What can be done to improve our security agencies even further

Military personnel parade during the trooping of the colours by at Ulinzi Sports Complex in Langata, Nairobi, in July 2022. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Kenya, like many other developing nations, grapples with a range of security challenges. From political unrest to dwindling resources and economic instability, the country faces a complex landscape.

While we ponder over the reasons behind these challenges, it's important to acknowledge that Kenya is fortunate to be situated in a tropical region with relatively warm temperatures year-round, shielding it from the extreme weather conditions experienced in other parts of the world.

However, our security concerns go beyond Mother Nature's wrath. Transparency International's ranking of Kenya's Government and Defence Index as poor Band D in 2021 serves as a wake-up call.

However, with the vision and guidance of President William Ruto, there is optimism that the country can improve its standing and reach higher levels of security and governance. Kenya deserves to be in a higher band. In December 1991, President Daniel arap Moi, during a Kanu delegates meeting at Kasarani Stadium, repealed Section 2A of the Constitution. This landmark decision signaled Kenya's transition into a liberal society, embracing multiparty politics. The restructuring of the government followed, leading to the emergence of a new constitution that emphasised the separation of powers between the Executive, Legislature, and Judiciary.

This pivotal shift determined who held executive authority and the necessary qualifications. Establishing effective governance, oversight, and accountability in the security sector is crucial for the improved delivery of security and justice services. The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) has observed the governance challenges faced by Kenya's security sector at the local, regional, and international levels. The democratisation processes of the past two decades have unfortunately led to increased disorder and the proliferation of organised gangs and militias.

It's evident that security is the responsibility of all citizens and collective efforts are required to address these challenges. According to the African Union (AU), the security sector comprises various institutions tailored to each nation's context. Primary security institutions such as the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF), Kenya Police Service (KPS), National Intelligence Service (NIS), and law enforcement agencies play a pivotal role. Additionally, public oversight and management bodies as well as non-state security bodies such as civil society organisations, contribute to security, particularly in oversight roles.

While the Horn of Africa region has transitioned away from militarisation, Kenya, rooted in its past single-party system, still faces the challenges of security sector reform. In recent times, there has been increased scrutiny of security sector reform in Africa. Kenya has taken significant steps in establishing oversight bodies, with the 2010 Constitution facilitating civilian oversight. During his visit to Laikipia Air Base for KDF Day on October 14, 2022, President Ruto provided a visionary directive to the KDF. He urged them to expand their activities to include development initiatives and embrace the concept of human security.

This directive underscores the importance of ensuring freedom from wants and freedom from fear for all citizens. By prioritising the fight against poverty, the government aims to alleviate the concerns of families who worry about their next meal, clothing, and affordable shelter. Acknowledging freedom from fear is essential for the fulfillment of human rights as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The KDF has a long history of effectively training generations in civil-military relations, understanding the principle of military subordination to civilian authority.

However, other branches of the security sector still exhibit remnants of a state-centric security approach from the past, largely due to limited or lack of training. Those who question why the government allows opposition demonstrations fail to grasp the progressive mindset of Kenya's modern liberal democratic leadership. Those lingering in the state-centric security thought of the past need to embrace the new reality. Security Sector Reform entails bringing security agencies under civilian control and aligning their operations with international best practices.

It involves transforming the underlying values, norms, and politics that shape the functioning of security agencies. Regular assessments of corruption risks, the implementation of anti-corruption policies, and parliamentary scrutiny contribute to public accountability. For KDF, public scrutiny of defence policy, strategy, and budgeting ensures transparency. The Kenya Police Service must conduct policing activities with respect for the rule of law, democracy, and human rights, adhering to principles outlined by Sir Robert Peel in 1829.

The Judiciary's role in prosecuting corruption cases and the National Intelligence Service's civilian control and professionalism are also vital components of security sector reform. The leadership should further consider a military deputy who would make the spy agency a high-breed organisation due to the technical nature of the military, hence avoiding conflict in intelligence 'business' as they call it. While significant progress has been made in developing policies, there is a need for greater openness, enabling public and media scrutiny.

Efforts should concentrate on enhancing oversight mechanisms for KDF and the NIS and empowering non-state actors to advocate for human rights and hold security agencies accountable.