Why Kenyans should support ‘Nyumba Kumi’ concept

By John Katana

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During this year’s Mashujaa day celebrations, President Uhuru Kenyatta reiterated an earlier government initiative of Kenyans knowing at least ten households within their neighbourhood, as a way of fighting crime in the country, his commitment to the same notwithstanding. This was reinforced by the recent appointment of the former administrator, Joseph Kaguthi, to lead the community policing initiative. Captain Simiyu Werunga, who has on several occasions criticised the manner in which the government has handled security, was also appointed to this committee and we can only hope that he will now be a part of the solution not criticism.

This initiative comes on the backdrop of last month’s horrendous attack on the upmarket Westgate mall that left many dead and scores injured. Gory images of the incidence left Kenyans bitter with the attackers.  Their commitment remained steadfast in redefining the spirit of Kenyanness by coming to the aid of the affected and afflicted through various forms of donations. This was definitely a triumph over terrorism.

These heinous acts of criminality are now becoming phenomenal, with Kenyans left in awe as they grapple with the best cause of action to mitigate such. Recently, a self-claimed traditional healer in Kawangware slum area garroted his “patient” after a disagreement over nonpayment of a small amount of cash. Further, a group of thugs from Matasia Estate kidnapped twins and demanded a sizeable sum of money from their parents.

Luckily, they were rescued by policemen. These cases of kidnapping are now a matter of national security as seen in Kirinyaga, Murang’a and Nyeri counties.

These incidents and many more unreported ones have left many families in dismay with some confessing that indeed they routinely pass around such households oblivious to what could be happening inside these houses.

To underscore the seriousness of this matter, Kenyans will recall an incidence at the University of Nairobi Mamlaka halls of residence where guns were found in a room belonging to an Engineering student. This incident shocked the country as the student community then was perturbed by the happenings; with the university administration chided them for not keeping vigil. This was a lesson we should have seized.

In this respect, the Nyumba Kumi initiative can play a central role in addressing the rampant insecurity in the country amongst other security measures. In any case, it derives its legal mandate from the law as every county must have a county policing authority which basically anchors community policing within the law.

The truth is that we know someone who knows someone related to someone who is a terrorist or criminal. That is a fact, however out of naivety; we believe that these horrendous acts only happen to others. From the Westgate incidence everybody can attest to the fact that we were all affected, directly or otherwise.

As critics continue to offer their two cents through veiled virulent comments, lessons can be learned from our neighbours Tanzania. Their Ujamaa initiative, though laced with communism charm has proved that indeed societies can maintain a delicate balance of pursuing communal interest, through joining hands and can be achieved side by side with individual aspirations.

This setup has guaranteed peace both in rural and urban areas of Tanzania, while nurturing a cohesive society that cares less about their tribal orientation. Further afield, in the United States many states have strict policies on residence and in most case information on an individual’s particulars and activities are domiciled with the state officials, as well as the neighbourhood collectively. This could easily pass as highly sophisticated in as far as Nyumba Kumi initiative is concerned, but considering that we benchmark our actions on such mature communities, we have no choice but to borrow lessons.

Moving forward, all actors in this initiative need to stay alive to the duty hanging over their shoulders.

Landlords also have a responsibility to collect sufficient information about their tenants and share that which is sufficient, with the relevant government officials. Tenants should support this effort by making it their business to keep vigil and deliberately knowing whom they share a wall with.

That intentional knock on your neighbour’s door could save a kidnapped child.

The writer is chairman of Kwale Youth Consortium

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