Questions around police conduct during contentious political situations have divided Kenyans deep down the middle.
We’ve all gone down the rabbit hole trying to imagine why some senior officials would politicise law enforcement – and within us, there’s no unanimity on what’s right or wrong.
At the face of it, you would think we’ve a lousy Constitution. With decent laws, a supposedly independent police service and a functional judicial system, one wonders why anyone would be at peace with zero or limited policing accountability.
What are the limits of police action during protests? Who determines the extent of force used to quell them? Do officers know what being truly professional entails and how does the State ‘work’ with what’s believed to be a ‘sovereign’ service? The answers are food for thought!
In the wake of recent protests over the cost of living, police chief Japheth Koome perfected bare tough-toned statements to the media. The Inspector General of Police would abash picketers with word and might but let criminals he professes to know roam free, and do nothing extraordinary to deter proclivity for aggression and violence. Truth is, it should worry us when the IG becomes a perpetual scapegoater. Author Henry Scherf says when we always throw blame allover, we can never change anything. A scapegoater will make a scapegoat of something or somebody for whatever comes about, including bad behaviour and ideological bankruptcy.
Meanwhile, Koome and Azimio barbs have gone to the wire. The IG now accuses Raila Odinga and co of hiring bodies from morgues to sustain claims that police killed protesters during last month’s demos. If so, why hasn’t any politician or mortician been arrested?
For a top security officer who heads a service ostensibly committed to human rights and international best practices, why make such weighty claims several weeks after the protests? Is anyone in Azimio coalition above the law that they would engage in ugly tricks that undermine the dignity of the dead then avoid arrest?
And why haven’t known Kenya Kwanza leaders profiling some regions as ‘wale wa kurusha mawe na kung’oa reli (stone throwers and rail vandals)’ been questioned for their twisted version of truth? Such reckless biases spewed from car-rooftops often lead to needless targeting of groups and communities.
Then there’s the tendency to harass residents of low-income areas like Dandora, Kibra, Mathare, Kayole and Huruma in the name of flushing out criminals. Indiscriminate ‘stop, frisk, assault and shoot’ approach is unacceptable. It has had a debilitating impact on policing that will be hard to redeem in the immediate future.
Let Koome simply make the police efficient. He must reform recruitment, welfare, training and overall force leadership. He can lead community-centred programmes to restore public trust in the force. He can also inspire officers to appreciate what got us here and where we’re headed. Let’s bring back the faith.
Equally, Koome, Interior CS Kithure Kindiki and teams need to innovate and invest in early warning systems that focus on problem-solving through dialogue.
The magic bullet is making police consistently accountable to the chain of command and civilian reviews as the Kenya National taskforce on police reforms suggested in 2009. The IG should create time to think through the competing demands for police time and resources. Many officers are doing a great job out there, perhaps aware that the National Police Service has no obligation to dance to external whims.
For now, let’s not defend the indefensible. Those behind the recent killings must own up. If they don’t, the Independent Policing Oversight Authority must call them to account. Many agencies have corroborated reports that nearly 50 Kenyans fell to police bullets. That’s not to say Azimio and the protesters were faultless. Let’s sober up and stop this melodrama.
The writer is a communications practitioner. Twitter: @markoloo
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