Sunday, July 19, 2009

Time to Resolve Impasse in the Police Force

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 19 July 2009, Page 38

The recent spate of violent crime, including car-jackings and abductions, has been so audacious that even the high and mighty have not been spared.
Cabinet ministers, MPs and ordinary citizens have been targeted almost equally, resulting in the ubiquitous protests from the political class about "rising insecurity" and the need to deal with the menace.

Prior to this crime surge, the police force had been under sustained attack from the human rights lobby over extrajudicial killings. A special rapporteur of the United Nations was even brought in to lend more weight to the campaign, and he recommended an overhaul of the leadership of the police and the establishment of a police oversight mechanism.

To spice things up some more, the government is contemplating merging the two competing police formations ­ the regular police and the administration police (AP).

A team has been going round the country collecting views from Kenyans concerning this issue, and it is clear that a lot of organisation has gone into lobbying for one side of the debate or the other. During some hearings, crowds have emerged with banners supporting one point of view as opposed to another.

This passionate discourse has even drawn senior leaders of the two competing groups, with the regular police boss seeming convinced that merging the two forces will enhance efficiency and reduce conflicts over chain of command, while the AP commandant holds a position diametrically opposed to this.

The rivalry between the two forces has resulted in serious incidents pitting regular police officers against their AP counterparts with disastrous consequences.

The clashes have taken place all over the country, and the aftermath has involved embarrassing scenes of senior officers accusing each other of masterminding crime and covering up investigations.

Obvious in all this is the fact that politicians have not wasted time taking sides in the argument. Those with axes to grind against the police commissioner have gone to town with demands that he steps aside, and some civil society groups have even identified individual officers for pillorying. In the usual Kenyan fashion, it is easy to see which side of the political chasm supports which force, although opinions become muddled when it comes to specifics including whether the two forces should be merged or not.

It may be powerfully argued that it is the involvement of politicians in the affairs of law enforcement that has resulted in the inertia in the police forces, and caused an escalation of the crime wave in various parts of the country.

Perceived political patronage has resulted in a standoff that could have been easily resolved through an administrative audit of the functions of the two police formations resulting in a determination on whether they are superfluous or complementary.

Instead, the country has been stattreated to the spectacle of two parallel police forces squaring it out in the glare of media publicity while the ranks of the criminal class continue to swell unabated.

Perhaps the most poignant reminder of the failure of police functions lies in the fact that today no politician, however junior in the scheme of things, can be arrested for a crime without causing partisan murmurs.

Last week, one politician loudly proclaimed at a public rally that Kenya "cannot be considered to be a failed state" even in the wildest imagination.

Well, to refresh his imagination, one of the key indicators of state failure is loss of control over large swathes of territory and state surrender of its monopoly of violence.
The apparent impotence of our police force in the face of widespread criminal activity leaves no doubt in our minds about who controls the instruments of violence in this country.

Instead of enforcing the law equally and without fear or favour as they are sworn to do, our police officers now have to look over their shoulders every time they arrest an offender, just in case he belongs to an opposing police formation or is in the pay of some political supremo.
The fact that these warlords can stop implementation of the law by threatening violence and nothing is done to chastise them just goes to further illustrate the extent of state failure in Somalia.

In the suburbs of Nairobi and other big towns across the country, there is emerging the concept of "neighbourhood watch", which is just a posh name for vigilante formations.

Ethnic militias complete the picture in the rural areas and urban slums and, unless something is done urgently, our slide to Somaliesque state failure is reaching a point of no state return.

To avoid this steady advance to anarchy, it is incumbent upon the government to sort out the mess in the police forces before it completely loses the ability to do so.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University's School of Medicine

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