Leave politics out of provision of VIP protection

Late President Mwai Kibaki's bodyguards. [File, Standard]

The drama surrounding the scaling down of former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s security is unfortunate and uncalled for. Indeed, the political furore leaves a bad taste in the mouth even as Kenyans transition to a new administration.

While we agree that the National Police Service reserves the right to rationalise deployment of police officers, including those involved in protection of VIPs, the manner in which the issue was handled does not inspire a lot of confidence.

True, the first priority of police protection should be on the ordinary Kenyans who heftily pay taxes to maintain the security agencies. However, protection of VIPs is not a small matter in a country where violence and gun crimes remain rampant.

For this reason, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua’s assurance to residents of former Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s Nyanza backyard that the government still takes care of his welfare, including his personal security was seen as an act of statesmanship.

It does not help matters that the scaling down of Uhuru’s security detail came barely a day after he took on his successor, President William Ruto, telling him to concentrate on service delivery instead of buck passing. Did his remarks attract an immediate rebuke from the powers-that-be?  

It brings to mind events of two years ago when then Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i was accused of masterminding the withdrawal of elite presidential security officers from the General Service Unit’s Recce Unit who were protecting Ruto, then Uhuru’s estranged deputy, and their replacement with officers from the Administration Police Service. At the time, Ruto did well to downplay the matter. 

While the Inspector General of Police has the sole responsibility to determine the composition of VIP protection for various dignitaries in line with both the law and the Force Standing Orders, the timing in both instances could be prone to political misinterpretation or rather be seen an act of revenge. 

The Presidential Retirement Benefits Act, as correctly quoted by Inspector General of Police Japheth Koome, stipulates that a retired president is entitled to six police officers. 

However, prudence demands that he must take into consideration other factors such as the political situation in the country before making such a decision.

In any case, VIP security details go through rigorous screening, including expertise in hand-to-hand combat. They also typically stay close to the politician they are protecting to safeguard against direct physical threats and thus cannot be withdrawn on a whim. 

Finally, security of VIPs should not be politicised or used to settle scores as has been alleged by the retired President's allies in the Azimio coalition. Indeed, political rivals should always seek to secure the safety of one another because competition should not be taken as enmity.

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