Major General Mohammed Hussein Ali is, without doubt, the most effective police chief Kenya has seen in a long time.
When he got the job back in 2003, the Kenya Police had practically ceased funtioning as an institution. While there is currently lots of talk about police reforms, the situation back then was extremely bad.
Police patrols had stopped. There were no vehicles as most lay grounded in government yards across the country. The few police stations with vehicles did not have money for fuel. Police housing was in a deplorable state. The police command was not working thanks to corruption, under-funding, political interference and plain incompetence.
Crime was at an all time high, as Kenyans got used to car-jackings, robberies, burglaries, cattle rustling and political violence. There seemed little that anybody could do about it, as the Police Commissioner’s office became a revolving door of top cops leaving in frustration.
Critics of Ali would argue that nothing much has changed. For sure, Kenya still experiences a relatively higher crime level compared to similar countries in the region. Robberies, burglaries, cattle rustling and political violence plague the nation. Memories of the 2007 – 2008 political and ethnic clashes are fresh in the minds of many, and have provided ample ammunition for Ali’s critics who describe him as a failure because of the bloodshed.
Police housing has only witnessed a marginal improvement despite billions invested in new units. It seems there was such a huge backlog of housing that it will be a long time before police officers can live in comfort.
However, the problems of crime, cattle rustling, political violence and ethnic militias are a result of structural problems in Kenyan society and should not be blamed on one man. Indeed, some of Ali’s critics have been implicated in the violence that left over 1,500 people dead after the 2007 elections.
Crime is caused by a growing youthful population that cannot find enough jobs, and therefore joins criminal gangs to gain psychological and financial security. This is why groups like Mungiki and others exist. Extreme income inequalities between Kenya’s elite and the majority poor have worsened the bitterness felt by disenfranchised youth.
Cattle rustling is a result of competition for pasture and water mostly in the arid and semi arid areas of Kenya. Since communities see little chance of growing their herds in the face of climate change, the obvious solution is to raid their neighbours for more livestock. Politicians have worsened cattle rustling by either inciting their constituents or defending them from arrest.
Political violence is another structural failure in Kenya that Maj Gen Ali could not solve. Politicians and their parties are quick to play the ethnic card whenever they are arrested for criminal activity. They make it seem as though their tribe is under attack.
Without comprehensive reforms in Kenya’s political, economic and social dimensions, no police commissioner can salvage the situation.
Nevertheless, Maj Gen Ali did his best. Under his six year tenure, Ali re-introduced police patrols across the country. He re-equipped the police force with new patrol vehicles and trucks. He helped supply officers with modern policing equipment. He increased the recruitment of police officers as part of a long-term revitalization strategy. He improved the flow of information between the police and the public, with the best highlight being a video on the Mount Elgon operations against the Sabaot Land Defence Force.
Maj Gen Ali was a no-nonsense police chief who believed in using all available means to get the job done. For this reason, he got in trouble with the international community for ordering the abduction and execution of thousands of people in 2006 as part of the “War against Mungiki.” This will remain a blot on Ali’s career. (Search the Nairobi Chronicle for articles on extra judicial killings)
It is unfortunate that Ali’s tenure at the helm of the police force has become victim to the Kibaki – Raila and Grand Coalition Government political intrigues. Kenyans are wondering how far politicians will go to destroy the country’s vital institutions for purely selfish reasons.
For sure, the new police chief has a tough job living up to the standards of his predecessor. Mathew Iteere has an even tougher job living up to the expectations of politicians and their demagoguery.