Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Don't be an idiot

I didn't know how to say this so I'm just going to say it the way it's going to be said. If you are one of those Kenyans who think militarising public services is a good thing, you're an idiot.

The history of policing in Kenya is the history of policing Black Kenyans. The elite make the rules; the hoi polloi follow the rules. The intention has always been to ensure that the working classes do as they are told, take the pittance they are given, suffer in silence, and suffer dire consequences should they dare to organise and fight for better things. The history of policing has been that of the police force being used to keep the working Kenyan down by any means necessary. The force may have been renamed a service by constitutional fiat, and its officers may have shiny new bright-blue uniforms, but the policing instincts that have stood the elite in good stead have not changed one bit.

There is a sad story in the interwebs, about a man who was accosted by policemen for not wearing a mask, fled from them, was hit by a matatu and died, occasioning an armed response from the police officers' colleagues, some in plain clothes and others in uniform, to "contain the situation". This incident reaffirms my fears that policing in Kenya is not intended to keep ordinary Kenyans - Wanjiku - safe. It is intended to  keep Wanjiku in her place - a place of subservience, obedience, terror.

One of my colleagues in the Bar once asked me on Twitter what the alternative was to the militarisation of public services during this pandemic, and I bantered with him that we should, abolish both the National Police Service and the Kenya Defence Forces. He couldn't see how a "national emergency" could be handled in any way other than under force of arms. It terrifies me that Kenyans who have read the law don't have the capacity to empathise with what ordinary Kenyans are going through and, therefore, imagine different ways of addressing the present challenge without resorting to violent police action.

I suggested to him, at the very least, that the Ministry of Health should give each policeman fifty surgical masks t be given to every Kenyan who doesn't have one. If each of Kenya's 100,000 policemen was given fifty masks to distribute, and each actually distributed the masks to Kenyans who needed them, that would be 5 million masks distributed. Instead of violently accosting and detaining vulnerable Kenyans, the police would have contributed strongly to the Government's efforts to control and suppress the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Instead, from the moment the police were asked to "assist" in "enforcing Covid-19 regulations", they approached their responsibilities as they have been trained to approach all Government directives: with a mindset that Wanjiku is a threat to national security and stability and She must be coerced into submission even if it means Her death, injury - and widespread fear and panic.

I don't understand how anyone can imagine that it is a good thing to hand even more coercive powers to governmental entities is a good thing. Members of the uniformed and disciplined forces are not trained in the messy realities of political negotiation. Not that the political and administrative classes have done a bang up job, but the solution is not to abandon the hard work of building up civilian institutions. The solution, or at least part of it, is to identify the areas where civilian action has shown promise and to build them up and share best practices arising from them. Men and women who are trained to obey without question the orders of their commanders-in-chief and commanding officers are ill-suited to the slow slog of persuading a large civilian population to adopt risk-mitigating measures in the middle of a slowing economy, wide-spread unemployment, diminishing wealth and personal savings, and the terror of an unknown future.

So I'll say tis again. If you think militarising public services is a good thing, you are an idiot.

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