Ali: a very effective police boss

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.

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No mercy for rights abusers

As ordinary soldiers and police are arrested for crimes committed 30 years ago, it is becoming clear that there will be no mercy for abusers of human rights. This has clear implications for Kenya’s security forces who are blamed for the disappearances of thousands of people since 2006.

Former police driver, Bernard Kiriinya, seen here in this video grab from a testimony he made to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.

Former police driver, Bernard Kiriinya, seen here in this video grab from a testimony he made to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.

According to the BBC, a judge in Chile has issued arrest warrants for 129 people for allegedly helping to purge critics of former ruler General Augusto Pinochet. They are accused of taking part in killings and disappearances of dozens of leftists and opposition activists mostly in the 1970s.

The suspects – the largest group so far to face arrest warrants – all worked for the secret police agency, Dina. Many of those named in the arrest warrants are former low-ranking officers who were previously excluded from prosecution for Gen Pinochet’s human rights abuses.

Thousands of activists were killed or disappeared during the 1973-1990 rule of Gen Pinochet, who died in 2006 while awaiting trial.

The arrest warrants cited various Dina operations to track down Pinochet’s opponents, such as Operation Condor – a long-running campaign launched in the mid-1970s to hunt down and kill left-wingers. Condor was a continent-wide operation, also backed by the rulers of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay.

These are good news for human rights activists in Kenya, who have for long condemned Kenya Police and security forces tactics of abducting people, torturing, then making them ‘disappear.’ It just proves that, someday, the perpetrators of human rights abuses will have to account for their deeds.

There is ample evidence linking the Kenyan government to human rights abuses. United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston released a report early this year accusing the police of human rights violations, including killing people without following due process. The Kenyan National Human Rights Commission,  itself a State body, has implicated police officers and their commanders in heinous crimes against humanity.

By far the worst evidence comes from a former police officer who confessed to participating in what can only be described as an orgy of butchering human beings.

Bernard Kiriinya, a former driver in a police death squad, told the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights that police officers abducted people from homes, roadsides and restaurants. The victims were taken to isolated locations where they were shot dead and the bodies chopped into pieces.

The bodies of the victims were deliberately disfigured with rungus and pangas to conceal their identity. This explains why hundreds of people are listed as missing even though their bodies may be lying in mortuaries across the country.

To what extent was the police command involved? Kiriinya said that Police Commissioner Mohammed Hussein Ali and senior commanders were fully briefed on the activities of police death squads. Officers who were involved in killings regularly received cash payments ranging from Kshs 2,000 (US$25) to Kshs15,000 ($187) for each successful “assignment.”

Police officers outside of the death squads were not spared either. At one time, a Constable hiked a lift in a police Land Rover that was ferrying four Mungiki suspects to Murang’a. On arrival, the four suspects were ordered to get out and lie on their bellies where afterwards they were shot. The innocent constable was also killed in order to conceal the executions.

Unfortunately, Bernard Kiriinya is no longer available to produce further evidence. He was shot and killed in Nairobi soon after his testimony. The gunmen have never been caught. However, the tapes he left behind prove that truth will always defeat evil. Read more of his testimony by clicking here.

The events in Chile, coupled with an increasingly assertive International Criminal Court, means that violations of human rights can never be forgotten. It may take ten years, perhaps twenty years, or maybe even thirty years, but justice will sooner or later catch up with the guilty parties.

Building a 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.

A police patrol car in the country side.

A new police patrol car in the country side.

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.

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Patrol car photo by Kiplagat

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Mungiki: government promises more of the same

In its first cabinet meeting in more than a month, the Kenyan government vowed to crush the Mungiki sect especially in the sect’s strongholds in the Central Province and Rift Valley.

Paramilitary police from the Rapid Deployment Unit in an anti-Mungiki patrol in Nyeri. Picture by the Daily Nation.

Paramilitary police from the Rapid Deployment Unit in an anti-Mungiki patrol in Nyeri. Picture by the Daily Nation.

Following the cabinet decision, paramilitary police were deployed onto the streets of towns where Mungiki has a huge presence.

Analysts however say that the government is intensifying its war against Mungiki without a significant change in strategy. There will be greater use of such tactics as arresting suspected members and assassinating its leaders despite international criticism of illegal killings by the Kenyan Police.

