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Mistrust after Police fail in Tana

By - Joe Kiarie | September 16th 2012 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Security officers transport bodies of their colleagues killed by raiders in Tana River County. [Photo: Paul Gitau/Standard]


By Joe Kiarie

To what extent will the ghosts of the 2007-2008 post-election violence haunt Kenya?  This is one of the many questions Kenyans are asking after the Police department made a disquieting statement as the country heads to general elections.

On Wednesday, Deputy Police Spokesman Charles Owino said the police could have easily suppressed the deadly inter-tribal clashes in Tana Delta, but employed a cautious approach awaiting Cabinet approval to use force.

Owino was categorical that they were avoiding a situation where Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere could suffer fate similar to that of his predecessor Gen Hussein Ali, who was arraigned at The Hague, charged with the use of excessive force by his juniors in the post-poll violence.

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Omosa Mogambi, a professor of Criminal Justice at the United States International University, says the guarded approach by the police is baseless when lives have been lost.

Mogambi notes that the police have both constitutional and moral duty to protect Kenyans all the time.

Reasonable force

“They are given the constitutional authority in Article 238 to deal with crime and to use all means, including reasonable force, to keep law and order in society. Section 20 of the Kenya Police Service Act 2011 clearly outlines the core functions of police in relation to the security of citizens, which must be followed to the letter,” he argues.

The don adds that the police should be charged with failing to prevent atrocities against unarmed civilians.

“Sitting on the fence in the pretext of fear of being prosecuted for human right abuses is failing in the public trust the police have from the people. This is a very dangerous precedent because security agents are going to stand aloof and wait for citizens to sort out their differences without regard to the law,” states Mogambi.

He advises the state to be vigilant to ensure the attitude the police force has was avoided before the official campaigns for the general elections.

Barrack Muluka, a commentator on social and political issues, terms the police statement as a cynical explanation that could indeed backfire and put Iteere in trouble in future. He notes that while use of excessive force took Ali to The Hague, the abdication of a constitutional duty to save lives could equally see the current police commissioner arraigned at the International Criminal Court (ICC) or any other court of law.

“You cannot say you abdicated a legal responsibility to save lives because you don’t want to be taken to The Hague; doing nothing is in itself good enough to take you to The Hague,” Muluka states.

He says the police have absolute powers when it comes to protecting civilians and restoring security in any part of the country and cabinet approval should never stand on the way.

He notes that while the police have not used force in Tana Delta, they have equally not been conspicuous on the ground. Yet, he notes, presence of the officers in a clash-hit area would in itself be a deterrent to bloodletting and arson.

Extreme situations

 “But when the officers get to extreme situations where their own lives are in danger, they have the power to shoot, although they initially shoot not to kill but to incapacitate,” Muluka explains.

He says that with the recent police statement, it is frightening for one to think of 2013 in the light of what transpired in 2007. “In case people engage each other in violence, will the police sit back and watch waiting for someone to chair a cabinet meeting and approve their deployment?” he poses.

Prof Egara Kabaji, a lecturer at the Masinde Muliro University, says Owino’s statement was shocking since the laws that govern the police force are explicit.

“It is a statement that clearly shows that the police leadership might not know its exact mandate. You do not have to wait for a Cabinet decision to do what you are employed to do. It is sad that such a statement reflects a police force without real direction,” he states.

Kabaji argues that the police should never worry about human rights activists, but should instead strictly utilize the mandate and powers given to them when it comes to maintaining law and order.

Key targets

“The police clearly know what they are supposed to do. If armed criminals attack them, it is very clear that they should shoot to kill. The police must act to defend themselves if cornered while on duty,” he says. The don further says that the police should not use the 2007 violence to justify their inertia. 

“No one should make reference to 2007 in comparison to the current violence. In 2007, we saw the police kill unarmed civilians and it is not a secret that the police used excessive force,” he affirms.

Police tana river clashes Deputy Police Spokesman Charles Owino
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