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Police should provide security to Kenyans and not pamper leaders

By Makau Mutua | May 12th 2019 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

A banana republic doesn’t have a set core of principles, or protocols. It’s a government of men, not laws. Everything hinges on the whims of the Big Man. If he smiles, for no reason, all those around him smile, or their heads are decapitated. Kenya is in purgatory – somewhere between a banana republic and a government of men. But it’s closer to the former than the latter. Nothing illustrates this pitiable state of our political culture than the abuse of the police detail for politically exposed persons, also known in common parlance as VIPs. The police detail in Kenya has lost all rhyme and reason. Instead, it’s a cudgel and a status symbol – and completely divorced from security.

Kenya has long been a gangster state. Cartels of evil and malignant men – and women – bestride the country like colossi. They travel together. They steal together. They eat together. They sleep together. They do everything together – until they quarrel. Then they unsheathe their claws and go after each other. But they are not real men because they don’t face each other mano-a-mano. They fight by hiding behind the skirt of the tribe, or the hammer of the state. Most are pot-bellied and cowardly. They routinely humiliate each other. Today, it’s about succession politics and who will be in the inner sanctum after Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta returns to Gatundu in 2022. The police detail is a tool in that war.

The police detail is like a dirty four-letter word. Prior to the “handshake” – when Mr Kenyatta and NASA’s Raila Odinga were at each other’s throats – the former would withdraw the latter’s police detail just to show him who was boss. Wiper’s Kalonzo Musyoka often suffered the same fate. Play ball, or I will take away your “security.”  It’s a tool that the recipient of its butt fully appreciates. To the elite used to such police detail, their withdrawal is like a kick in the teeth. It’s an act of de-manning, or leaving exposed one’s vulnerability. That’s because it’s a status symbol primarily, not a security necessity. You have no status in Kenya unless you have a police detail.

Figure this. In the United States, only – only – nine members of Congress and senators out of 535 are protected by official guards. These include the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader and their immediate colleagues in senior leadership of both houses. All other representatives and senators are on their own. Don’t forget that each one of those unguarded representatives and senators are extremely powerful men and women. They affect policies not just in America but around the world. But they travel without a guard. Their homes aren’t guarded either. Question – why are legislators in the world’s wealthiest and most powerful nation unguarded while those in one of the poorest and least powerful enjoy a phalanx of bodyguards?

This is perverse. Most so-called Kenyan VIPs can’t imagine going anywhere without a police detail. Recently, the state withdrew the police detail of several politicians allied to DP William Ruto. You could hear their shrieks and screams from the mountaintops. But wait – these were the same charlatans who were egging on the state to keep Raila’s and Kalonzo’s police detail withdrawn. Are Kenyan politicians that much more vulnerable than American lawmakers who don’t require, or need, a police detail? From who are the Kenyan politicians being protected? Is it the people they represent? Or are they being protected from cartel members that they’ve crossed? Or are they simply show-boating? Do they need the protection?

Ruto and his crew believe that the withdrawal of police detail from his “men” is a declaration of war meant to neuter them. He sees this as Kenyatta’s sword against his presidential ambition. He is probably right. So what? He didn’t protest when the same was done against Raila. So Ruto and his acolytes need to take their bitter medicine in silence. The alternative is for Ruto to articulate a clear protocol and justification for why every minion of a legislator needs an armed guard. Why do “men” and “women” of the people need protection? He can seize the high moral ground by making the case for police detail for the ordinary legislator.

Security detail ought to be a matter of political seniority or security risk to the potential protectee. Thus only the top four leaders in either chamber – on both sides of the aisle – should get a police detail. Any other legislator who isn’t in the chain of command must have a proven security risk to enjoy protection. The legislature should pass a law codifying the conditions under which police detail should be given to elected officials and other Kenyans. The police should provide security to Kenyans not pamper their leaders.

- The writer is SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of KHRC.  @makaumutua

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