A developing police state?

Men sprayed with machine gun fire. Police with sub-machine guns patrolling the streets on horseback. Checkpoints on every major highway. Armed escort for inter-city buses.

These are characteristics of a country either under occupation or a state of emergency. It could also imply a fearsome dictatorship. But these are the characteristics of today’s Kenya. But inspite of this high visibility of police, crime soars while political instability threatens to tear the country apart.

Kenya is said to have the highest deployment of armed police on the streets in East and Central Africa. Even countries that have experienced political instability, such as Rwanda and Uganda, do not have such a visible presence of police officers yet crime figures in those countries is much lower than in Kenya.

In the streets of Nairobi, there will be police with AK-47 on every intersection, including side steets. They will be supplemented by mounted police and City Council askaris. At strategic points around the city will be found truckloads of riot police ready to move into action at a moment’s notice. Each entry leading in our out of the Nairobi has checkpoints manned by more armed police.

Every matatu leaving Nairobi for the Rift Valley has to pass through Nairobi’s Central Police Station for luggage checks. At night, every bus heading to Western Kenya has to have its passengers and cargo holds searched for guns and contraband. Inspite of this, highway robberies are still common. In one case, a bus that had been searched in Eldoret was robbed just moments later.

The same situation is replicated in the countryside. Though the smaller towns have a lesser police presence, there still exist checkpoints at every highway leading in or out of the towns. Since January, because of the political situation, buses heading to certain parts of Western Kenya and the Rift Valley have required an armed escort. Which is ironical because until about five years ago, police escorts were required for such places as the North Eastern province and Northern Kenya. As it turns out, North Eastern Province today has less violence.

The police “War against Crime” has caused many deaths when the police claim to have killed “suspicious looking” characters. In many cases, its only the word of the police against a dead man. Theres usually no evidence other than the presence of a pistol and a few rounds of ammunition. In the past, police are known to have planted evidence against people they had shot. There have also been eye witness accounts of police executing suspects that were already lying on the ground.

The Kenya Police is headed by Major General Mohammed Hussein Ali. Poached from the army by President Mwai Kibaki in 2003, Gen Ali took over when the police was at its worst. Police patrols had ceased, there were hardly any police vehicles, and the public had little confidence in the police. It is Gen Ali that is responsible for the re-introduction of patrols and community policing. However, the bad old habits of summary executions, corruption and police connivance with criminals persist.

Sociologists say that with wide income inequalities, Kenya will continue investing more of its economic growth in the provision of security for the elite by seeking to suppress the majority of people living in poverty. In other words, instead of building roads, schools and hospitals, government revenue will instead go towards hiring more police and soldiers. Instead of supplying drugs and books and piped water, public funds will be used to buy guns, bullets and teargas.

This year, the police is set to recruit at least 10,000 young men and women. Meanwhile, recruitment in other government departments has been suspended indefinitely following a projected budgetary shortfall as a result of the post-elections crisis.

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