I did watch with a lot of amusement the other day as President Kenyatta commissioned military-like hardware meant for the police. He has been doing a lot of commissioning lately. In his words, these vehicles are "meant to help in the fight against terrorism and generally ensure peace around the country."
Well, that seems a very noble achievement, until one really thinks about it. The vehicles numbering around 500 and inclusive of 25 mine resistant vehicles and 30 armored personnel carriers(APC), basically war machines, are in addition to 2200 others acquired earlier and deployed in the first and second phases of the 'Police modernisation Program.' Is the fight against terrorism the only reason behind this intensive investment? Especially keeping in mind that the iron-glove approach to counter terrorism is flawed and ineffective.
Coming in an election year,it would be patently naive of anyone to assume this acquisitions are solely meant to ensure your peace. The Kenya police is a security agency established to ensure law,order and security within the boarders of the country. One would therefore imagine that to achieve this, there should be deliberate and positive engagement with the Kenyan community it seeks to make lawful,orderly and secure. Does the acquisition of mean-looking military machines communicate this? But before the indoctrinated declare me paranoid, I shall invoke history.
The Kenya police, for the longest time has simply been the 'executing' arm of the ruling clique. Its duties have been reduced to not protecting citizens and their property but the ruling elite and their power.The only time they act in favour of the general public is when the good of the people predicates that of the rulers.
In October 25,1969 a dozen or so people were shot dead in Kisumu by the presidential guard as Kenyatta visited to open the Soviet-sponsored Jaramogi Oginga referral hospital popularly known as Russia hospital. This response was clearly irrational and disproportionate to the actions of Kisumu residents who were simply demonstrating against perceived government sanctioned assault of the Luo nation.
After all just a few months earlier Tom Mboya had brazenly been assassinated and Argwings Kodhek had died in a suspicious road accident. Jaramogi Odinga was himself in the government's black book. Moments before the killings, Kenyatta had declared his opponents threats to Uhuru and promised they would be crushed like locusts. On to the Moi era, the Nyayo torture chambers ably run by Kenya security agents forcefully dealt with anyone who threatened Moi or his interests.On the streets anti-government sentiments were swiftly squashed with unparalleled and lethal urgency. Kibaki, despite being viewed as an opposition politician with good understanding of the demerits of a police state went on to precide over one of the greatest massacres by police. In the 2007/08 post election violence, the Kenya police accounted for 405 of the 1113 deaths recorded according to a commission of inquiry report.
Summarily, instead of protecting life and property, they competed favourably against marauding gangs in taking lives. As late as June 2016, Uhuru's choice for interior CS was bragging of how the police had enough newly acquired teargas canisters and water cannons and was inviting the opposition to training sessions on the streets of Nairobi. Making child's play of an otherwise serious grievance the opposition was trying to raise about the electoral process. Stories abound of the excesses of police in Kenya. It is true then that when it comes to matters of governance and social discourse, the police are only there to ensure the people recognise the authority of the government in place. As it is, it would seem, they lack the capacity to comprehend fidelity to the constitution. The militarisation of the Kenya police can in no way guarantee us peace. It is only a guarantee that peaceful anti-government demonstrators in Kenya will be handled with the same ruthlessness Al-Shabaab is in Somalia. It only guarantees more casualties at the hands of the dreaded police.
In as far as peace goes, it is the desire of everyone to experience positive peace or so I assume. Peace due to the realisation by a people that coexistence makes their life experiences richer. Peace because such ideas as equity, fairness and tolerance are established in a society's psych and appreciation of one's neighbour is out of the willful acceptance that their absence would leave you poorer. Of course the reverse would be negative peace where people live without conflict not because they love peace but because structures and measures put in place, mostly by government, make conflict undesirable.
People, simply put, are peaceful because they fear the consequences of conflict be it jail, death or increased oppression. The kind of peace prevalent in dictatorial regimes. The militarisation of the police points to a government that has terribly failed in its pursuit, if any, of positive peace. Perhaps even an administration that is deliberately seeking to establish negative peace. It is a sign of a failing government that instead of investing in community outreach programs in an effort to build peace, the government is investing intensively in instruments of peace enforcement.
It is discouraging that a time the police force is struggling to assume its new name of the Kenya police service, at the very time police are trying to appear human, the government imagines that flooding our streets with mean looking utility machines serves the cause. On the contrary, I believe, it would only serve to perpetuate the thought that police thrive on fear and violence.
In an election year in an African country, a show of ability to exert force does not yield peace but tension and outright suspicion by parties external to the power structures. Pictures of a presidential candidate handling a high calibre gun mounted on top of an APC do not cultivate confidence in the process rather they crystalize fear and desperation that the candidate maybe contemplating use of force to retain power. The kind of fear and desperation that turns peaceful demonstrators into armed militia, after all violence begets violence.
To ensure peace therefore, those in power need not invest in thousands of military hardware but instead establish and strengthen institutions that ensure inclusive and transparent governance. For there to be peaceful elections, the government should only seek to ensure fair electoral processes, realising peace is not a thing of itself but the end result of conscious decisions and processes that ensure justice. An increased appetite by government for a militarised police should not be confused with commitment to peace of the population.
In a country that is witnessing greater civil awareness and agitation it may as well be the state positioning itself for that inevitable moment it will have to defend itself against an onslaught by a demanding and knowledgeable public. A government willing if need be to declare war against its own people.I can not imagine a greater threat to peace, a greater mistake.
As Ronald Reagan aptly put it, history teaches us that wars begin when governments believe the price of aggression is cheap. It is my hope this is not the government's thinking.
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