How a disciplined Kenya Police Service can be so indisciplined beats imagination. The conduct of a majority of police officers is so debasing, it has besmirched the reputation of good officers so much that netizens aptly call them ‘glorified thugs’ in uniform; sadists who get paid salaries from public coffers for killing and maiming those whose sweat feeds the coffers.
We cannot, however, run away from the fact that the rank and file of the service can only be as good as those who command them. Juniors are a reflection of the top command’s perception of policing.
It beats conscience that despite negative local and international reports, complaints about extrajudicial killings and public outrage over police brutality, the top brass remains unperturbed. Last Friday’s actualisation of a curfew imposed to arrest the spread of coronavirus exposed inherent brutality in some police officers who, with impunity, blatantly broke the law while ostensibly enforcing it.
At about the same time police officers were battering defenceless civilians at the Coast and other areas, there was one officer in Baringo Central who sanitised the hands of civilians caught out in the curfew and urged them to observe curfew hours going forward. While the latter is a demonstration of education in practice, the former makes a case for raising the entry bar for police officers.
However, in as much as the curfew is for our own good, it is silent on salient issues. One is inclined to wonder whether the Government also placed a curfew on, say, medical emergencies and ravages of nature like floods that could force people out of their homes to seek help, irrespective of the hour.
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Is the Government aware that there are homeless people living on shop verandas because greedy relatives, a rich man or politician drove them out of their only piece of land? There are sick people who will most likely die in between curfew hours because police officers are averse to common sense, taxis are unavailable and clinics are closed.
Most Kenyans are derisive of the curfew and other stringent measures not because they serve no purpose, but because some are insensitive and have minimal impact in stalling coronavirus. A majority of Kenyans feel alienated from a government that invests little on social welfare; one to which citizens exist for the purpose of taxation and voting. The government’s inability to create jobs has disillusioned the youth, especially.
When out of compulsive need youth try to make ends meet in their own small ways, the government imposes restrictions on them. Today, most Kenyans have only two choices; stay safe at home in compliance with government directives and die of starvation or take chances within set rules amid the corona scare and earn a day’s honest living.
The Kenya Police Service’s seeming inability to keep abreast of the times is self induced. Through the Security Laws (Amendment) Bill 2014, Jubilee forced a constitutional amendment that took away the security of tenure of the Inspector General of Police.
It was a calculated move by an executive that felt exposed without absolute control over the State’s instruments of violence. An independent Police Service or force is anathema to those in leadership, especially in Africa, where use of brute force is the default position for administrations that have lost appeal.
For people already pushed against the wall, it is imprudent for police officers to get their ire focused on something. Given the direction in which coronavirus is determined to herd us, it could turn out to be the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Let us argue from the point that nothing overrides hunger, and a hungry man is an angry man.
If coronavirus is not tamed, the outcome, besides death, is massive hunger. Across the world, revolutions have been started by the quest for food or little things like a spike in the price of bread. Presently, there are reports about broke, hungry people attempting to steal food from supermarkets in Italy.
Our police officers should tread with caution. They must change their approach to work because modern policing eschews brutality. Civilisation abhors brutality. An internal campaign by humane and law abiding officers can set the service on the path to redemption. A constitutional change to ensure the Inspector General is not beholden to the executive could salvage the service.
Internal security Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i should exhibit the same zeal he showed as CS ICT and CS Education. He oversaw digital migration and put the fear of God in cartels that had hijacked the Kenya National Examination Council. He should exorcise demons from police officers determined to project him as a failure.
Mr Chagema is a copy editor at The Standard. [email protected]