IG Koome's conduct confirms fears he was unfit for the job

Police IG Japheth Koome when he appeared before the Senate Standing Committee on National Security, Defence and Foreign Affairs over deployment of police to Haiti on November 9, 2023. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

On the day President William Ruto appointed his Cabinet in 2022, a very interesting conversation between him and former Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua was captured on tape.

“Did you finish with that Koome fellow?” the President inquired, moments after informing the country consultations had been ongoing to identify the next Inspector General of Police following the early retirement of Hilary Mutyambai.

“Where is the Koome, anaitwa nani Koome?” the President pressed further, “Nani, jina ingine?”

“Hio ingine sijui, you can just say Koome,” Kinyua politely whispered back, but the President was not done:

“He’s currently what…,” the President asked, after which the now hapless Kinyua retorted: ““Sijui your Excellency…”

With disappointment registered all over his face, the President then promised to release the name of the new IG later that afternoon.

Kenyans waited, with bated breath to know their brand new IG. Before that, and in the run-up to the general elections, Dr Ruto had bitterly complained about the political weaponisation of the police.

He had informed all and sundry that Kenya had the most incompetent IG in the whole world in Mutyambai. To further rub it in, he told a delegation of the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) that the substantive IG at the time was his boss, President Uhuru Kenyatta, now retired.

At his inauguration, President Ruto had also undertaken to raise the bar for the rule of law, and in particular the performance of the security sector. Later that day, he restored the operational independence of the National Police Service by cutting off its financial dependence on the Office of the President.

Against this background, Kenyans had high hopes in the man whom the President was going to entrust with the leadership of the often-used and misused National Police Service (NPS).

When the name eventually came out, Japheth Koome, many a Kenyan expressed their disappointment in the first instance. New wine had just been poured into an old wineskin as the man expected to lead the reformation of the service had overseen a brutal crackdown of peaceful demonstrators in 2017.

Still, Kenyans through Parliament and the President gave Koome the benefit of doubt and confirmed him into office. Less than two years later, and Koome leadership, conduct, silence and pronouncements have confirmed the initial fears that he was least suited for the job.

Under his leadership, IG Koome has made a complete mockery of the collective wishes of Kenyans expressed in Article 37 of the Constitution on the right to assemble and to picket and Article 19 on fundamental rights and freedom.

On Tuesday, the service he leads descended on peaceful protestors and journalists teargassing, beating them up and dragging them in the streets for all to see. Scores of protesters - many of them young women, were indecently arrested in a brazen display of brute force.

Ironically a few hours before, the IG had met Haitian Police official Joachim Prophete to assure him that NPS was committed to the planned mission for the benefit of the people of Haiti “especially the women and children.”

By the time the Haitian delegation left, they needed no further evidence that the Kenyan police would be nice to their women and children. If police under Koome cannot countenance unarmed, young protesters in their own country, how will they deal with gangs of another country?

Koome has maintained studious silence in an ostensive thumbs-up to his boys. He has not responded to unanimous statements which have identified the NPS as the weakest link in Kenya’s democratic progress.

He does not see anything wrong with his boys arresting and throwing off journalists from moving cars. He has not, and will not apologise for this shameful conduct since he sees nothing wrong with it.

Former chair of the Constitution Implementation Commission Charles Nyachae warned Kenyans against the rush to embrace the easy, hardware part of implementing the Constitution without minding the software element.

Rather than hurriedly setting up new offices and populating them with the next people in line, the country ought to have taken slow, deliberate and intentional steps to identify the people with the correct mindsets for a constitutional voyage take-off.

The fact of the matter is that office architectures aside, idiosyncratic variables count a lot in defining an office, especially new offices. Going hand in hand with this should have been a nationwide civic and political education to grow and expand new ethos of public conduct that aligns with the aspirations of the Constitution.

Koome’s regressive conduct is a poignant reminder on all of us to revisit this important national project. The social contract is not about to change nor is it likely to be negotiated regressively.

What the country must now do is to invoke a serious soul-searching which leads to a change of mindsets to facilitate its attainment. As evidenced in Tuesday's demos, there is an impatient, daring and raring generation that is determined to break free.

Absent this reawakening, and unencumbered by wise counsel and the law, Koome and many other state officers living in the past will continue to embarrass their country, and catalyse a violent take-over.

Finally, President Ruto may need to review the ranking of Mutyambai as the most incompetent IG in the world. Koome is already showing his predecessor dust in ignominy terms.

Mr Musau is also a Senior Project Manager with Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom