Kingori Mwangi combined tact and training to manage tough security situations


The late King'ori Mwangi. [File, Standard]

King’ori Mwangi, a brilliant police officer, died in hospital while receiving treatment. He was not an ordinary policeman.

He was always in search of new knowledge, not just about police work which he understood very well, but also about what constitutes national interests.

It required sticking to what the law says, not what some officials demanded.

He reportedly declined to follow a 2013 order to remove security for Raila Odinga and his wife Ida because it would have violated the law.

Like the ‘constable’ in Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘A Police Man’s Lot’ not being a happy one, King’ori was conscious of his obligation to be fair to a ‘felon … not engaged in his employment or felonious little plans.’

When dealing with goons, he had no problem making difficult “decisions of life and death”. And he was a victim of goon threats.

King’ori read history, had a sense of wry humour, and took what he learned seriously enough to apply it in practical situations. Kenya, he argued, should “never negotiate from a situation of weakness” and warned; “underestimate your enemy at your own risk.”

He had a bit of a revolutionary streak, liked Malcolm X’s 1964 ‘The Ballot or the Bullet’ speech, and wrote of being a native of “a funny little place known as Tetu in Nyeri … lying between Aberdares and Mt Kenya.”

After enumerating revolutionary Tetu people as including “Dedan Kimathi, JM Kariuki, Wangari Mathai, General Mathenge”, he once WhatsApped me, “we see the world differently from many others”.

Kingo’ri came to the national limelight as the national police spokesman in the late 1990s and attended a three-month intensive course on Conflict Management at USIU.

Other security officers took the course and ended up as generals and commanders in Kenya and South Sudan or as professors and politicians.

In the morning, King'ori at times looked tired, juggling duties as a police spokesman and expectations as a student in conflict management; he did it well. He thereafter thought in unorthodox ways to actualise his wide reading and lessons on conflict management.

As a Provincial Police Officer (PPO) in Eastern Province when matatu operators decided to go on a nationwide strike, for instance, he chose to cut a deal with matatu leaders in Embu so as to avoid unnecessary confrontation.

They agreed to leave their vehicles at home and not to harass operators who chose to work. In return, the police would keep their distance to let them have their strike peacefully. The subsequent calm during the strike was unique in Embu.

King'ori could be crass, considerate, and skillful in handling difficult situations. When, during police vetting, a commissioner claimed that King'ori owned rental houses that he seemingly knew nothing about, he gave the commissioner permission not to pay rent in the said facility.

The commissioner did not take up the offer probably because the rentals did not exist. Kingo’ri, having served as police spokesman, had friendly listening ears, often helpful, and had good relations with the media. Paul Olado and Dennis Onsarigo can attest to that.

In addition, the way he handled First Lady Lucy Kibaki’s media house ‘invasion’ showed calmness in applying conflict management skills in times of crisis.   

Kingo’ri’s long-lasting impact, however, was in his advocacy of police reforms. He had a passion for uplifting the welfare of the constable on the beat.

He pointed out the insensitivity of bosses eating in expensive places while those who guard their villas and vehicles are hungry and at times cold and live in squalor conditions.

He was also active in the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission, CKRC, pushing for changing the police from being a ‘force’ into a ‘service’ led by an ‘Inspector General’ (IG) instead of a ‘Police Commissioner’.

Former IG Joseph Boinnett remembers Kingo’ri “as a legendary figure in law enforcement … [with] unparalleled leadership, and compassion.” Boinnett has fond memories of King’ori and he is not alone.