Knee-jerk approach to issues our undoing

A cleaner wipes a portrait of former Makadara Principal Magistrate Monica Kivuti at Milimani Law Court on June 19, 2024. Monica succumbed to gunshot injuries after a police officer opened fire on her while on duty. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Magistrate Monica Kivuti’s death has affirmed how Kenya’s knee-jerk culture is perpetuating our misery.   

Kivuti was shot last week in a makeshift courtroom in Makadara, Nairobi, by a police officer, whose wife had been charged with obtaining Sh2.9 million by false pretences.  

The macabre incident prompted Chief Justice Martha Koome to call for new safety and security measures. President William Ruto also spoke out strongly against the attack, as did Azimio leaders and the Law Society of Kenya.

Security and safety of judges and magistrates is a burning issue that isn't unique to Kenya. In 2005, the murder of a Chicago judge's family in the United State caused global outrage. When judicial officials are killed for doing their job, democracy and justice die along with them.   

Admittedly, the Makadara attack is the latest tragedy to have pushed us into a frenzy in search of quick fixes. Besides stopping the use of make-shift court structures, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) is seeking more funds, has up-scaled virtual hearings and wants the Judiciary Police Unit reinforced.

These measures should have been in place from the onset. To a greater degree, the separation between public, security and Judiciary staff in courtrooms ought to have been upheld long ago. The ‘smokescreens’ and ‘knee-jerk’ reactions we now see suggest we are poor planners who are unenthusiastic to make institutions work.

Technology guru Steve Jobs, upon his return to Apple in 1997 when he reduced the firm’s product line by 70 per cent, said deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do. Now, it’s important to do something – embrace viable preventive measures and adopt creative solutions.

Kenya's long history with crimes and injustices reveals a predictable pattern where, after a tragedy and public outcry, a few people are taken to court and charged, then set free with a slap on the wrist. Life then continues as if nothing happened. Many recent tragedies of our time ring a bell.  

The Shakahola massacre, that led to more than 400 deaths, highlighted an intelligence failure of monumental proportions. Linked to a sect, it exposed a system tangled in its ineffectiveness. While trial is ongoing, no official has owned up to the slackness that gave room for needless deaths. We only reacted.

This year, floods killed more than 260 people and displaced 280,000. In Solai, Nakuru, in 2018, 48 people died when a dam burst. A similar tragedy occurred in Mai Mahiu this year. We don’t plan for the long rains then wait for drought to set in. The latest dry spell left 5.4 million people without food.

Meanwhile, the transport sector is hostage to impunity. As of last month, 1,189 lives had been lost on the road this year. Talk of mall attacks, and fires in Gikomba and Pipeline.

The State often issues warnings to offenders. How many ‘tough’ warnings will it take to fix oversight or regulatory failures, including lack of safety nets in sensitive places like courts, and in areas like the North Rift where banditry persists?

Our response is typical with each tragedy. Sending assessment teams, visiting affected areas, distributing aid, issuing statements then waiting for a new crisis to catch us flat-footed. Prevention is better than cure, but when officials sleep on the job only to wake up with quick fixes, then there’s a missing link.

At this rate, graft, illicit drugs, alcoholism and other ills will ensnare us in a vicious cycle and make us prisoners of our knee-jerk efforts.

With the Makadara court attack being a fresh wake-up call, we must shift from hasty measures to thoughtful and systemic reforms.

Let’s plan better and take preventive measures seriously, starting with effective security surveillance, monitoring and reporting.

Through technology adoption and extra creative ways, we can prevent tragedies like Magistrate Kivuti’s murder. Her death should not be in vain. Authorities must do whatever it takes to protect lives.     

The writer is a communications practitioner. X: @markoloo