chiefs salute at a meeting on October 17, 2012. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Chiefs have praised the plans by the government to give some of them firearms and want the initiative rolled out in all locations across the country.

Administrators say cases of insecurity that have been reported in their locations often require them to be the first responders.

The developments come as a section of ODM leaders argue that the proposals should be placed under public participation before such a move is implemented. There are fears that arming chiefs could worsen insecurity if the administrators misuse the firearms.

Interviews with a number of chiefs in Nyanza region, however, established that majority of them are open to receiving firearms to help them beef up security. According to Otieno Kabisai, the West Kolwa location chief, the decision to have chiefs and their assistants armed would not have come at a better time owing to the nature of their job.

Mr Otieno said that Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki should go ahead and implement the plan terming it a brilliant idea.

“To me as a long-serving chief, that is a very good idea. You know having a firearm is power and even police officers are powerful because they have firearms,” he said.

He added that despite their close working relationship with the police, quick response is sometimes difficult due to the protocol issues that always delay the police.

“Firearms makes you feel safe in your work. With a firearm, you can even mobilise the Nyumba Kumi very fast then you respond to an emergency,” said the chief.

Respond to emergencies

He said that unlike police officers who have to follow a chain of command before responding to cases, chiefs can easily respond to emergencies if they have firearms.

“Police officers have procedures they must follow before they respond. They have to book and get permission from their seniors and that procedure might take time,” Otieno said.

His comments were also echoed by retired chief Onyango Aola who served in Kisumu County’s West Seme location.

Mr Aola claimed chiefs are always scared to respond to emergencies because they are not armed.

Another chief who asked not to be named, however, said the plan to arm some of them was ill-thought-out and should not be implemented.

“You cannot say you will be arming chiefs and they have not gone through any training to handle firearms and respond to emergencies,” said the chief.

Some leaders also argue that the proposals should not be implemented unless it goes through public participation.

Rangwe MP Lilian Gogo said the idea to give chiefs and their assistants firearms ought to have been taken through public participation.

“The government is making a lot of roadside declarations. The proposals should first be debated in the National Assembly and approved,” Ms Gogo said.

She added that if the government decides to arm chiefs and their assistants, then it should not just be limited to areas perceived to be prone to insecurity but all locations.

“There is insecurity everywhere even in my constituency,” she said.

ODM chair John Mbadi claimed the move could lead to the misuse of firearms. “Just giving every chief and assistant chief a firearm would be putting firearms in the hands of so many Kenyans,” said Mbadi, adding that the government should instead focus on strengthening the police service.

In the Rift Valley, however, chiefs welcomed the plan to arm some of their colleagues from January next year. 

The government also plans to deploy five officers to each of the 6,000 chiefs and also enroll them in courses in order to get promoted. 

A Nakuru chief who sought anonymity said that it was hard to conduct their duties due to the lack of a committed technical arm for assistance.

According to the administrators, they have to request for police officers during their crackdowns and at times it is difficult. 

“We have no officers under our command and we depend on the Kenya Police Service to provide security. It is difficult to get them, especially during examinations and other State functions,” she said.

More positives than negatives

The chief said that at times local officers may be compromised and it makes it hard for them to carry out their duties.

The chief said that planned raids have been interrupted by officers who tip off notorious criminals and in the chiefs find themselves alone eventually.

“Having officers under our command will help because they will follow our orders. We will also keep them under our watch to ensure there is justice in villages,” she said.

She admitted that the powers may be abused but insisted that making them powerful has more positives than negatives.  Another chief from Kapedo said that if they are armed, they will defend themselves against cattle rustlers and bandits.

The chief, who also sought anonymity, said that some of his colleagues have been killed over the past 12 years since their powers were deduced.

“No one protects us even though we work for the government. Our deaths have also been in vain,” he said.

He said that the crime rate has increased in villages and even though they are required to bring order, they have been overpowered by criminals.

The administrator admitted that they have had difficulty in dealing with bandits and believe that the residents will support them when they are given more powers addition of powers.

We have had to battle armed criminals when we have no defence and we are grateful because the government has remembered us,” he said.

Wesley Langat, a chief from Bomet County, said they need protection. He said their work will be swift during raids and crackdowns.

“For us to be assigned officers, we had to report a crime to a police station, request for officers and hope they have no other assignments,” Langat said. 

“However, with the new measures, we may deal with criminals within minutes as we will be reinforced.”

He said that illicit brew, crime and illegal businesses will be dealt with swiftly.