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Police officers should remain non-partisan

COMMENTARY
By Demas Kiprono | February 26th 2021

Over the past year or so, different political formations have taken shape with regard to the constitutional and political direction Kenya should take. The political establishment has proposed sweeping constitutional changes that will expand the Executive and legislative arms of government.

Another camp led by civil society #LindaKatiba group vehemently opposes any changes to the Constitution, especially those fronted by the current political establishment. 

There seems to be another camp within the Jubilee formation that is not overly enthusiastic about constitutional changes, albeit cautious because the constitutional amendments will also give it more seats and carrots to dangle in preparation for 2022. Like the former group, they view and suspect that the constitutional amendment Bill is a Trojan horse that will ensure a pre-planned lineup is presented to Kenyans as a ploy to deny their faction power come 2022.

The only thing standing in the way of the amendment Bill is the people of Kenya who might have reservations about expanding recurrent expenditure by way of paying salaries to support 70 extra offices for legislators, their respective National Government Constituency Development Funds Minister, two Deputy Prime Ministers and Deputy Ministers in a country that is undergoing economic recession and struggling to meet its debt and recurrent budget obligations.

It can be argued that the amendments are designed to accommodate the needs and aspirations of the political establishment beyond what is sustainable for the national good. Looking at the overwhelming way that counties have endorsed the Constitution Amendment Bill and the political declarations and utterances that politicians have made regarding newfound support for the amendments, it looks like the train has already left the station regarding the social contract that will dictate the relationship between the people of Kenya and the government, the structure of the government and our entitlements.

If the amendments sail through, serious scenario planning must be done to ensure that Kenya will be heading in the right direction in regard to our perennial challenges since independence. Of great concern are issues that we have struggled with such as corruption; tribalism, discrimination and widening inequality; electoral justice and integrity; police accountability and, rule of law and equality before the law, including the issue of the Executive refusing or failing to honour court orders.

These are the actual issues that have undermined legislative and judicial authority; our collective ownership of elections and results thereof; the feeling that one cannot survive outside government; and the unconstitutional stifling of opposition politics where those with alternative views are not allowed to exercise freedom of expression and assembly by law enforcement agencies - at the behest of the regime in power. The role of the opposition, debate and differing points of views cannot be overemphasised in a democratic and pluralistic system such as Kenya with differing economic, social, cultural and religious leanings.

Being harassed

Without freedom of expression, free press, right to assemble, associate and political rights, it becomes difficult for the opposition to organise and constructively question the government of the day and hold it accountable to the public, as well as provide people with a viable alternative government in waiting. Ideally, as long as one is not armed or engaging in hate speech, advocacy for hatred, discrimination and/ or incitement to violence, any person should be free to organise, speak and assemble - and elaborate their political views without being harassed, assaulted, arrested or teargassed by the police. 

When law enforcement agencies pick a side on political discourse, they abandon their oath of service to honour the Constitution and to serve and protect the people. In previous violent political contests such as the general elections in 2007 and 2017, the police were accused of profiling certain communities, which set the stage for an unhealthy and deadly confrontation between sections of society and the people who are supposed to serve and protect them.

As such, the police must recommit themselves to being neutral and serving all Kenyans regardless of political affiliation or ideology.

Mr Kiprono is a Constitutional and Human Rights [email protected]

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