There is very little talk about the political and social measures that will draw the mostly youthful membership of Mungiki into a constructive engagment with civilized society.

The government’s war on Mungiki has drawn more recruits into the secretive organization than before. Hardly a day goes by without police breaking up a Mungiki oathing ceremony. For every oathing ceremony detected by police, there could be many others that the police did not know about.

Though the Mungiki engages in criminal activity, its existence and continued persistence is a result of social and economic factors affecting the youth.

Economically, youth are the most disadvantaged in Kenya. They are the most affected by unemployment. They do not own property and therefore cannot invest in viable business. A recent study on small scale farms found that they are mostly owned by the over 50 age group. Young farmers are frustrated by co-operative societies dominated by men well past their prime.

Socially, the youth feel isolated from national political discourse. Young people feel ignored even within families, within the community set up and in the church. Contrary to what the country’s politicians believe, having young leaders will not quieten the Mungiki phenomenon. It is the introduction and implementation of new ideas that will drive the country forward and help create opportunities for the youth.

Feelings of disempowerment and isolation make groups like Mungiki very attractive. Gangs create a sense of purpose and belonging that every human being craves. Mungiki provides a basic social net for its members, who regard themselves as one big family. It provides social grounding to a dispossessed and angry youth and helps them to comprehend the difficult circumstances they find themselves in.

Instead of the government devising a creative, inclusive and long-term solution, it attacks the millions of poor and excluded youth with guns, jail terms and torture. By doing so, the government is confirming what the poor believe about it: that it is a tool of oppression used by the rich to suppress the poor.

The solution to the Mungiki menace should come with the admission that there are serious social, economic and political problems in Kenya. Mungiki is not a problem confined only to the Kikuyu. Other communities in Kenya have their own gangs created by the same circumstances that led to the growth of Mungiki. The difference between Mungiki and gangs from other communities is simply the scale of organization. Mungiki has been around for longer and this has given it a head start.

The Kisii have gangs like Abachuma and Sungu Sungu. The Kamba have localized gangs around the Machakos area that have made life a living hell for the affluent. At the Kenyan Coast, disaffected youth are joining movements whose ultimate objective is to secede from the rest of Kenya. In Northern Kenya, youth are joining cattle rustling gangs, while North Eastern Kenya is providing recruits for militant groups fighting in Somalia.

Assuming the government wins the war on Mungiki, will it apply the same methods against other communities in Kenya? And what will be the consequences?

Most unpopular president on earth

Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki probably ranks as the most unpopular head of state on earth. A popularity rating of only 9% means that Kibaki is faring worse than some of the world’s dictators.

Kibaki at State House, Nairobi.

Kibaki at State House, Nairobi.

However, his main rival Prime Minister Raila Odinga isn’t doing much better. Raila has an approval rating of just 19%. For someone selling himself as an alternative to Kibaki, 19% popularity should be a cause for concern.

Kibaki’s poor showing is due to his poor leadership of the coalition, where it takes a letter from US President Barack Obama to get things moving. Increases in extra judicial killings during his tenure as well as the bungled 2007 elections have contributed towards Kenyans intensifying hatred towards the man who won more than half the vote in 2002.

The mishandling of the Migingo Island situation, where Uganda has annexed Kenyan territory, is further proof of Kibaki and Raila’s moribund and impotent leadership. Whether impotence extends to other crucial areas of their personalities is yet to be confirmed.

Read more on the poor showing of Kenya’s leaders from the Daily Nation and East African Standard.

Obama’s dilemma in Kenya politics

US President Barack Obama must be in a dilemma when it comes to preventing an explosive situation in Kenya.

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

It is obvious that Obama would rather concentrate on rebuilding the American economy than associating himself with the Kenyan political soap opera. However, the fact that Obama’s father was Kenyan means that any repeat of the 2008 post election violence will inevitably draw the US President into the mess.

A Rwanda style genocide in Kenya is a nightmare that Obama must be dreading. As close to a million people were killed between April and July 1994, US President Bill Clinton said that American interests were in danger and therefore his intervention was not necessary.

