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.

Kenya Police chief moved

President Mwai Kibaki yesterday removed Major General Mohammed Hussein Ali from the top command of the Kenya Police. In his place, Kibaki appointed Mathew Iteere in a move likely to be seen as favouring the Mt Kenya bloc.

The move has evoked mixed feelings in Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s ODM party. On one hand, Raila and ODM are happy with Ali’s exit. They believe that Ali’s defence of Kibaki’s controversial election victory back in 2007 helped Kibaki retain the presidency when international mediation resulted in the current coalition government. For this reason, Raila has continually been insisting that Ali be fired as part of “police reforms.”

On the other hand, Ali’s replacement is from the Meru tribe – an ethnic group that has traditionally voted with President Kibaki’s Kikuyu ethnic group. Many in ODM see the President’s move as a consolidation of  Mt Kenya’s dominance of powerful state positions.

Maj Gen Ali is now the new Postmaster General. More reactions are likely to follow in coming days. You can read more here:

Change of guard in Kenya’s police force (Daily Nation)

How Ali’s fate was sealed (The Standard)

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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Kenya Armed Forces pictures

The worsening crisis in Somalia, followed by reports of deployments of Kenyan troops along the Kenya – Somalia border has generated lots of interest in our armed forces.

Due to severe restrictions on information flow, it is not easy for ordinary members of the public to see what exactly our military and police forces do behind the scenes. Here below, the Nairobi Chronicle presents pictures of our national armed forces.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: These are NOT pictures of Operation Linda Mpaka that is ongoing at the Somali border.

Kenya Airforce F-5 fighter jet roaring over the skies. The F5 is Kenya's principal air superiority fighter jet.

Kenya Airforce F-5 fighter jet roaring over the skies. The F5 is Kenya's principal air superiority fighter jet.

Kenya Army soldiers manning a mortar during field operations.

Kenya Army soldiers manning a mortar during field operations.

Kenya Army soldiers marching during a field exercise.

Kenya Army soldiers marching during a field exercise.

Kenya Navy vessels in the high seas.

Kenya Navy vessels in the high seas.

A paramilitary unit armed with G-3 rifles on the look-out.

A paramilitary unit armed with G-3 rifles on the look-out.

Kenya Army soldiers attending a classroom session.

Kenya Army soldiers attending a classroom session.

Any of you have similar pictures? Please send to nairobichronicle@live.com

Protect yourself from crime

For many years, the city of Nairobi has been synonymous with high crime levels but the recent crime wave has assumed a level of viciousness never before seen by city residents. And it is not just Nairobi that is suffering: rural areas have been hard-hit as well.

Most Kenyans are already used to robberies, burglaries, pickpocketing and car-jacking. The latest crime wave includes kidnapping, gang-rape, sodomy and senseless murder. In a rather disturbing turn of criminal trends, there are many cases where bodies are found with cash and other valuables still intact.

Hijacking of buses followed by the mass rape of female passengers has instilled fear among the travelling public. Even men are not immune from sexual assault. People have been abducted from the streets and forced to withdraw all their money from ATM machines. One unlucky victim was kept by gangsters for more than three days because of the daily withdrawal limit. Cattle rustling has spread from the usual hotspots of northern Kenyan and taken hold in Laikipia, Trans Nzoia, Kisii, Ukambani, Luo Nyanza and Western province.

What is driving this new wave of brutality by Kenyans against other Kenyans? The global economic crisis has resulted in thousands of people losing their jobs, or watching their business incomes decline. There are millions of youth in Kenya with little prospects of getting a job and who have lost faith in their society.

A dysfunctional ruling class has cheapened the value of human life so much that the deaths of 1,500 people in post election violence counts for nothing. Many Kenyans lost family and friends to the violence. The 500,000 who became homeless and destitute have received little help. The post election violence had profound negative impacts on Kenya’s psychology and this will take a long time to heal.

