Politicalisation of the police

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Kevin Motaroki

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s contempt, disdain and distaste for the Judiciary did not begin last month when he vowed to disregard court orders requiring his government to increase teachers’ basic pay by up to 60 per cent. If one were to limit oneself to the period he has been Head of State, one easily traces his scorn for due process and rule of law to the 2013 General Election when the Opposition Cord petitioned the Supreme Court to nullify his election for what it said were gross election irregularities.

As the country waited with bated breath for the Court’s verdict, Uhuru, while addressing a retreat of elected Members of Parliament in March 2013, infamously referred to the Supreme Court judges as “some six people” who he expected to “decide something”. Of course, he later apologised but the tone of how he would henceforth interact with the Judiciary had been set.

In April this year, in the knee-jerk way of reacting to issues, the President ordered the Inspector-General of Police Joseph Boinnet to begin training 10,000 youth who had received letters of admission after an exercise to hire police recruits. His remarks, made after the terrorist attack on the Garissa University College in which about 150, mostly students, died, wouldn’t have created the furore they did but for the little fact that the High Court had nullified a police recruitment exercise in August 2014, which had been traited by irregularities. In a rejoinder, the National Police Service Commission gave a directive overruling the president’s decision, forcing the Head of State to eventually back down.

Since the time of founding President Jomo Kenyatta, the police force – for that is what it is – has always been an appendage of the State to intimidate political opponents, just like happens in many places on the continent. Founding President Jomo Kenyatta used the police to silence Kadu leaders, and Daniel Moi used it to harass, detain and torture political rivals – the history and story of the infamous Nyayo House torture chambers is well documented. During President Mwai Kibaki’s tenure, mass disappearances of Mungiki leaders and members, as well as countless terror suspects, whose bodies and body parts would be later discovered in different parts of the country were a common tale. It is a trend that has continued in Uhuru’s reign.

During a Saba Saba rally organised by Cord at Uhuru Park last year, government put immense pressure on the Opposition to call off the rally, which it said had the potential to cause violence. As many will remember, the High Court issued orders cited Cord leader Raila Odinga, whom it said would be responsible for any chaos that might proceed from the rally. Indeed, mainstream media chose not to cover the rally, covertly supporting government position that sought to curtail the freedoms of association and expression. Odinga was to note later that the media blackout during the rally had been planned by military chiefs, who met all media owners and prevailed upon them not to air the “incitement” rally. Also reading mischief in the happenings, a message that “President Jomo Kenyatta had used regular police, Moi GSU, Kibaki AP and Uhuru the military to intimidate opponents” went viral on social media.

Historically, the leadership of the police has been manipulated to suit political and tribal preferences, at the expense of professionalism. Charles Hornsby in “Kenya: A history since independence”, tracing the history and character of the country’s police and military chiefs, notes the State’s ethnic bias. He writes:

“…The Kikuyu insiders who had been appointed between 1964 and 1967 continued to lead the security services until Kenyatta’s death. The most senior Luo, CID head Peter Okola, was replaced in 1973 by another Kikuyu, Ignatius Nderi from Nyeri, another colonial police officer and son of a senior chief. Nderi, (James) Kanyotu and (Ben) Gethi (head of GSU) all built close working relationship with the increasingly powerful Njonjo, who straddled the police, the legal fraternity, the civil service and politics. It was a conservative, pro-British and ethnically chauvinist group…”

Hornsby’s observations explain how Kanyotu, a Kikuyu, who headed the Special Branch from 1965-1991, was able to survive and thrive under Moi, an ethnic Kalenjin. Moi was politically moulded and seasoned by Njonjo as Attorney-General, who was uncomfortable with the Mount Kenya Mafia having one of their own in State House. When Kanyotu retired, just as multi-party democracy was peaking, he was replaced by William Kivuvani. Kivuvani had been instrumental in securing Moi’ place at State House after the passing on Mzee Kenyatta in 1978 – he was privy to plans to block and detain him before he reached State House. Once Kanyotu retired, Moi had a favour to return, which he did by securing Kivuvani’s appointment. The pattern did not change in subsequent appointments after Kivuvani – Brigadier Wilson Boinnet hailed from the same ethnic background as Moi, Major-General Michael Gichangi, an ethnic Kikuyu who replaced Boinnet in 2006 – he would prove instrumental to Kibaki’s claim to a second term after the botched 2007 General Election, and Major-General Philip Kameru, Gichangi’s replacement under President Uhuru Kenyatta – political patronage played a major role.

