"Paramilitary training" is such a benign-sounding and anodyne phrase that we never consider what it means. A little Googling and you find out that with just a bit more training, paramilitary training will become military training. That is what the Administration Police, members of the Kenya Wildlife Service, the Kenya Forest Service, some members of the Kenya Revenue Authority and members of the erstwhile Provincial Administration undergo. It is now part and parcel of the training of members of the National Youth Service - all twenty thousand of them each year.
As opposed to police training - which is not paramilitary training, save for the General Service Unit and its Reconnaissance Company - most of the uniformed services in Kenya need only a little more training for them to become military units. That should scare the hell out of you because many of these uniformed services are police units - in their mandates and their powers. Policing in Kenya has now been almost completely militarised.
Militaries fights wars. That's their main job. Whether these are short engagements or occupations, the job of the military is to fight in wars. A military is not a defensive force; it's job is to find the enemy and destroy it without mercy. When a military is deployed, its commanders accept that it shall suffer some attrition but they shall use it to cause greater attrition in the enemy. It suffers attrition when its equipment is degraded and depleted. And when its servicemen die. It prevails when it degrades and depletes the enemy's equipment. And by by killing or capturing more of the enemies soldiers. The entire mindset of a military is geared towards finding and destroying an enemy - and only stopping when ordered to do so by a higher authority.
Policing, on the other hand, in well-adjusted societies, is supposed to keep the people and their property safe, prevent the commission of offences and crimes, investigating crimes and assisting in the prosecution of offenders. It is not the job of police services to find and destroy enemies. The reason a police service might require its officers to carry weapons of any kind is strictly for self-defence - and the protection of property and lives of the civilian population. A police service does not proactively seek violent confrontations in the name of public safety.
We have been heading down this road for a while now. The recurrent refrain is that crime has to be combatted. The mantra is that more guns in more trained hands will be the solution to our crime problem. And so we now have a quasi-army made up of the Administration Police, KWS and KFS rangers, county commissioners and KRA officers, all waiting for the order from their Commander-in-Chief to find the enemy and destroy him.
Separately, they have been a disappointment - Administration Police border patrols seem to let in more and more al Shabaab fighters than before, more elephants and rhinos are being poached under the noses of the armed-to-the-teeth KWS rangers, and Kenya's forests seem to be producing ever larger tonnes of charcoal despite the well-armed KFS rangers roaming in the forests like commandos. How more of the same only on a larger scale (ten thousand new police per year! twenty thousand NYS recruits with paramilitary training!) will solve our problems remains a mystery.
It is time for bold ideas, even including the horror of placing policing and policing resources under the direct control of governors. Policing is not primarily a national security matter, but a public safety one which is local in tenor and effect. Demilitarising policing will be a safe first step before policing is devolved. The GSU can be retained at national headquarters - though scaled down in size - to respond to armed events for which an unarmed county constabulary is unequipped to respond. But, sadly, in a world where multibillion-shilling unaccounted-for budgets command the lions share of our attention, we are going nowhere fast - except to a militaristic police.