‘Nyumba Kumi’ noble, but more is needed to stem crime

It comes as no surprise that the Government’s plan to beef up security by introducing the “Nyumba Kumi” community policing model is already eliciting varied reactions from a cross-section of Kenyans.

It is instructive that the model was first introduced in Makongeni Location in Makadara, Nairobi, where it worked so well that the provincial administrators who midwifed it – all the way from the location to the district level – won commendations for best performance in 2010.

But a word of caution may be in order even as the Government plans to roll out the model across the country beginning next month. There is need for the entire government, and the Interior ministry in particular, to appreciate that the success of the model will only be assured if it  is introduced in tandem with the promised, but delayed, reforms of the country’s law enforcement agencies.

The police, in particular, must be restructured to root out the corrupt criminal elements who routinely collude with criminals to prey on the more vulnerable citizens. This is the only way the police can win public confidence, which is the cornerstone of the new security model.

Public confidence that the information given to the police will not be used against them as has often happened in the past will embolden wananchi to come forward and work to strengthen their own security. Of course, the law enforcement agencies are also expected to introduce whatever safeguards are necessary to ensure the system is not abused by being used to settle personal scores.

This is especially important during elections where the temptation to use the model for political purposes would be particularly strong in the urban and peri-urban areas. Yet, despite the misgivings that the new model might be misused, the security threats facing the country are such that a loss of some level of personal privacy is tolerable when the alternative is another Westgate terrorist attack.

Perhaps, the Government might also be persuaded to borrow a leaf from the developed and some developing countries mainly in Europe and the Americas where crime rates have been falling precipitously over the last few years.

Deterrence to crime

The number of violent crimes has fallen by 32 per cent since 1990 across the US, for example. In the biggest cities, crime has fallen by 64 per cent.

The expectation of being caught, taken to court and jailed is the single most effective deterrence to crime in these countries – or anywhere else for that matter – which, in turn, is a result of better policing. But tactics have also changed in areas that have witnessed the highest reduction in crime. A combination of officers talking to people whose neighbourhoods they police and intensive targeting of crime ‘hot spots’ has transformed the way streets are protected. 

The advent of DNA testing, mobile phone location and surveillance cameras – all of which have spread rapidly, especially in Britain – have all increased the risk of being caught. This is one area the Government must deploy the necessary resources, human and technical, as quickly as possible.

It may be useful for some critics of the new security model to note that one of the key elements that has reduced crime in places such as Harlem in New York and Amsterdam’s Nieuwmarkt district and reclaimed them from criminals are the neighbourhood watch meetings.

Surely, even the most ardent of these human rights advocates would agree that this has not turned these places into communist cells!