Whether Kenyans get a reformed police service depends entirely on whether Kenyans are looking for public safety or national security. These two objectives are not necessarily opposed to each other; but a concentration on national security will focus more on preserving the State and the authority of the State. Public safety on the other hand focuses more on the safety of citizens and not necessarily the preservation of the State or its authority. In the former, the people are sometimes treated as a threat to the State; in the latter, it is the State's responsibility to protect the people, their rights, and their property.
In 1963 when Kenya attained internal self-rule, it inherited a police force that had been a principal instrument in the preservation of the colonial state's authority. Its focus, then and over the intervening forty years, was to preserve the State and its authority at all costs. It is why a midnight knock on ones door from the dreaded Special Branch did not bring glad tidings; usually it meant extra-legal detention, torture or, at worst, an unexplained disappearance. The Kenya Police was an instrument of ensuring that the holy writ that was the President's every utterance ran throughout the nation.
The objective of the much-ballyhooed reforms of the Kenya Police is supposed to be its complete transformation from a tool of control by the State into a service that protects the rights of individuals, their lives and property. An examination of the relevant Articles of the Constitution belies this objective. Even the amalgamation of the two principal forces, the Kenya Police and the Administration Police, does not address the objective of a people-centric police service. It seems that the drafters of the Constitution had the best of intentions but they executed it by attempting a cosmetic makeover of the Kenya Police.
The July issue of the Nairobi Law Monthly has an analysis from Ndung'u Wainaina of the International Centre for Policy and Conflict who insists that only radical reforms will transform the National Police Service into a truly citizen-centric service rather than a traditional institution for the preservation of the State and its authority. However, Mr Wainaina fails to describe properly what such a radical transformation is or what it will require of Kenyans or their government.
Kenya's Presidents have been loath to give up their control over policing; it has always been the surest way for them to gather intelligence on threats to their authority and has forever been a tool for interdicting this threat. Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel Toroitich arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki used the police to stamp their authority in Kenya; but none of them saw fit to direct that policing's principal purpose was the safety of the public first, and national security, that is, the preservation of the State and its authority, next. As a result, even in the early years of Kenya's Independence, citizens were frequently at the mercy of bandits and criminals, but the presidency, the State and State authority was always secure.
A key reason why this was so is the structure and administration of policing in Kenya. Even under the structure designed under the Constitution, the National Police Service is designed to preserve the State, not protect the people. It is for this reason that the empire-building contest between the Inspector-General and the Chairman of the National Police Service Commission has occupied the men at the top of the infrastructure of policing in Kenya rather than design new ways of policing or administering the police in Kenya. An analysis of the relevant provisions on national security in the Constitution, and of the structure and administration of policing in the National Police Service Act, the National Police Service Commission Act and the Independent Policing Oversight Authority Act will reinforce this view. They are all concerned with interdicting all threats against the State; public safety is almost an afterthought.
We cannot, of course, pretend that political interference in policing is not a fact of life. But we should not simply shrug our shoulders in frustration and say that, "This is Kenya." If policing is to be transformed, then every stakeholder in these reforms must come with clean hands. The President, or the National Executive, should widen the scope of policing from merely preserving its authority; the political class should not see the police as a tool for retaining their political power at the expense of their rivals'; the people must demand more of their elected leaders. While it is presumed that the threats to Executive authority are real, they must not be exaggerated by the National Executive. The threats that Jomo Kenyatta or Daniel Moi faced are not the same ones that Mwai Kibaki faced or the ones that Uhuru Kenyatta faces. Especially for the incumbent, unless he has proof that Raila Odinga or someone else is determined to mount a coup against his government, it is time he ordered the reorientation of policing from preserving his administration to preserving the lives and property of the voters who elected him.
Towards this end, the President must place greater emphasis is building up the technical capacity of the men and women who serve in the National Police. He must invest ever greater sums in their welfare, training and other facilities. Simiyu Werunga, a security expert writing in the same magazine, points out that a great proportion of the rank and file in the National Police live in abject conditions almost akin to poverty, but the managers of the National Police live like princes. While facilities like a forensics laboratory are vital, their acquisition must not be at the expense of providing for the welfare of the officers who are charged with the task of investigating crime. If the men and women who are tasked with responding to violent crime are not provided with facilities like insurance for injuries suffered while on duty, they have little incentive to see the citizens whom they are supposed to protect as "customers." They are more likely to be apathetic to the plight of citizens. This will have deleterious impacts on all efforts to reform policing in Kenya.
It will take more than a cosmetic makeover to reform policing in Kenya. It is an urgent need the straightening out of the authority of the Inspector-General and the Chairman of the National Police Service Commission. Until it is clear how much command authority the Inspector-General wields, his focus will not be the welfare of the officers under his command, or the transformation of the command structure from preserving the State to the protection of civilians. Reforms in policing must have the total buy-in from the Inspector-General. This is the missing ingredient. Until we crack this nut, policing will remain the oppressive function of the State and nothing more.