Re-engineer security forces to stop this spiralling circle of violence

Nairobi; Kenya: Once again, the state of insecurity is on the headlines, and the professional competence and operational strategy of our security forces is in focus. Not that it has been any better; not in recent years. You can hardly watch news without having to be bombarded with endless, depressing stories of crime, many preventable. Quite often though, it is the lethargic response of our security forces, or the lack of any response at all that shocks Kenyans.

From Lamu to Turkana, Kisumu to Mombasa, it is sad tales of killings, maiming and violation of Kenyans that chokes you. Clan conflicts, cattle rustling, banditry, Al Shabaab attacks, criminal gangs in city estates, targeted executions, Mungiki-type murders, muggings, etc. It creates an impression of a violent nation where the sanctity of life is seldom valued. It also gives a sorry picture of the investigative and intelligence capacity of our security forces.

But the recent slaughter of our security forces in Kapedo, the executions of clerics in Mombasa, the incessant attacks in Lamu and the numerous explosions in Mandera town raise serious concerns about the preparedness, and effectiveness, of our internal security forces. In each of these cases, there have been repeated, daring and in fact defiant attacks that have caused fear and despondency among residents.

What, for instance, is going on in Mandera? IEDs are exploded in the county headquarter nearly every other day, targeting senior public officials. The attacks have also targeted government installations. The town has one of the highest terrorist attacks in the country; yet, there has been no one charged. The security team appears clueless.

In Lamu, the Deputy Inspector General has literary camped there, with hundreds of security forces and equipment. The airforce jets have pounded suspected hideouts of the terrorists. Still, the threat is real; a few days ago, they kidnapped several people and two vehicles. The government has slapped a punitive curfew on the county, hoping it will deter the criminals. It is a hopeless, unwitty decision that only hurts the residents.

The execution of Muslim clerics in Mombasa has the hallmark of our anti-terror security forces but whether or not they are responsible is besides the point. After three years of these executions, the police are yet to conclusively convict anybody for these heinous crimes. It is always a pledge to investigate, to get to the bottom of it; clearly an elusive search if at all. If it is the police that is involved in extra-judicial killings, it will radicalise the youth and create resentment of law and order. Ignoring these killings and the many concerns raised by Kenyans is a recipe for more chaos.

Equally appalling is the execution of 21 police officers in Kapedo. The sheer scale of the causalities, the loss of weapons to the criminals, the failure to respond promptly to distress calls by the police headquarters, the glaring lack of intelligence on the impending attack and the deployment of fresh recruits to the most dangerous conflict location in the country, all reflect a glaring shortage of operational skills and leadership. Nor is the knee-jerk deployment of airpower to respond to the situation likely to eliminate the actual criminals behind the attack, much less protect the innocent residents.

When you look at our police officers, you get the sense that they are demotivated and dysfunctional, nearly lethargic in responding to situations. We seem to have focused on quantity as opposed to the quality of the force. Every year, we recruit hundreds of police officers and spend billions buying weapons. The outcome has invariably remained the same.

There is an urgent need to re-engineer our police force to make them relevant to the dynamic and violent situations in the country. It is about time that we see a paradigm shift in the management of our security forces. There are challenges in their work environment that need to be addressed quickly; furthermore, the inordinate delay in reforming the police force will surely exacerbate the insecurity situation.