The situation in Kenya is different both because of Obama’s parentage and because of the Rwanda genocide. The fact that Obama has dozens, if not hundreds, of relatives means his involvement is inevitable. Indeed, most people in Nyanza, where Obama’s father hailed from, already expect some sort development assistance now that Obama is president.

The Rwanda genocide of 1994 made the world to vow that, “never again will genocide be allowed to thrive.” As the world’s leading military and economic powerhouse, the US will have no choice but get sucked into the Kenyan quagmire whenever it happens.

Kenya’s pro-Western leanings since independence in 1963 further means that the US and Britain must get involved. “The US has a strong interest in the political stability of Kenya … Kenya is too important to fail. It is not me saying this, this is shared by the highest level of my Government,” said America’s ambassador to Kenya, Michael Rannerberger last week.

In order for Obama to ensure stability in Kenya, he must engage with the current political leaders. The question is, who?

If Obama gets too close to President Mwai Kibaki, it will be seen as an endorsement of Kibaki’s controversial victory in the 2007 General Elections. A Commission of Inquiry declared last year that the presidential results were inconclusive. Co-operation between Obama and Kibaki will not be taken well by the Luo ethnic group where Obama’s father came from and which also happens to be Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s ethnicity. Kibaki comes from the Kikuyu ethnic group and the rivalry between the two men has resulted in ethnic tension between the Kikuyu and the Luo.

President Kibaki’s government is tainted with massive corruption scandals involving maize, oil, drugs and kickbacks. A United Nations report implicated the government in the abduction, torture and killings of thousands of youths. The military, acting under Kibaki’s orders, killed thousands during a counter-insurgency operation in Mount Elgon. Obama will not want to be seen condoning impunity and human rights abuses.

The 44th President of the United States could choose Prime Minister Raila Odinga as his pointman in Kenya but this will antagonize the Kikuyu, who constitute at least 22% of the population.

Prior to the 2007 General Elections, Raila ran his presidential campaign on an anti-Kikuyu platform. Kenya has 42 tribes and the unofficial slogan of Raila’s ODM party was “41 against 1”. The campaign is blamed for the ethnic chaos that erupted with President Kibaki’s victory.

Large numbers of Kikuyu settlers and business people were killed and evicted from ODM strongholds at the Coast, Rift Valley, Western and Nyanza provinces. In order to win votes from these provinces, Raila had promised to establish ethnic federalism, where each tribe could have autonomy in its own province. This was an indirect attack against the Kikuyu who happen to live in all parts of Kenya and whose commercial activities are resented by other ethnic groups. Unfortunately, Raila still persists with his federalist campaigns.

Raila allied himself with Moi era ethnic nationalists in order to win votes. These are the same elements responsible for ethnic clashes against the Kikuyu since 1992. Ironically, the Luo were at one time victims of the same elements but the 2007 political equation spared them from attack.

Obama’s involvement, or lack of involvement in the Kenyan situation, will be exploited by his domestic opponents in the United States to ruin his chances of winning a second term in 2012. If he works closer with President Kibaki, he will be accused of condoning undemocratic practices. If he chooses to work with Prime Minister Raila Odinga, he will be accused of supporting ethnic cleansing in Kenya.

Indeed, Obama’s opponents from the Republican Party tried linking Obama with the ethnic violence in Kenya during the 2008 US Presidential campaigns. Obama’s visit to Kenya in 2006 and the pictures he took with Raila were widely publicized on the Internet. Raila’s claim that he and Obama are cousins certainly did not help Obama’s image.

Obama’s 2008 campaign team made sure that the Kenyan political links did not become an election sticking point. Up until his inauguration on 20th January 2009, Obama’s argument was that there could only be one US president at a time and therefore only President George W. Bush could make foreign policy decisions. Obama let President Bush and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice take the lead in forming the Grand Coalition.

Certainly, the global economic crisis that began in September 2009 played a key role in Obama’s victory. As Americans found themselves homeless and out of work, Kenya completely disappeared from the electoral radar screen. American voters were determined to get rid of the Republican government which they blamed for their woes.

Next time, there might not be an economic crisis to distract the attention of American voters from Kenya. There is no doubt that Kenya is facing a dark future with its current leaders. Obama is trying hard to avoid getting involved but it is just a matter of time before something happens.

Fate has already decided.

