Monday, June 17, 2013

Tradition, at what cost?

After spending a week with Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels from the Department of Defence, I have an inkling of what the war between the Inspector-General of Police and the Chairperson the National Police Service Commission is all about. Many may not recall, but up to the end of the 1960s or thereabouts Kenya did have a Police Service Commission. The changes wrought by the Jomo Kenyatta administration to concentrate power in the hands of the President ensured that of all the commissions that survived more or less intact his "re-organisation" of the civil service was the Teachers Service Commission, and only because regardless of their numbers, teachers were of little consequence in the grand scheme of political things. The original Police Service Commission performed many of the functions assigned to the current National Police Service Commission, with one or two crucial differences. First, the Commissioner of Police enjoyed unfettered power to deploy his officers as he saw fit. Secondly, his role in the promotion or discipline of policemen.

The "reforms' being pursued in policing in Kenya are revealing the great difficulties the key stakeholders face. part of the reason the likes of Eric Kiraithe insisted on a serving policeman to be appointed as Inspector-General was the fear of the changes that outsiders would bring to the force, as it was styled then. So while the appointment of David Kimaiyo was greeted with relief by the senior ranks of the National Police Service, the same may not be the case with the appointment of the National Police Service Commission, even though Mr Kavuludi was once a policeman. He is now an outsider with an insider's knowledge of the Kenya police, and that makes him a dangerous man indeed.

What is certain about Kenya's disciplined forces, whether they be the national police or the defence forces, is the intense pride in their traditions that the upper echelons of the forces revel in, even when such pride, sometimes, may be unwarranted. Arguments and counterarguments against the reforms in their traditions inform to a great extent the pace of the reforms being undertaken today. The Inspector-General may be a well-read, well-travelled man, but he is through and through a very conservative policeman and he has very little incentive to adopt new ways of doing things when the old ways work just fine (for him, at least.)

Under the new constitutional order, transparency and accountability are the watchwords and the Inspector-General's white-knuckle grip on all the issues that apparently affect the command of his police service is counterproductive and risks placing the National Police Service on the wrong side of history. It is his insistence on being "in command" that continues to stymie efforts by the police to come to grips with the out-of-control violent crime incidents in Kenya. While some of it was linked to the March 4 general election, much of it is as a realisation that the police command structure is fighting internally to exert control over the Kavuludi Commission.

While violent offenders are not traditionally the sharpest knives in the drawer, they do wake up when a vacuum occurs, and there is a vacuum in crime-fighting because of the stalemate between the Inspector-General and the Commission. It does not help matters when the Governors want to play a "commanding roe" in policing in their counties, even when they do not have the training or capacity. For the moment, because of the uncertainty regarding the overall command of the police, violent criminals intend to make hay while the sun shines brightly.

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