Most parts of country are now secure, Interior PS Omollo says

Interior Principal Secretary Raymond Omollo during an interview at his Harambee House office in Nairobi on Dec 20, 2023. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

He does not have the abrasiveness of many of his predecessors and hardly ever tries to look or sound tough. Interior Principal Secretary Raymond Omollo has a calmness that some would find reassuring.

It is for that reason that Omollo sounds believable when he says the country is safer now than last year when he assumed office at Harambee House.

It has been a year since the Interior PS came into office, an experience that Omollo said has been "full of learning", given that he had not served in "mainstream government". Since then, nearly 100,000 crime incidents have been reported, a number he believes to be low given Kenya's population of 50 million.

He stepped into a rude welcome by marauding gangs wreaking havoc in the capital and the equally pressing insecurity situation in the bandit-struck North Rift. There was also the lurking threat posed by the terror group Al Shabaab, whose activities in the country have seemed to pick up in recent months.

Coupled with that was the challenge of a demoralised security and national administration service. In a recent wide-ranging interview with journalists, Omollo said that the government has successfully kept the nation safe.

The criminal gangs in Nairobi were quickly dealt with, the PS said, with a joint security operation to flush out bandits in some six North Rift counties "a success". 

For nearly a year now, the National Police Service and the Kenya Defence Forces have engaged in the operation aimed to "silence the guns" in Turkana, West Pokot, Samburu, Laikipia, Elgeyo Marakwet and Baringo. The ministry says 148 firearms and nearly 27,000 stolen cattle have been recovered in the operation.

Coming into office, President William Ruto was also confronted with the dark history of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances that rights groups say persist even as other observers note a drop in such cases.

"President Ruto said there would be no extra-judicial killings under his watch and he set the tone from the top. Inspector General Japhet Koome has also maintained a professional force. As a ministry, we have facilitated the police to do their job without undue influence," the PS said.

On terrorism, Omollo noted that there has been a reduction in terror attacks despite an apparent surge within the Boni enclave of Lamu County.

A series of attacks in recent months has led to the deaths of civilians and security personnel. More than 20 people were killed in Al Shabaab attacks in June alone. Similar attacks have been reported in the North Eastern region.

As this is happening, there is a drawdown of African Union Forces in Somalia, with fears that the withdrawal of foreign troops could see a resurgence of Al Shabaab, thereby threatening Kenya's security.

Somalia's President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is backing a nationalistic pushback against the terror outfit that has enjoyed relative success. However, there is evidence that the Horn of Africa nation may not be fully ready to take charge of its security given the recent intensity of Al Shabaab attacks.

"Part of the reasoning for the withdrawal is that the Somali government has been building capacity over time so that they can take charge of their country," he added. "Somalia is now part of the East African Community and there is a lot of collaboration that will still go on, not just in security but in all aspects of their economy."

To enhance security, the government is counting on investments in the security sector to modernise the police force. Also on the cards are recommendations by a task force chaired by former Chief Justice David Maraga that looked into welfare reforms in the security sector that also includes the prison service. 

"The government is committing an annual investment of Sh6.5 billion for the next seven years to help us address the gaps in the equipment and the necessary tools of trade," said Omollo.

"The bulk of the task force's recommendations will be implemented in 2024, whether it is remuneration, housing, general welfare and issues to do with career growth... we are working towards ensuring that every prisoner has a bed and a mattress, something that will be a game changer in the management of our correctional facilities."

The PS also waded into President Ruto's announcement of a global visa-free entry during the Jamhuri Day celebrations, which many observers say will pose security challenges.

Omollo, who described the president's directive as "bold" and beneficial to Kenya's trade and tourism, said the government had set in motion programmes to implement the new policy, such as deploying technology that allows prior passenger identification.

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