When we were children, growing up in the 1980s or coming of age in the 1990s, our parents taught us certain immutable truths: the Government was always listening; the police were to be feared; politicians were never to be trusted. Of course as we grew older and came into our own, we tempered these lessons with our own life experiences especially because many of us went to university or graduate school and got our first jobs long after it became apparent that, truly, "Yote yawezekana bila Moi." With the abduction, torture, murder and crude disposal of Willie Kimani, Josephat Mwenda and Joseph Muiruri, I am not so sure that we should have tempered the message of our parents rather than heeded its inimitable truth.
What we know—or think that we know—is that Josephat Mwenda was unlawfully shot by a policeman belonging to the Administration Police Force. He filed a criminal complaint against the policeman and the case was being heard at the Mavoko Law Courts. Willie Kimani, who worked for the International Justice Ministry, was his lawyer, advising Mr Mwenda of his rights. Mr Mwenda's criminal complaint resulted in a campaign of harassment and intimidation by officers of the Administration Police Force, including multiple traffic offence charges and criminal allegations of drug-dealing or drugs trafficking. On the fateful day, Mr Mwenda and Mr Kimani contacted Mr Muiruri, a taxi operator, to drive them to the Mavoko Law Courts, wait for them as they concluded their business in court and then drive them back to Nairobi.
We don't know what happened after Mr Mwenda and Mr Kimani left court that day and met up with Mr Muiruri. Mr Kimani's widow received a phonecall from a stranger informing her that three men who were being held at the Mavoko Administration Police Force Camp had scribbled a note on toilet paper and hurled it out of one of its cells asking her to be informed of their whereabouts and that they feared for their lives. That is the last known contact by the three men. A week later the remains, suspected to be of Mr Mwenda and Mr Kimani, were recovered in a river. They had been tortured, had their hands bound behind their backs and drowned in the river. The Law Society of Kenya and large swathes of the population strongly suspect that the men were tortured, murdered and their bodies disposed of by officers of the Administration Police Force. The Inspector-General of Police and the Cabinet Secretary for Interior and Co-ordination of National Government speculate without providing proof that the three may have been done in by hired hitmen.
For the past six years, Kenyans have waited for policing in Kenya to be reformed. It is time we admitted to ourselves that reforms are not forthcoming and, perhaps, they were never coming. We have watched, bemused, as senior police officials have contorted themselves in incredible ways to explain sources of wealth or academic credentials as they undergo "vetting" before the National Police Service Commission. We should not have been so sanguine about the incredible state of affairs in the National Police Service. With the murders of the three men and the circumstances that led to their murders, perhaps it is time to begin an honest national conversation of the kind of police we have and the kind that we deserve.
In the same week that the remains of the three men were discovered, there was yet another ambush of buses travelling from Mandera town. The bus was in a convoy of three and was being guarded by Kenya Police Reservists. Four passengers and a police reservist died. In the previous week, another bus, that time escorted by Kenya Police Force officers, was attacked. Four police died. The police refused to escort any more buses until they were provided with reinforcements and the right kind of transport. At the beginning of the month, as Kenya celebrated Madaraka Day, it is rumoured that the police who marched past the presidential dais in Nakuru were not paid their allowances by their seniors and went on "strike" until the allowances were settled. Early in the year, the sorry state of police patrolling the Boni Forest in Lamu, was broadcast on TV. The police who spoke to reporters were punished for insubordination, dereliction of duty and painting the National Police Service in a bad light.
What emerges is that rank and file policemen are brutalised by their superiors and they, in turn, brutalise the civilian population. The Mavoko Three are not the only victims of the police. There are countless others in the years since we promulgated the constitution, including those who have been "renditioned" outside Kenya on "terrorism" charges and those who have been executed extra-judicially for "terrorist" links or sympathies. These events echo the brutal tactics employed by the police and sanctioned by the late John Michuki when he was the Minister of Internal Security and Provincial Administration when scores of Mungiki adherents and sympathisers were executed extra-judicially. Paul Muite, Senior Counsel, estimates that there were 8,000 such executions.
The United Nations Special Rapportuer on Extra-judicial Killings noted that the police forces of Kenya were not designed, equipped or trained to ensure the safety or security of the civilian population but for the control of civilians. If there was safety or security to be had, it would be the safety and security of the State, the Presidency and the ruling elite. This is the internal security infrastructure that was established by the colonial government, perpetuated by the post-Independence governments of Presidents Kenyatta and Moi, and inherited by the post-multi-party elections' governments of Presidents Kibaki and Kenyatta the Younger. Reforms, as executed after the Ransley Reprt, haven't reordered the relationship of the State and police with the people; they have merely dressed it up in fancy clothes and titles. The police remains a violent tool for the control and subjugation of the civilian population. The Mavoko Three are unlikely to be the last victims of the police.
Despite the threat against the civilian population by terrorist organisations and armed brigands, a national, armed police service is abnormal. It is expensive to equip and difficult to regulate. If we are serious about reforming the National police Service, we must begin by disarming it in its entirety. Where armed response is required, a scaled down General Service Unit shall suffice. Secondly, the police force must be broken up and decentralised completely. Policing must be placed under the authority of governors. Except for the armed General Service Unit, police do not require a national command-and-control system. This will freak out the securocracy and its boosters but if we are to change the way in which we are policed and how the police operate among civilians, it is the only radical step that will convert it into a true police organisation and not a rogue army occupying our streets.