Friday, January 19, 2007



Our Kenyan policemen are an endangered species, they are being gunned down by the thugs like targets at a shooting range. At this rate we may soon be setting up another force to protect the police from the thugs.

Two weeks ago five policemen were gunned down in line of duty, while escorting cash to Nakuru. A sixth one going to their rescue met a similar fate. Hardly a week later, another policeman was fatally shot, with others sustaining bullet wounds, in a vehicle while intercepting escaping thugs. The thugs escaped after shooting at another vehicle full of policemen further down the road. The other day, policemen responding to a distress call, after some thugs set up a roadblock and robbed motorists around Langata, were met with a hail of bullets and were lucky to escape any fatalities. Nairobi is not Baghdad nor is Kenya Iraq where indiscriminate killing is the order of the day.

In the past, the Kenyan police has been ridiculed and blamed for lack of rapid and efficient response to distress calls. Now it seems their response, though rapid is disconcerted, haphazard and seemingly dangerous to them. The death of a policeman in line of duty, especially in America is a solemn occasion. Should an officer be fatally shot by a criminal, the wrath of the force is unprecedented on the criminal world. The criminals in Kenya have learnt not to fear the police force. They are traversing the country robbing banks and cash in transit in scenes reminiscent of the Wild West. Other quasi-criminal groups and gangs have taken over some sections of the city and other major towns, levying tolls and protection money. Most of the ordinary wananchi do not bother to report crimes or if they do it is just a formality, they expect little or no response. There has been a growing discordant between the police and the people. That is perhaps why the death of the policemen is taken like just another ‘bahati mbaya’ (bad luck) and life continues. The wrath, agony, anguishes and apprehension normally associated with such brutality was largely lacking among the general population and even among senior police ranks, measured by their public utterance and assurance.

The police force has been misused in the past to brutalize and terrorize the very people it is supposed to protect. This has not earned the force goodwill from the people. Some policemen have formed some alliances with the underworld, harboring them from the law and benefiting from the criminal earnings of the thugs. Some of the notorious thugs and most wanted criminals are former policemen. To some serving policemen, their uniform is just a job and their heart is not in the profession. These must be weeded out for they not only demoralize the professionals but also put them in peril while on patrol.

The government is not blameless, as the resources for the police to carry out their duties efficiently have been lacking. The basic rights of an employee have been denied the police force for long. Adequate housing is essential especially where the employer demands the employee live at the workstation. Githunguri police station in Kiambu, for example, was among the last projects completed by the colonial government before independence, since then there has not been a single building or residential quarter added at the station. Yet, the number of policemen at the station has more than tripled leading to congestion and sharing by multiple families facilities and accommodation originally meant for single officers . The policemen and women are not secondary school kids to live in open dormitories. Nor should we subject families to abuse of their privacy. If we must have them living on the station let us house them adequately. A demoralized army is a sure candidate for defeat.

The criminals know the demoralized and unmotivated nature of our police force they prey on this and exploit their inability to respond rapidly. It is unforgivable in this day and age that police two-way radios are not standard equipment for every policeman. Policemen on the beat should be in constanct contact with their station which is receiving calls from the people and be directed where they are most needed. Waiting untill they walk back to the station to be dispatched again is closing the gate after the horse has bolted out. We may not have reached the level of the American police force where every policeman has a vehicle or motorbike, but we are too late if we cannot equip every station with an operable vehicle. The Land Rovers may be ideal in the rural terrain where the roads are impassable, but there is no justification in having them chasing criminal in the city, this is an operations vehicle. I am sure there have been off duty policemen or even plainclothes ones on duty who have fallen victims to matatu hijackings. They were as helpless as the other passengers because they did not have any arms with them or even communication equipment. Empowerment entails provision of correct and adequate tools to perform your responsibilities. The G3s may be ideal for long range tactical firing but are nothing but cumbersome inside the confines of a car. To combat crime you have to think like the criminal otherwise you will always be outsmarted.

We have witnessed the police force being mobilized in large numbers to stop demonstrations and even line up the presidential routes. Let us see the same vigor and versatility being applied in the hunt and apprehension of those that are making the towns and the entire country unsafe. The biggest fear for the majority of Kenyans overseas on visiting home is insecurity. Majority of Kenyans at home say insecurity is an area the Kibaki government has not delivered. When people cannot walk freely, when banks cannot guarantee their employees’ safety, when businessmen cannot guarantee the safety of their daily takings, when police escorts are not immune from banditry, then something is drastically wrong. The police must turn the tide against these criminals. To do this the government must give them the necessary tools, morale, training, empowerment and motivation to carry out their duties. The police must earn the respect of the people they serve through duty and service not extortion and blatant braggadocio. If the police force cannot protect itself from the criminals, who will protect the poor mwananchi?

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