Things have been no different at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (previously the Criminal Investigation Department), currently headed by Ndegwa Muhoro since August 2010. Muhoro was appointed after the death of Simon Karanja in May 2010. Before Karanja was Joseph Kamau, who served until 2006; Kamau was suspended in 2006 after inquiries into the February 2006 police raid at Standard Group headquarters, tied to the saga of the Artur brothers, said to have coordinated and led the raid. Noah arap Too, from whom Kamau took over, served as CID Director from 1984 to 1999. Before Too was Ignatius Nderi, who had served since before Moi became President.

Historically, Kenyan police have been used to harass, detain, torture and subjugate government critics – individuals and corporates, such as the Standard Group – and have been central to the survival of every regime since independence. The atrocities committed under both the CID and NIS have been immortalised in Kenya’s most infamous years – President Moi’s 24-year reign of iron – and those of Kenyatta before him. After Moi, subsequent governments have used the veil of terrorism to advance what appears to be a continuation of the dark days.

In 2006, The Standard newspaper ran a story claiming that President Mwai Kibaki had held a secret meeting with then Mwingi North MP Kalonzo Musyoka, and a former member of the Kibaki Cabinet who was sacked after he campaigned against a government-supported draft constitution in 2005; government suffered a devastating defeat in the referendum vote that divided Cabinet. At the meeting, it was claimed, Musyoka was promised a position as Kibaki’s vice president if he supported government agenda and broke ranks with the Opposition.

It was after this raid that Artur Margaryan and Artur Sargasyan linked to politician and current Othaya MP Mary Wambui’s daughter Winnie was publicised. Then CID director Kamau was said to have frustrated every effort by then Police Commissioner Mohamed Ali to arrest and charge the foreign mercenaries.

The question then is how the very engine of the police in crime busting – for that is what the Directorate of Criminal Investigation and the National Intelligence Service are – is supposed to be reformed and professionalised when the appointment of their leaderships are scored by political correctness?

Security experts attribute rising lawlessness in the country to the unwillingness of intelligence organs to carry out effective investigations into crime – which informs the inability by the police to stop crime. Major (Rtd) Bashir Abdullah, who runs Vicker Security Limited, says the situation is grim, which he attributes to a number of factors.

“The problems that police face can be summarised into two words: political interference. Those at the top are politically connected, which means that the resources they oversee end at the top. We have an underpaid, overworked, unappreciated police service that is not motivated to do its job. Police reforms, which began in 2004, envisaged an efficient, transparent and accountable Police Service whose goal is the safety and well-being of the citizens. Granted, all the institutions required to implement the reforms are already in place but the acceptance culture by the members of the Police is at all-time low. Our policing culture needs real time improvement. Mistrust – between the ranks and between police and citizens – still exists.”

The DCI is constituted as a specialised unit within the police service whose officers regular police officers lament, has personnel that feels superior to normal police. This has created bad blood between the departments, where the one loathes the other and lords over it. In fact, it is the case that in every police division, there is a Divisional Criminal Investigations Officer, who is supposed to report to the Officer Commanding Police Division. This is not, however, the case; almost across board, the DCIOs bypass this chain of command and report directly to their superiors, which poses a headache in reconciling crime investigation with prevention, as well as unprecedented accountability challenges. Major Abdullah explains:

“Administratively, DCI falls under the Kenya Police, but its operations are supposed to be independent. Most of its personnel are drawn from the Kenya Police, hence the historical attachment with the regular police. Before the Police reforms were initiated and the NPS Act came into being, the relationship between the two was not an issue as the structures were well understood. However, with the creation of DCI, the relationship became decidedly strained, especially between senior officers. There is a silent rift between the Deputy Inspector-General Kenya Police and Director, DCI, on issues of reporting, budgeting, and so on. If this is not ironed out as a matter of priority, it could degenerate into a situation where they don’t see eye to eye.”

