Friday, December 16, 2016

Is it worth the money?

Of what use is the Administration Police? Why do we still have a paramilitary police force when it is no longer under the command of chiefs, sub-chiefs, DCs or DOs?

Clause 17 of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution reads thus,
Within five years after the effective date, the national government shall restructure the system of administration commonly known as the provincial administration to accord with and respect the system of devolved government established under the Constitution.
The provincial administration was not established by law; it simply came into being during the colonial era as the colonial government set out to administer the territory it formally proclaimed as Kenya when it became a colony. Among the offices the colonial government established were the District Commissioner and the District Officer which almost exclusively occupied by Caucasian British settlers or representatives of the colonial government seconded from London.

DCs and DOs were assisted by chiefs, assistant chiefs and village headmen to administer the territories under their jurisdiction. This administrative system made it easier to collect revenue (which was their principal job) and adjudicate disputes (which is how so many chiefs came to be unofficial magistrates after Independence). To enforce the colonial government’s law, these administrators were backed up by the Home Guard and, especially after 1963, the Administration Police Force which had formally came into being through the Administration Police Act, enacted in 1958 in the dying months of the Mau Mau rebellion.

Kenya had, therefore, two police forces: the Kenya Police Force, also known as the “regular” police and the Administration Police. (Within the Kenya Police were to be found Special Branch, which gathered “political” intelligence; the General Service Unit, a highly trained paramilitary force that acted as the President’s bodyguard among other sensitive assignments, the Anti-Stock Theft Unit, another paramilitary force tasked with policing cattle rustling among Kenya’s nomadic communities, and the Kenya Police Reserves, armed civilians who enforced the law in areas where it was uneconomical to deploy the regular police or, as in the case of Patrick Shaw, who acted as laws-unto-themselves in keeping the stayed-behind British settlers safe against Black violent robbers.)

The provincial administration, and the Administration Police, together with the Special Branch became the principal tools in the suppression of anti-party activities, especially after 1969. During President Moi’s reign, the provincial administration was a key provider of anti-party and anti-government intelligence while it was the Special Branch that was used to suppress sedition and punish pro-democracy zealots such as the so-called Seven Bearded Sisters (Abuya Abuya, James Orengo, Chelagat Mutai, Chebule wa Tsuma, Mwashengu wa Mwachofu, Lawrence Sifuna and Koigi Wamwere), many of whom were harassed, tortured, detained without trial and exiled from Kenya.

In the ratification of the Harmonised Draft Constitution in 2010, Kenyans had evinced a strong desire to strike at the heart of the provincial administration by cutting the Administration Police down to size. In the period between Mwai Kibaki’s 2002 presidential election victory and the 2007/2008 political crisis, the Administration Police thrived. It rivalled the regular police in equipment and funding, and in certain respects, it matched the power of the regular police. Its essential nature had not changed; it remained the President’s principal tool to suppress all political opposition. Indeed it had had become so powerful that during the deliberations of the Committee of Experts, it made it known that it would continue to exist as part of the national security apparatus. The CoE was inclined to fight it tooth and nail; the political classes were not, hence the anodyne and wishy-washy clause 17 of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution. Kenyans, as always, got the short end of the stick.

The provincial administration and the Administration Police are some of the longest surviving relics of the colonial era. Even the manner of the recruitment of the Administration Police officers is redolent with the detritus of a colonist’s mindset that emphasised blind loyalty and obedience regardless of the cost. APs remain a key tool in the terrorisation of Kenyans in non-urban areas though, with the placing of the APs under the same command as the regular police, their malign presence is now to be felt in urban centres too. The ill-judged and ill-timed police reforms task force headed did not do much to shake the APs loose from their pre-Independence malevolent nature.

In recent years it has become apparent that letting loose the dogs of war wasn’t such a smart idea. There was a wave between 2005 and 2007 when APs, charged with escorting cash consignments from and between banks, colluded with robbers to rob the Cash-in-Transit vans of their loot. It was also the same period in which many AP officers were implicated in some of the most gruesome acts of extra-judicial killings by the police highlighted by a UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial Killings or Arbitrary Executions, Philip Alston. (The position of UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial Killings, ironically, was formerly held by Kenya’s Attorney-General at the time, Amos Wako, who had proven difficult to work with during the investigation by Mr Alston.)

Today, the APs face an increasing number of cases in which AP officers turn their weapons on their superiors or commit suicide or both. Especially after 2002, the APs would always be an anachronism but because Kenya’s presidents have traditionally been extremely paranoid, they have always gone along with the idea that APs should never ever be abandoned. In an increasingly complex world in which trade defines many relationships, the continued existence of the APs as other than a border security force defies logic. It is time Kenyans asked whether it is worth the money to keep an armed, forty-thousand-man-strong paramilitary force with a record of murder.

(This post was originally published in

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