Killed for plotting radical change

Murdered human rights activist, Oscar Kamau King’ara, was mobilizing Kenyans to massively vote against the country’s cruel and corrupt rulers in the 2012 General Elections.

human_rights_quotes

The Liberators Movement was seen by certain powerful personalities as a threat to their political ambitions in the 2012 General Elections. These personalities were scared enough to organize the termination of Oscar before his initiative took off.

The Liberator movement has an elaborate membership plan: “We are organized into cells of 20 people from grassroots to national membership. And as a member you are required to form your cell, inform others why change is needed, share with them initiatives undertaken by Liberators family and call up for training and recruitment,” reads part of the information on the Oscar Foundation website.

In Kenya, such talk will provoke an immediate and brutal response from the ruling elite.

Oscar printed huge posters of President Mwai Kibaki, Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Environment Minister John Michuki describing them as examples of tyranny in Kenya. Raila is shown with duct tape covering his mouth, implying a policy of silence.

Oscar wrote that the “Liberator” is a movement of people whose mission is to redeem Kenya from the captivity of political leaders. It is meant to unite all Kenyans who are tired, unhappy and feel suppressed by the actions, nature and structure of the current crop of political leaders.

Here’s a sample of quotes from Liberator Movement documents:

Our vision is to create a Kenya in which all citizens belong in words and in life. A country of prosperity, justice, good governance and peace for all.

As liberators we share a lot in common; We pay heavy tax to finance the lavish life of our Members of parliament, Ministers, Prime Minister and the President of Kenya; We toil everyday but never have the good returns for our hard labour; We thirst and hunger and even die, when our leaders thrive and make profits in our suffering; We have seen the corrupt going unpunished and public properties being looted. We are assumed to be weak helpless and easy to forget. We appear to be easily divisible in tribes and region. That is what our leaders have been thinking of us all along.

But now we are rising as Liberator, to show them that we can free ourselves and that what they have known or thought us to be is not and will not be what we are or can be. We are waking up in readiness to let them know that though we may look weak and vulnerable, never in this initiative can we fail to achieve the change of our choice and expand the space and value of our democracy.

We have come to this point and we are not going to wait any more. By our numbers, we will find strength and by our united commitment we will coin victory and win against our political leaders who have turned the masses into goods of trade.

The Liberators’ guiding principles are love for the nation; sacrifice and commitment towards its reclamation; information sharing about the happenings in our country; and adoption of non-violence as a tool of struggle towards liberation of our nation. Our brief is very simple, to give you information, so that you can know your rights, know when it is being infringed upon; know whoever is responsible; and then show him or her that you will not take it any longer.

We are determined to stand up to be counted, we pledge not to let Kenya drown or go to the dogs – the dogs will simply eat it! As our leaders continue to conspire against us; forming themselves into a fellowship of thieves; thriving in impunity with less care and concern to the rest of us, let them know that we swear never to take it any more. We intend to employ all tools and tactics available within our reach to ensure that good governance in Kenya is not made a mere token or an act of goodwill by our leaders but an inherent foundation of democracy, governance and political representation furnished and powered by the will of the people.

You and I, in this country; must stand up and be the light of our villages however remote or near. We must be the hope for our oppressed generation; the inspiration for the young ones to come; the tower and the source of alternative leadership by the people and for the people. We must stand and give compass and direction when the Government and leadership cheats the masses. We are the repository of knowledge and so we must inform the moment; we are determined to send home all thieves, liars and looters who reside in the parliament; we demand our country back.

We want 2012 to be a lesson to them; to send them all packing. It is happening in the rest of the world; America, Ghana are just but a few countries which have shown in the recent past that power belongs not to the leaders but in the hands of the people. And if our leaders can not see the written signs and heed to our demand now, we promise a peaceful liberation of this country by making it ungovernable for them. We will fight them with the power of our numbers through civil disobedience, mass processions and public defiance. But key to all we are not willing to make them thrive in our silence.

We are organized into cells of 20 people from grassroots to national membership. As a member, you are required to form your cell, inform others why change is needed, share with them initiatives undertaken by the Liberators family and call up for training and recruitment.

Our ideology is patriotism and the strength of numbers backed by conviction that we hold it as a duty to defend and determine the kind of the country we wish to live in.

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