The reforms proper began in 2011 with the Publication of the National Police Service Act of 2011, which saw the transformation of the Police “force” into the National Police Service, which brought together regular and Administration Police into one service. With the Act also came a number of other institutions like the National Police Service Commission and the Independent Police Oversight Authority. These institutions have seen an increase in police numbers, community policing structures, and gender and special cases desks introduced in most of police Stations.

“But while the foundation for police reforms is in place, notes Abdullah, “no meaningful upward movement from the foundation level has been achieved. For example, the increase in number of police personnel has not translated to a decrease in crime levels/insecurity. Community policing has not taken root because of the age-old mistrust local communities have towards the police. In essence, the police are still a reactive force rather than a community-service one.”

It has long been held that the police have been acculturated to work for the political elite, at the expense of the needs and well-being of the hoi polloi. The effect has been that, unable to trust the police to protect them, citizens have resorted to taking matters into their hands – sometimes including killing – to settle scores.

Recently, the public was left in consternation when more than four directors of the Kihiu Mwiri Sacco were murdered, for which sixteen of its directors were charged. The unofficial explanation was that some directors had been locked out of the running of the sacco, and had tried to get authorities to act to secure their investment. When that did not work, members from among the ranks of shareholders decided to settle scores their own way. But Kihiu Mwiri is not alone; there has been Mbo-i-Kamiti, the Kiambu Dandora Farmers Company Limited, and Embakasi Ranching Co. Ltd. Because of overt favouring of some parties, or shoddy investigations conducted owing to political interests, people have been pushed to the edge where they take the law into their hands. In some instances, politicians have been implicated for orchestrating the murders, but because they are politically connected, they often get away with their crimes.

Some of the reforms envisaged, such as better policing culture, eliminating graft, people-friendly police stations, and the forging of partnerships with other stakeholders are not yet in place. The notion that it is now a police “service” as opposed to “force” is a fallacy. Citizens, through social media and complaints to the Commission on Administrative Justice, still complain of manhandling by police officers and security agents. Police stations still look like the facilities that colonisers used to hold Mau Mau, which is what could have prompted Inspector-General Joseph Boinnet to direct officers commanding stations to ensure police stations are clean.

The role and mandate of the NPSC has also been recently put into disrepute with the amendment that gave the Executive powers to appoint the Inspector-General and his/her Deputies. So, what is the role of the Commission on appointment and recruitment of senior police officers?

Is there a way forward?

Efforts to get the commission to respond, via verbal and e-mail correspondence, to these issues were futile – at least by the time of going to press. At the DCI headquarters in Kiambu, the official response was to write a letter to the Director’s office and await a response. In fact, not only was the NPSC unwilling to respond; this writer was told to “go seek answers from the Inspector-General’s office”. And so he did.

The Inspector-General’s office was more forthcoming. Engineer JP Ochieng’ is the director in charge of National Police Service Reforms. Ochieng takes a cautious approach to the entire issue, starting off with the idea that in his very brief stint at the Service, he has drawn a transformation framework, which aims to establish public perception of the NPS first before he can determine where to begin.

“I understand there are perceptions, some of them justified, about how unprofessional some personnel are. For example, the concern that there is tension between the DCI and the regular police is not entirely untrue. But that is a matter to do with the existing policing culture, which is what we want to change,” he avers.

His mission, he says, is to create an environment where police officers go beyond giving service, and endeavour to infuse quality in executing their duties. For the purpose of attaining wholesome transformation, we are working with various stakeholders, including the NPSC, which is tasked with formulating the Service’s human resource strategy.

“My office, under the guidance of the IG, is working on a transformation framework to create people-centred policing – which is the broad objective that will then be cascaded down to station level. We are currently conducting a survey, which involves getting the views of the public, to determine salient issues to be tackled as a matter of priority.^

1 COMMENT

  1. I was hoping the article would cover the recently introduced Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill which among others:
    1. Does away with the tenure of office of the Director of the DCI, and the Deputy IGs;
    2. Introduces arbitrary dismissal of all the above office holders at the discretion of the president;
    3. Does away with the detailed statutory qualifications of prospective Directors of DCI;
    4. Does away with the statutory recruitment procedure for the Deputy IGs;
    5. Does away with the tenure of office of the Chairman and board of IPOA;
    6. Introduces arbitrary dismissal of the chairman and board of IPOA

    This is a good reflection of contemporary attempts at politicalisation of the police service.

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