Monday, November 15, 2021

Of feral cats and police reforms

What one chooses to remember about the Kenya Police of the 1980s and 1990s is determined by how forgiving ones amnesia is. When I went to boarding school for my secondary school, like many teenage boys of my time, I knew well enough not to be accosted by police in the evening. Whether or not I was innocent, in uniform or dire medical distress (which happened frequently), if they ran into you at any time after 7 p.m., you would rue the day you stepped foot outside your school for anything than a fully chaperoned excursion in the company of a teacher. One of my friends never recovered from the violent assault he suffered at the hands of the police.

It was only years later when John Michuki admitted that the police were a tool for the control and oppression of the politically recalcitrant that it finally dawned on me that the directive to instil "discipline" in all Kenyans came from the top that I started to understand why "reforms" would always fail if the hand holding the political trigger was disinterested in police reforms. Mr Michuki certainly though the Ransley Commission report to be a complete waste of time - and so has every single one of his successors.

When the infant Pendo was killed by policemen, it was only the sustained public outcry that led to their arrest and prosecution, But four years after the trial began, the prosecution is yet to close its case. If it wasn't for the sustained public outcry that ensued, Benson Njiru's and Emmanuel Mutura's unexplained deaths at the hands of police would not have been investigated and their killers would not have been arrested and prosecuted. Four months after the two brothers were killed, no one is sure that the six police charged with their murder will ever be convicted. Five years after Willie Kimani, his client Josphat Mwenda and their driver Joseph Muiruri were abducted, tortured and murdered by policemen, we are only at the case-to-answer stage of the criminal trial, a trial where the police have stonewalled all the way.

From the moment we promulgated the new constitution, we have only paid lip service to police reforms. It is clear that the hands that hold the police's leash are loath to let go; the National Police Service Commission is powerful on paper and toothless in reality. The Independent Policing Oversight Authority is a pale imitation of a civilian oversight agency of policemen. The Internal Affairs Unit is renown for keeping a studious low profile. None of the cosmetic changes to police oversight and police leadership has demonstrably altered the fundamental nature of Kenya's police. The key to the state of affairs can be found in the stubborn unwillingness of the civilian authorities to implement and enforce the required reforms. This stubbornness is reflected in how they deploy policing resources, not for the safety of the people, but for the purpose of intimidating and controlling the people.

Policemen and policewomen are humans, parents, siblings, friends, children, grandchildren and members of the communities they hail from and reside in. As individuals, they are simultaneously victims and perpetrators of great inequality and unspeakable crimes. As an institution, the police forces are weapons of intimidation, fear, human rights abuse and great corruption and crime. It's been eleven years since we promulgated a new constitution, and things have not changed at all. Police continue to murder and solicit bribes with impunity. Isn't it time to admit that tinkering with the mechanics of policing - laws, rules and regulations, standing orders and standard operating procedures - misses the forest for the trees? The police and police institutions are not the problem. The problem is the political and civilian authorities. They are the ones in need of reform. Who will bell this feral cat?

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