Friday, December 09, 2016

Good luck to him

I deploy hyperbole - the kind I accuse others of - regularly and ham-fistedly. I don't, however, invite the rest of the world to join me on Fantasy Island. I have had occasion to say that the National Police Service is corrupt. I now realise that that rhetorical device, used by many others, is having comical and potentially risky effects. Fore sure there are individual police officers who are as bent as a two-shilling note, but to insist that the institution - the Service - is corrupt is to fundamentally misunderstand our relationship with our Government and its institutions.

A driver and his passenger are driving up Parliament Road and encounter another motorist going down on the wrong side of the same road. A policeman is directing traffic at the roundabout at Harambee Avenue and Parliament Road. The passenger in the vehicle on the correct side of the road alights and confronts the other motorist whom he believes is in the wrong. Someone records the confrontation using a cellphone. The other motorist compelled to reverse while the passenger reminds him loudly that his age should ensure that he understands and upholds the provisions of the law. It is later discovered that the other motorist is a parliamentarian. The video is uploaded and shared numerous times.

There are a few striking features in the video. The other motorist is clearly on the wrong side of the road. It can be surmised, too, that the police officer directing traffic must have permitted the driver to drive as he was driving or, at the very least, didn't consider the traffic offence sufficiently important to warrant his abandonment of traffic-directing duties to deal with.  It is also clear that the offended passenger believes that the only way to deal with the offender is to confront him directly rather than to appeal to the police officer to do his duty as he eventually does when he seems to direct the other driver to reverse out of the way of oncoming traffic. It can be surmised that the offended passenger believes that an offence has been committed and that his solution to the offence is to confront the offender with as much passion as he can muster.

The offended passenger behaves like a vigilante, a "member of a self-appointed group of citizens who undertake law enforcement in their community without legal authority, typically because the legal agencies are thought to be inadequate." He has determined, based on a superficial observation, that a traffic offence has been committed, that the traffic policeman nearby is inadequate and that he will, without any authority, enforce the traffic laws to set things right. There are two possible outcomes to this kid of confrontation.

The first is that the confrontation might escalate. Where, for instance, an offence is committed in the presence of a policeman, it is prudent to ask oneself whether the offender's brazenness is a factor to consider before confronting them. Cases of similar confrontations escalating to assaults with weapons are on the rise; there are many road users who have been physically assaulted, stabbed or shot when these kinds of confrontations escalated out of control.

The second is that the offending motorist may have been expressly directed by the police officer to use that side of the road. Section 52(1)(a) of the Traffic States that "The driver of a vehicle shall at all times...obey any directions given, whether verbally or by signal, by a police officer in uniform, in the execution of his duty" while section 103 of the National Police Service Act, 2011, states that "Any person who...assaults, resists or willfully obstructs a police officer in the due execution of the police officer’s duties...commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding one million shillings or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years, or to both.
It is possible that the angry passenger could have committed an offence in confronting the other motorist without knowing it to be true that the other motorist had committed or was committing a traffic offence. The angry passenger's intervention hinges on an assumption that an offence has been committed and that the police are either too inept or corrupt to deal with it. That the angry passenger is a politician seeking an electoral victory in next year's general election must be taken into account while trying to explain his apparent wildly out of proportion reaction: Kenyan politicians are known to go to extreme ends to get the publicity they need, especially if they wanted to be painted as law-abiding fighters for the common mwananchi.

This particular politician has demonstrated a penchant for vigilante-like behaviour and has loudly proclaimed the corrupt venality of the very institution he wishes to be elected into. He is merely the latest politician to promise to remain untarnished by the trappings of power that elected office seems to confer on all parliamentarians. But if his latest moral crusade is anything to go by, he will be right at home among the waheshimiwa: loud, confrontational, apparently uncompromising, upholder of strict moral values, publicity-hungry and confident in the righteousness of ones cause. Good luck to him.

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