Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Nyumba Kumi and police reforms.

As I understand it, under the Nyumba Kumi programme, I must familiarise myself with my immediate neighbours, participate in electing a leader from amongst us, and participate in policing my community to enhance the security of the community. The National Executive has embarked on a multi-pronged programme to enhance the security of the nation and includes amendments to key statutes such as the National Police Service Act, the National Police Service Commission Act, the National Intelligence Service Act, the Kenya Defence Forces Act, the Information and Communications Act and the Nyumba Kumi initiative. The overwhelming attention of the civil society industry has been focused on the Nyumba Kumi initiative.

What the National Executive and the other boosters of the programme seem to miss is that the legitimacy of the security establishment is low. It is low because it is obsessed with keeping our leaders secure; it is not overly concerned with the general safety of the public. It is riddled with corruption. It is prone to the commission of grave offences, though little proof has been advanced of those offences. It is renown for its cruelty and ruthlessness when dealing with petty offenders, and its kid-gloved treatment of millionaires and billionaires. It's partners in the judiciary and the public prosecutor's office are reviled for their rigid application of the statute books against petty offenders and, we suspect, highly motivated broad-stroke interpretation of those same statute books when it comes to the high and mighty.

Because my Nyumba Kumi group must work hand in hand with the police in policing my community, I will have to share personal details with the police. The National Executive already has these details in a database somewhere, the same database that contains my birth records, my application for a national identity card or passport, as well as my application for an income-tax Personal Identification Number and a Subscriber Identity Module card for my mobile phone. So sharing all this information with the police will be no big deal. It is what the police will do with that data that gives me reason for pause.

There isn't a day that passes without an examination of the nature of policing, especially in the context of corruption. We focus on the petty corruption among the officers of the traffic department. And it is in this context that the Nyumba Kumi programme will either succeed or fail. Many Kenyans' first engagement with the police is not in relation to the commission of crimes, but in the enforcement of the Traffic Act. 

Whether as motorists, passengers or, on rare occasions, pedestrians, many Kenyans have had the humiliating experience of having a policeman, under the cover of authority and the threat of judicial wrath, extort money from them. It is our coziest description of a policeman. It is unlikely to be reversed soon. It is the reason why the Nyumba Kumi programme has so far been resisted, vocally so, by the civil society industry and has found such great purchase with the ordinary Kenyan. Unless the police service can demonstrate that it is changing, that it is no longer a weapon for the extortion of the innocent, that it cares - really cares - for our general safety, then Nyumba Kumi shall remain an initiative for the enrichment of the few without serving a single discernible purpose.

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