Maraga will be keen in his new role as his legacy demands of him, then he must depart from the underwhelming precedence of the previous task forces which promised so much but delivered very little
The police reform agenda is not a new talking point. Every time a new regime takes power in this country, promises of reforming the police unit and making it citizen-friendly are made. However, these promises are rarely fulfilled.
After the post-election violence of 2007/2008, the formation of the National Task Force on Police Reforms in 2009 and the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution were significant events that were aimed at mainstreaming and reforming the security sector. This led to a change of name from police force to police service that was expected to be professional and accountable to the people.
On January 9, 2023, a 23-member task force on police reforms headed by retired Chief Justice David Maraga was sworn in. The police have, in the past, been accused of serving political interests. The current deputy president has accused the previous regime of using police officers to persecute him. His case has since been dropped by the courts.
As the Maraga-led task force embarks on its assignment, the question that begs an answer is: What is the inspiration and intention behind the current police reform agenda? Is it to genuinely reform the police service and make it work for the common good of Kenyans or is it to make it accountable to the political class and the new regime’s modus operandi?
These questions are fair and important especially if you examine the utterances by Interior CS Kindiki Kithure and the Inspector of Police (IG) Japhet Koome. The IG has been quoted as saying that police don’t carry guns to decorate themselves but to serve a purpose which is to gun down criminals.
The pronouncements of these two leaders on use of firearms and excessive force has not been received well by human rights defenders and crusaders. There is concern that such posturing and brutish attitude may embolden the rogue elements within the police service.
If Maraga will be keen in his new role as his legacy demands of him, then he must depart from the underwhelming precedence of the previous task forces which promised so much but delivered very little. Any serious police reform agenda must delve into the historical context by acknowledging that the character and nature of the police force as it is today, is as was intended in the colonial context to suppress and punish the non-conforming African who dared to defy the colonialists.
In the wake of self-rule and independence, the succeeding regimes adopted the self-serving colonial policing system as it were to safeguard their political interests and protect their new-found power. The police service post-independence, therefore, has been an advancement of the colonial system that had no regard whatsoever to the peoples’ agency that came with independence. The political elite in every regime have ensured that the force remains under their control and manipulation to control the masses and settle political scores.
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The task force must dare to initiate a process of decolonising the police and set up a service that is aligned to the realities of the new dispensation under the 2010 Constitution.
The team must in its recommendations find a way to sever the cord of dependency and loyalty of the police to the political elite and especially the president and inspire a service that is sworn to the fidelity of the Constitution and the people of Kenya.
The Kenya Kwanza government must also put its act together and stop speaking from both sides of the mouth with one side committing to depoliticising and professionalising the police service and the other seemingly encouraging unchecked power of the police officers.
The momentous task now lies with Maraga to once again leave a mark in his already decorated legacy as the man who dared to upset the colonial police establishment to deliver to Kenyans a much-desired police service that respects the rule of law, captures the national values as expressed in Article 10 of the Constitution.
-Ms Njoki is a political and social justice activist and a student of law at University of Nairobi