By MATHEW K ITEERE
Kenya’s 10th General Election in 2007, was surrounded by suspicion, intrigue and violence right from the beginning. It was followed by post-Independence darkest time for Kenya.
Once peace was restored, there was a general consensus that free and fair polls are imperative in ensuring peaceful democracy. This consensus is now captured in the Constitution of Kenya 2010 as the sovereignty of Kenyans, exercised by the people or their democratically elected representatives through the electoral process.
Several shortcoming that contributed to the near collapse of our beloved country were identified. The Police Service has not been left behind, for we have reviewed the tragic events of 2007-2008 and whereas all the reforms we wished to see have not taken place, we are determined that the violence does not recur.
In an election, the constitutional role of the police is to protect the people’s sovereignty. Every citizen is free to make political choices, which include the right to form, participate in forming, participate in the activities of, recruit members for, and campaign for a political party or cause. Insecurity, including intimidation and human rights violations negatively affect voter and candidate participation and electoral administration. In an election, the role of the Police Service is protection of democracy itself.
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The Constitution sets a high threshold for the police in this regard — they must not “act in a partisan manner, further any interest of a political party or cause; or prejudice legitimate political interests or causes”... “strive for the highest standards of professionalism and discipline among its members; prevent corruption and promote and practice transparency and accountability; when performing their functions and exercising their powers.
Article 81 of the Constitution defines the framework for our officers to fulfill their duty in elections, but we appreciate that law enforcement alone is not enough to level the political playing field for our women, but we must attack our societal attitude towards them as well.
There is urgent need to spend more energy insisting that individuals and institutions make the rule of law a natural instinct in all their endeavours. I have heard several voices demanding that police guarantee security for elections, but am yet to hear firm voices consistently insisting that leaders who show the slightest inclination towards extra-civil means of attaining votes be rejected. It is unfortunate that apprehension of violence continues to dominate our national discourse whenever an election nears.
The concern for our women is, therefore, understandable. Today’s woman is a major contributor to the family budget and a major player in Kenya’s economic health. In many of our social institutions like the church, women play a vital role. In a general election, you can only overlook the women vote in Kenya at your own peril. It follows that our women have the clout to set the standards and critically influence behaviour in all spheres of life.
Police are aware of women’s vulnerability in elections when the rule of law is ignored, and assure them we are doing everything to protect their freedom to pursue their political ambitions without fear of intimidation or other criminal acts.
Elections are not an event or a destination, but a relay race in which the different players work together to win the trophy . A single weakness at any stage can be very costly. It is the collective responsibility of all citizens to monitor our political activities and demand a departure from the past. We are aware that old habits die hard, but violence shall not be tolerated as we work in tandem with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and that of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission to support the rule of law.
Finally, regardless of whether or not the political process of appointing the Police Service Commission and the Inspector General is completed, the police have co-operated in every way possible to ensure these offices are in place.
What we now see as our challenge is to continue laying the ground to so that when these offices are finally in place, they will take over a process that is moving towards the right direction.
National security, law and order have absolutely no space for a “wait and see”. There will be no vacuum or lapse in matters of security, law and order.
My pledge remains: Police are committed to actualise the letter and spirit of the Constitution of Kenya 2010.
— The writer is Commissioner of Police. This is an edited excerpt of a speech he delivered at the Regional Dialogue on Women, Political Leadership and Elections convention.