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.
It gets worse: recruitment of 50,000 police in the next two years. Massive government spending on tanks, guns, helicopters, patrol boats and patrol cars. Mandatory registration of mobile phones. Very soon: registration will be required for all internet users.
Kenya has 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.
On the streets of Nairobi, police with AK-47 stand guard at every intersection, including side steets. There are uncountable numbers of plain clothes police supplemented by mounted police and City Council askaris.
At all major roundabouts leading into and out of the city centre will be found truckloads of riot police ready to move into action at a moment’s notice. All highways leading into Nairobi have checkpoints each with dozens of heavily armed police.
The same situation is replicated in the countryside. Though the smaller towns have a lesser police presence, there still exist checkpoints at every highway.
The War against Crime has resulted many deaths both on the side of police and among civilians. In the past month alone, more than a dozen police officers have been killed in the line of duty. On the other hand, elite police squads have shot people simply for “behaving suspiciously.” In many cases, its only the word of the police against a dead man.
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: street patrols had ceased, vehicles were grounded for lack of spares and the public had little confidence in the force. Gen Ali re-introduced patrols and popularized community policing. However, the old habits of summary execution, corruption and police connivance with criminals persist and may even have seen a resurgence since 2008.
With wide income inequalities, Kenya will continue investing more of its scarce resources in providing security for its elite amidst growing resentment from the majority of the population living in squalor. In other words, instead of building roads, schools and hospitals, government revenue is instead going into hiring more police and soldiers. Instead of supplying medicine, books and piped water, public funds are buying guns, bullets and teargas.
Yesterday, President Mwai Kibaki directed that all mobile phones in Kenya be registered by the end of the year. This, he said, is to enable the police apprehend fraudsters and extortionists. Critics are reading sinister motives because mobile phones were extensively used to disseminate campaign messages by Kibaki’s opponents in the 2007 elections. Mobile phone text messages relayed election results far ahead of the state electoral body.
Mobile phone providers, Safaricom and Zain, have said the move to register mobile phone subscribers will not make a difference in the fight against crime. “The issue of subscriber registration has been over-simplified by the political class and, in itself, it is not a panacea for addressing rising incidents of crime,” said Safaricom CEO Michael Joseph.
And in a bid to control the thought and political conscience of Kenyans, the government is secretly creating a new broadcast monopoly through the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation by exploiting the worldwide transition from analogue broadcasting to digital broadcasting.
According to the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK), the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) will be the only authorized digital broadcaster for the country. Anybody else wishing to operate a private radio or television station will be required to channel their signal through KBC.
It is becoming rather obvious that there exist elements in Kenya who wish to turn the country into a totalitarian state, where freedom and dissent is crushed mercilessly. It is up to all Kenyans to uphold the democratic rights of everybody else in order to guarantee our future liberties.
Patrol car photo by Kiplagat
Filed under: Analysis, News Tagged: | administration police, extra judicial killings, george saitoti, human rights abuses, kenya, kenya police, kinuthia mbugua, major general mohammed hussein ali, mungiki, mwai kibaki, nairobi, Philip Alston, torture