Friday, May 27, 2016

Reforms? Don't be so naive.

If you are surprised that a Kenyan policeman has, over a relatively brief period of four years, has had financial transactions totalling one hundred million shillings, you are clearly living in some utopia where there is a robust social safety net, policemen are not taken for parasites, and the rule of law is the North Star by which we guide our public affairs.

It is with this in mind that we must consider whether the exercise known as police vetting is worth our national time. Since the promulgation of the Constitution, Kenyans have been exhorted to believe a fundamental lie: that their government and its institutions will be reformed. What happened, however, was the renaming of institutions and the redistribution of certain prerogatives that had hitherto been the exclusive preserve of the presidency. Reforms have not, and probably never will, take place. The National Police Service is proof.

Reforming the government took a back seat to political considerations long before the Committee of Experts was allowed to publish the Harmonised Draft Constitution some time in July 2010. Of the institutions that were supposed to have been reformed to reflect the democratic inclinations of the Second Republic were the Kenya Police Force and the Administration Police Force, the latter which played such a significant role in the 2007/2008 crisis. But from the way Chapter Fourteen of the Constitution and Articles 243 to 246 were drafted, it is clear that the CoE's and Government's idea of "reforms" was simply renaming the police and little else. This was affirmed by the enactment of the National Police Service Act and the National Police Service Commission Act.

Kenyans continue to be lied to that the magic bullet of institutional reforms is newer and better legislation. Again, the National Police Service is proof that it is not. Policing in Kenya has a long and ugly history. The police forces of Kenya were never employed for the safety or protection of the "native" population, but for that of the settler communities, the colonial government and the home guard made up of "native" quislings. The colonial government may have gone the way of the dodo, but the descendants of the settlers and the home guard, as well as the descendants of the pro-settler Independence government ministers and senior bureaucracy, continue to use the police forces of Kenya in the same exact way it was used before Independence.

It is why the recruitment and training of policemen remains unchanged, save for tweaks here and there to accommodate, say, computers, the internet, social media and electronic communications and financial activity. By and large, the institutions that were established to brutalise and subjugate the "native" populations have survived practically unchanged and just as corrupt as their forebears. It is therefore, not unusual for a policeman who makes forty thousand shillings a month, or four hundred and eighty thousand shillings a year, or (assuming a very, very generous-with-allowances police service) one million, four hundred and forty thousand shillings a year, to have transactions totalling a hundred million shillings in four years. It is only unusual that someone is surprised at the sums being bandied about as the "vetting" takes place in Mombasa.

Every time the Government is assessed on the degree of corruption that assails its firmament, the police forces, the judiciary and all the departments involved in procurement or accounting for funds, are ranked as the least trusted and the most corrupt. What surprises, for many of the discerning among us, is why more policemen are not transacting tens of millions of shillings in each year, though inexperience and naivete go a long way to explain why newly-minted policemen need the mentorship of their seniors to get going. (There was that corporal who was murdered together with his wife whose income couldn't explain the three cars in his name and the five-bedroomed house he was building in Kahawa West.)

Reforms, my friends, mean different things to different people, but to the institutions of our Government, reforms means the renaming of things and the redistribution of perks. No more, no less. The colonial behemoth established in 1921 endures, for better and for worse, mostly for worse.

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