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Socrates, a Greek philosopher, didn’t have nice words for politicians. He said: “They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannise their teachers.”

Kenya’s political landscape is ordinarily shaped by, first and foremost, politicians, then business magnates, strategists, external entities, tech-community, propagandists and vigilante groups. As 2022 fast approaches, all the above have shifted their gear to overdrive.

A serious threat and risk assessment needs to be done on all vigilante groups with a view of putting in place both preventive and mitigative measures. Most of the gangs are most likely not independent--some forces are covertly driving their agenda, with the main focus being the 2022 General Election.

In the past few months, there have been news of bizarre killings by organised groups in Vihiga, Kakamega, Mombasa, Central, Marsabit, Masaai Mau, Elgeyo, Transmara and Mandera, among other areas. Pundits have commented that there likely exists a direct correlation between the killings and politics.

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The pattern has some similarities; they seem organised with some internal command and control. Analysts have argued in the past that politicians could be clandestinely sponsoring these groups.

The government outlawed a total of 114 groups and gangs believed to have been instigating insecurity. This started in 2010 when the then former Internal Security PS Francis Kimemia gazetted 33 groups under the Organised Crimes Act.

In 2016, the late Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery added the number to 90 groups and warned members could face a fine not exceeding Sh5 million, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 15 years, or both. In January 2018, Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i added National Resistance Movement (NRM), an arm of NASA party, to outlawed groups.

A report, ‘The Impact of Organised Gangs on Social Cohesion in Kenya’, released in Nairobi by National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) observed that almost all organised gangs in Kenya - 90 per cent - were mobilised, financed and deployed by politicians.

NCIC also opined that the criminal gangs operate mainly in 15 counties and they have participated in political violence at one point.

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Some of the new groups, which are reincarnations of previously banned gangs such as Mungiki, have rebranded into different gangs with different names, including Quails in Kiambu, Siafu and Gaza in Nairobi, and Kwekwe in Murang’a.

A part of the Sabaot Land Defence Forces has also adopted a new name, the 40 Brothers. According to NCIC, “politicians support gangs by providing training, facilitating meetings, funding and facilitating logistics”.

In August 2019, Dr Matiang’i noted that the government had a responsibility to protect the lives of Kenyans and would not condone anybody trying to revive the gangs.

Speaking to national government administrators in Nyeri town, Matiang’i warned politicians would not be spared if found funding and mobilising gangs for political gains. He added the gangs had not only been revived in the central region, but also in other parts of the country, and that the government would deal with them ruthlessly.

To combat the threat of organised vigilante criminal gangs, the government needs first to sort out the issue of morale in the police force. Studies have shown that a demotivated force is a negative force-multiplier in crime management. Kenya security agencies, especially the police, should be considered for a decent pay, housing, training and change of mindset.

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Security sector reformists can adopt the changing role in police training to incorporate the emerging trends in organised crimes, understanding patterns and doing a comprehensive predictive analysis of crime.

This may include understanding of key indicators, early warning signs and systems, paradigm shift in community policing strategies, intensive use of technology in intelligence collection, collation and analysis. This can be achieved successfully by adopting an intelligence-led policing model.

Police restructuring may not be the only magic bullet in combating crime. The government needs to compliment police work with private security sector partnership.

Despite being one of the most developed countries in Africa, Kenya lacks a proper strategy, policies and legal infrastructures that integrate private security and government security operations.

There is a school of thought that says government security operations are classified as ‘Confidential and Secret’ and hence can only be shared within the services or concerned departments, not with the public.

When the US was hit on 9/11, the same mindset shifted and the government security agencies invested heavily in the public for information, goodwill, intelligence, and acted on winning the soul and mind of the civilians so as to face a common enemy.

 As Kenya approaches 2022 elections, there are possibilities politicians might use criminal gangs within their ethnic enclaves to cause mayhem with the singular purpose of achieving power, as happened before. This should never be allowed to happen again.

The security agencies should be pre-emptive and pick out early warning signs and quickly apply the criminal procedures.

Mr Lusiola is a PhD student and a Security Consultant. [email protected]

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