After several false starts, the National Forensic Laboratory has finally been commissioned, ending a two-decade wait.
The official operationalisation of the laboratory yesterday means that Kenya will no longer have to take samples collected from crime scenes to South Africa for analysis.
It has taken many years for the laboratory billed as a game changer in the fight against crime, to come to fruition. The launch was to be done last February, but was postponed at the last minute under unclear circumstances.
“The need for a modern fit for purpose National Forensic Laboratory was a dream delayed for over two decades, thus robbing the people of Kenya the opportunity to make full use of the huge potential offered by technology and advanced science in unraveling crime," President Uhuru Kenyatta said when he opened the laboratory at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) headquarters on Kiambu Road.
Plans to set up the laboratory started in the 1990s. The multi-billion shilling project classified under the security, peace building and conflict management sector, failed to properly commence due to corruption scandals like the Anglo Leasing.
Although the physical structure was completed in 2015, fixing of the necessary equipment in the 10 specialised scientific laboratories dragged on.
The laboratory was identified as a security flagship project under Vision 2030 and was one of the projects to be completed under the first Medium Term plan 2008-2012.
“The evidence-led investigation that is enabled through these enhanced forensic capabilities will also steer the modernisation of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations and ensure the Directorate meets the international policing norms and standards. As a supplementary dividend, it will also protect our police officers from unfounded allegations that have been there in the past,” the President said.
For the longest time, Kenya has faced the challenge of slow pace of analysis of samples and exhibits collected from scenes of crime. This has in turn led to either stalling of investigations or cases being thrown out of court for lack of concrete evidence, causing bad blood between police, prosecutors and judicial officers.
But with the launch of the ultra-modern laboratory, investigators are optimistic that they will pin criminals to crimes on record time.
“In the increasingly globalised world we live in today, advanced investigative bodies rely largely on science to solve crime, and this new lab will change how we manage crime scene, gather the relevant evidence, analyse it and use it to nail suspects,” said DCI boss Mr George Kinoti.
The laboratory comprises the physical structure equipped with 10 specialised scientific state of the art laboratories that complement each other.
They are forensic fingerprint identification, forensic document examination, forensic ballistics, forensic chemistry, forensic biology, forensic imaging and acoustics, forensic evidence management, forensic crime scene investigations, forensic digital, and the forensic bomb and hazardous materials.
One of the biggest obstacles in delivery of justice is the failure to link criminals to offences with precision, which has remained prevalent even after Kenya achieved the recommended United Nations police to civilian ratio of 1:450.
There are more than 100,000 trained police officers against an estimated population of 50 million people. Despite the sufficient police boots on the ground, crime remains rampant.
“This is, therefore, a milestone achievement. Through this ultra-modern facility our shared commitment to unravelling capital offences such as murder and robbery with violence; and combating emerging and transitional organised crimes, such as terrorism, drug trafficking, illicit arms trade, counterfeiting, smuggling and offences against wildlife also gets a monumental boost today,” noted the President.
The laboratory will be manned by highly qualified detectives, who will apply modern investigative techniques and cutting edge science to law enforcement.
“The officers are deployed according to their respective areas of specialisation. They have also received extensive training locally and internationally, ensuring they hold expertise comparable with their counterparts in established investigative bodies across the world,” said Mr Kinoti.
The facility will also serve as a multi-agency investigation centre, bringing together National Intelligence Service, Kenya Revenue Authority, Central Bank of Kenya, Department of Immigration Services, National Health Insurance Fund and National Social Security Fund.
According to Mr Kenyatta, evidence generated at the laboratory will conform to international standards norm test, besides augmenting other ground breaking programmes and reforms instituted in the criminal justice system since 2013.
“The forensic laboratory shall complement existing infrastructure while also meeting the fast-changing needs of both investigators as well as stakeholders. The facility will provide an invaluable resource not just within the criminal justice sector but also to users in educational research, civil law, human sciences, and other fields,” said the Head of State.
Present during the inauguration ceremony were Cabinet Secretaries Dr Fred Matiang’i (Interior), Mr Eugene Wamalwa (Defense), Prof George Magoha (Education), Mr Joseph Mucheru (Information and Communications) and Inspector General of Police Mr Hillary Mutyambai, Chief Justice Martha Koome and Attorney General Mr Kihara Kariuki.
Exuding confidence that Kenya is a global leader in technology, the President directed ministries of Interior and ICT to, in the next two weeks, come up with appropriate measures to strengthen the capacity of the cybercrimes unit at the laboratory.
“Kenya is today a global fintech hub, with the digital economy now being one of the key drivers of our economic development; creating enormous opportunities and employment to millions of our children. For example, in the year 2021, mobile money transactions surged by 63 per cent to a record Sh15.3 trillion up from Sh9.391 trillion in the year 2020,” said the President.
This has however come at a cost since criminals are exploiting the digital space to commit cyber-related crimes, according to the President.
“As we aspire for a Kenya where every citizen, enterprise, and organisation has digital access and the capability to participate and thrive in the digital economy; a new wave of crime is equally emerging, that involves such things as sim swapping and the typical ‘Tuma kwa hii Number’ syndicate, all of which we must deal with properly,” he said.
Some of the key functions at the cybercrime and digital forensics are examination of computer and mobile phones, archival and analysis, recovery of deleted or encrypted emails, uncovering passwords, forensic SIM card analysis and extraction of data from mobile phones.