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Rewards of condoning police criminality are here

By Ken Opalo | July 9th 2016

A couple of years ago I warned of dangers of deluding ourselves that we can condone criminality in some corners of the Kenyan State and not others. That there can be a difference between “normal” crime, to be prevented and punished by law enforcement and the judicial system; and State-sanctioned criminality that benefits those in power. Let me reiterate, this is a lie that will sink us all.

Take the example of the gruesome killings of Willie Kimani, Josephat Mwenda, and Joseph Muiruri. Their deaths remind us of something that we typically like to ignore: the fact that no one is safe from the criminality that has infested the entire State system. Not sitting members of Parliament.

Not wealthy business people. Not prominent lawyers. And certainly not working class wananchi that are routinely summarily executed by police officers in our slums and rural areas. This is the Kenya we inhabit.

But how did we get here? Well, it started with the cultivation and condoning of organised crime within the security system. Then came State-sanctioned extra-judicial killings and disappearances of suspected Mungiki members. We all pretended that this was alright.

That the police would only target the bad guys who had come to make our lives unbearable. Come 2017 the same police force that had gotten used to killing civilians was turned on pro-opposition demonstrators, with deadly effect. Majority of the post election violence victims in 2007/08 were shot by police officers.

Yet another installment in the feeding of the beast came with the anti-terror drive after we invaded Somalia. Here again, we were largely quiet, and therefore complicit, in the murder of suspected terrorists. Many of our young men from Kilifi to Mandera were either killed or disappeared in the name of keeping us safe. When police rounded up young Kenyans from Eastleigh and jailed them under inhumane conditions in Kasarani, most of us largely agreed to this ghastly operation. We deluded ourselves that the benefit – keeping us safe – outweighed the cost of dehumanising our fellow citizens.

And now the latest manifestation of this phenomenon is the frequent professional assassinations that make headlines. Many commentators, including former government officials, are on record stating that these are the works of a special assassination unit within the security forces. How can this be? What genius had the idea of creating such a monster?

A lot of finger pointing and faux attempts at police reform will be done over the next few weeks. And it is great that with the murder of Kimani, Mwenda and Muiruri, many Kenyans have made their voices heard. That enough is enough. But if we are to have lasting change in the police service, we must go beyond punishing those suspected of the gruesome killings. We must reform the entire police system, by first exposing the criminal networks in it, and then figuring out how to clean it up without bringing the whole house down. Jailing the killers will be enough.

In addition, our political leaders need to make a choice. They can either decide to have zero tolerance on criminality within the security agencies; or decide to turn them into a mafia. There is no middle ground. Any form of criminal networks within the security forces will soon infect the entire system. We know that police officers have killed wananchi that have tried to expose their bribery networks.

We know that police have killed their business rivals. The point here is that we cannot turn the criminal networks on and off. Soon enough they will acquire a life of their own and no one will be safe. Not even those who think they can play God with Kenyans’ lives.

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