As a result of rising danger, it is imperative that everybody takes personal responsibility for their own security. Anyone can be a victim given the wrong set of unfortunate circumstances. Here are a few tips to practice everyday:

  1. Learn to trust your instincts: if something or somebody makes you uncomfortable, leave immediately.
  2. Be alert to your surroundings in order to detect anything abnormal.
  3. Avoid deserted lanes, footpaths and highways.
  4. Avoid staying out late in the night.
  5. As much as possible, get a friend to accompany you to a bar or club in order to minimize the chances of getting your food or drinks spiked with drugs.
  6. Do not pick strangers in the bar or the streets. Many men have lost possessions after they were drugged by commercial sex workers.
  7. Do not give out personal information to strangers. Do not discuss your personal details or travel plans in a public area. Potential kidnappers could take advantage of such information to target you.
  8. Do not give out account details and passwords over the telephone or email. Banks and credit card agencies will never ask for such information in such a manner.
  9. Minimize night travel on long-distance buses.
  10. Do not walk around with jewellery, expensive mobile phones and laptop computers.
  11. Avoid carrying large sums of cash. In these days of M-Pesa, Zap, bankers cheques and electronic cash transfers, it is unnecessary to move around with huge wads of money.
  12. Do not use ATM machines late at night. Even during the day, avoid isolated ATMs or those located directly on busy streets.
  13. For those going out on blind dates (thanks to the Internet), never agree to meet in an isolated location. Do not allow your new date to take you away from public view. You could become a victim of kidnapping.
  14. When visiting public parks (Uhuru Park, Arboretum, Mama Ngina Drive, Hippo Point, Menengai Crater), make sure you leave by nightfall. Thugs usually take advantage of the sunset to launch attacks.
  15. If you happen to be attacked by criminals, co-operate and never look them in the eye.

Teach these tips to your children. Its not about being paranoid: it is about staying safe. Being alert is not the same as being scared.

Fresh spotlight on police helicopters after near fatal crash

There are renewed accusations of corruption in the purchase and maintenance of Kenya Police Mi-17 helicopters after the Police Commissioner, several high ranking civil servants and an assistant minister miraculously survived a crash.

A Kenya Police Mi-17 helicopter. Picture by Military Photos.net

A Kenya Police Mi-17 helicopter. Picture by Military Photos.net

The mid-day accident occurred when one of the Mi-17s hit overhead electricity cables soon after taking off from the Kipchoge Keino Stadium at Kapsabet. Police Commissioner Mohammed Hussein Ali, Rift Valley Provincial Commissioner Hassan Noor Hassan and Internal Security Assistant Minister Orwa Ojode were in the helicopter but walked out with minor injuries.

Internal Security Minister George Saitoti was in another helicopter and was not affected by the crash.

Several journalists accompanying the security team happened to be in the crashed helicopter and were evacuated for medical treatment.

A Kenya Police pilot later told Classic 105 radio that the helicopter hit electricity lines because it could not rise fast enough in the high-altitude Kapsabet area. “The air density at Kabarnet is low because of the high altitude and we could not rise quickly to avoid the cables,” said the pilot.

The Mi-17 lost its tail rotor in the incident. Despite the lack of fatalities, the crashed helicopter is unlikely to return to the air.

National security officials and the press were in Kapsabet to inspect police stations and to reinforce reconciliation efforts in the area. The Rift Valley province was hardest hit by ethnic clashes during the 2008 near civil war in Kenya. Sporadic clashes continue in parts of the province amidst fears of fresh violence in future.

The Kenya Police acquired a fleet of Mi-17s from the former Soviet Union soon after President Mwai Kibaki came into office in 2003. There was heavy criticism of the police for acquiring second hand helicopters from shadowy supply companies.

The Kenya Police defended itself, saying that it needed aerial patrol capabilities in order to combat crime. However, aviation analysts say that the Mi-17 is too big for patrol duty. A typical Mi-17 such as one that crashed yesterday can carry upto 30 passengers. It can also be configured as a cargo transport.

Aviators say the Kenya Police would have been better off with a smaller helicopter such as the Hughes 500 operated by the Kenya Army. Though carrying only a small crew, the Hughes helicopter is extremely maneouvrable and can be fitted with an assortment of weapons.

The Kenya Police has also been criticized for over-using the Mi-17s despite their size and age. The helicopters have been flying the President and other politicians currently criss-crossing the country in premature campaigns for the 2012 elections.

The Mi-17s resumed service just last year after they were grounded for lack of maintenance. The overhaul of the helicopters was marked by controversy after a company with little name recognition won the contract.

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