Wednesday, July 03, 2013

It all boils down to politics.

One of those inimitably pithy African words of wisdom has it that if you want to cook a frog alive, don't dump it into a pot of boiling water but in one of tepid warmer and slowly raise the temperature until the reptile is well and truly cooked. The Leader in this month's issue of the Nairobi Law Monthly rightly points out that there is nothing "normal" about how Kenyans have grown accustomed to the state of insecurity country-wide. And rightly too, that Kenya is well on its way to being considered a failed state because despite the number of security officers and guns it has, it has singularly failed to adequately protect its people, their property or their interests. Well, we have been stewing in a pot of water over a slow fire since we attained internal self-rule fifty years ago and we are just about cooked today.

And that is where the sucking up ends. The Leader does not go far enough to diagnose why we are the way we are regarding crime, especially violent crime, in Kenya. During the 40 year KANU interregnum, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Toroitich arap Moi ruled with iron fists. They treated the Constitution with utter disdain and contempt; yet everything they did had the veneer of legitimacy because they had a pliable rubber stamp in the form of the National Assembly. What was certain, though, is that the monopoly of violence belonged to the Kenyatta and Moi states; everyone else was permitted to act violently only if it advanced the interests of the two strongmen. Witness the brutal ruthlessness with which Mzee Kenyatta put down the Shifta rebellion. Baba Moi had his Wagalla Massacre.

Things went off the rails in the era of the Nyama Choma Ambassador, that annoyance that was Smith Hempstone. It was at that time that as Eric Ng'eno opined once that Kenya's disparate anti-Moi groups began uniting to challenge his hegemonic hold on to the presidency. Baba Moi is no ones fool; he set in motion an exit strategy that is a thing of beauty to behold 11 years after he left State House, Nairobi. When it was clear that he had lost the politicians of Kenya, first he engineered the slaughter that were the 1988 KANU nominations. Then after seeming to hem-and-haw, he directed the repealing of Section 2A of the former Constitution, paving the way for the 1992 multi-party elections (which he sabotaged even before they got off the ground.) In the run up to the 1992 elections, he withdrew his support for the security services (or he directed them to stand by, we will never know which) while Kenya experienced land clashes not seen since the dark days of Operation Anvil in the 1950s.

The 1992 land clashes gave nascent fascists ideas which they exploited in time for the 1997 and 2007 general elections: the recruitment, training, arming and financing of "youth" militias to create distinct political zones across the breadth and length of this fair land. These militias had to be kept on-side in the non-election years; hence the rise of the murderous, marauding criminal gangs in towns across Kenya. If you find this a bit far-fetched, there is video footage of Daniel Toroitich arap Moi being "introduced" to the pre-Michuki Mungiki by none other than JJ Kamotho before the 1997 general election. Back then, they were described as a youth who had "gone back to their traditional church" and only wanted the patronage of the Head of State. Who could have imagined that in less than two decades they would not only rise to become economic and financial powerhouses, but that they would rival the State in the deployment and employment of coercive, violent force? Since 1992 it has become clear that a divided security service is a political necessity if one wishes to capture, hold or retain political power in Kenya. If a few Kenyans get their heads blown away during the political off-season, so be it.

The flip side of it is all-Kenyatta-and-Moi's fault lien of reasoning is that Kenyans have taken a spectacularly lackadaisical approach to their public safety. It is reflected in the casual manner with which they oversee their children's safety. First, it is presumed that safety is a family matter; children are instructed at nuclear-family level to distrust everything and everyone. Then their parents go out of their way to build ever higher razor-wire-topped security walls and obtain Very Large Dogs to patrol their compounds and homes. As a consequence, public safety is now a personal responsibility not a collective one. Therefore, Kenyans have very little incentive to participate in public safety, what with all thinking and taking care of their personal security. On rare occasions when an unfortunate Kenyan has been "apprehended" by a mob, a reverse collective punishment occurs: mob justice is meted out on the non-suspect. But these events are few and far between; it is more common to hear of Kenyans being the victims of violent crimes rather than as seekers of collective vengeance.

Into this morass we dump the Inspector-General of Police and the Chairman of the National Police Service Commission, both of whom do not have an interest in a reformed police service but are obsessed with that most peculiar of bureaucratic habits: empire-building. Until one or the other triumphs in their battle for supremacy, reforming policing in Kenya, improving public safety or whatever catch-phrase we will come up with in the future, we remain a mirage. Both are wrong. Both are responsible for the violence that is stalking our land. But it is the man at the top, the Commander-in-Chief and his Cabinet Secretary that are ultimately responsible for the deteriorating state of affairs. What is the point in having a Cabinet Secretary for Interior Affairs, an Attorney-General, a Director of Public Prosecutions, and Inspector-General of Police or a Chairman of a National Police Service Commission if we cannot set down a credible policy to address violent crime, we are incapable of legislating creditably to address it, we cannot investigate it, and we cannot prosecute it? What?

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