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)

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.

Hopeless Grand Coalition proves Annan right

A meeting called by Kenya’s Grand Coalition government collapsed in chaos on Saturday, further vindicating a widespread perception that President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga are hopeless failures.

ali-gicheru_composite

Ironically, the retreat at the Kilaguni Lodge in the vast Tsavo National Park was meant to prove to the entire world that the Grand Coalition can solve its own problems without the need for international mediators such as former United Nations Secretary General Koffi Annan.

Kibaki and Raila, leading opposite camps of the giant coalition, could not agree on what to discuss at the much publicized meeting. Kibaki wanted to evaluate the performance of the coalition a year after its formation.

Raila and his ODM party not only wanted to renegotiate the terms of the partnership but want Chief Justice Evans Gicheru and Police Commissioner Mohammed Hussein Ali dismissed. Kibaki has already made his position clear, that the two will remain in government at least for now.

Yesterday’s events were both laughable and tragic at the same time. Laughable when senior government ministers appear in front of the press naively admitting their inability to function. Tragic because the fate of over 35 million Kenyans lies in the hands of bungling idiots who could not draft an agenda for a weekend meeting.

Though Koffi Annan is not known to gloat at the failure of others, he must be feeling that his work in Kenya is far from done. He had called both President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga for a meeting at Geneva base. Both shunned the meeting arguing that Kenya is a sovereign state that does not answer to foreign masters, or words to that effect.

Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka told Annan that Kenya’s government could handle its own affairs and that international mediation was no longer necessary. Indeed, this is the reason why the Kilaguni meeting was called: to demonstrate that the key partners of the Grand Coalition could meet at a place and time of their choosing to discuss the way forward for Kenya. Too bad none of the partners actually knew what they were going to discuss.

Right from the start, both Kibaki and Raila had opposing views about the meeting. When Koffi Annan first issued his Geneva invitations a month ago, Raila was of the view that the National Accord that formed the Grand Coalition was going to be renegotiated. Raila has complained of not having enough power to enact reforms and that he should get a higher salary than Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka.

In reality though, Raila’s main concern is his inability to appoint ODM supporters to key government jobs as he promised during the 2007 election campaigns.

This is what is driving his calls for the dismissal of such key government personalities as Chief Justice Evans Gicheru, Head of Civil Service Francis Muthaura and Police Commissioner Mohammed Hussein Ali. Raila wishes to appoint ODM affiliated personalities to the key positions in order to demonstrate his influence in government.

Raila further believes that Gicheru and Ali helped Kibaki consolidate his rather shaky electoral victory in the 2007 General Elections. Gicheru presided over the inauguration ceremony at State House on December 30th 2007 that gave Kibaki a second presidential term. Raila is also convinced that the post election violence could have forced Kibaki out of power if it wasn’t for the police and military.

The ongoing saga over the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) can also be seen in similar light. KAA Managing Director, George Muhoho, is a key ally of President Kibaki and his ouster would be a coup for Raila. However, it appears that Kibaki may have seen through the machinations and instructed Transport Minister Chirau Ali Mwakwere to give Muhoho a one-year contract just to prove who is in charge of appointments.

It is interesting that the latest failure of the Grand Coalition comes after a sustained national campaign by both Kibaki and Raila to show that they are happily working together. 2009 began with the unravelling of massive corruption scandals involving Kibaki and Raila allies. The inability of the two principles to act against those stealing from the government was telling.

Opinion poll ratings give the Grand Coalition an approval rating of only 30%, making it more unpopular than the Moi government. Religious leaders accuse the Kibaki-Raila duopoly of poor leadership and have called for fresh elections which the government outrightly rejects. The release of the United Nations Special Rapporteur’s report implicating the Grand Coalition in the deaths and disappearances of thousands of youths didn’t do much to enhance the government credibility.

With these manifest failures, Kibaki and Raila have spent the last month traversing the country campaigning for their coalition. Kibaki has been creating new districts in an unprecedented frenzy aimed at wooing the public but civil servants are questioning the strategy behind the move. Both principal partners have been at pains to prove that the Grand Coalition will survive until the next General Elections in 2012.

When Koffi Annan made his Geneva invitations, both Kibaki and Raila closed ranks to prove that they did not need foreign interference to solve disputes within the Grand Coalition. Last Saturday’s retreat was the culmination of Kibaki and Raila’s cosying up together but the disastrous end shows that Kenyans are in for another rough ride.

With ODM saying that they will announce their next moves in coming days, it should now be obvious to Annan that his involvement with Kenya will last far longer than he originally thought.

Gruesome confessions of police killings by death squad driver

Testimony by a former member of a Kenya Police death squad reveals the extent to which senior police officers ordered the killings of thousands of people.

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.

Bernard Kiriinya told the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights of police officers abducting people from homes, roadsides and restaurants. The victims were taken to isolated locations where they were shot dead and the bodies chopped to 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.

For those Kenyans who support police death squads on grounds of eliminating Mungiki, Kiriinya revealed in his taped testimony that police officers killed people in order to steal money and property.

A Corporal Njoroge took a new Subaru Outback owned by a man he abducted and killed in Kiambu. The same Corporal Njoroge took two vehicles from a Kariobangi based businessman known as, “Mashukaru” after abducting and torturing him to death. Mashukaru had his eyes removed during torture at Matuu, where he had been taken. After he was killed, the body was dumped in a dam. Njoroge returned to Nairobi and gave the two vehicles to senior policemen as gifts.

Virginia Nyakio, wife to jailed Mungiki leader Maina Njenga, was abducted and killed because of Kshs5 million (US$62,500) in her possession. Her body and that of her driver were extensively mutilated by police officers to make it appear as the work of a rival Mungiki faction. This was the line of investigation that police sold to the public back in April 2008.

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. Whatever is done in the dark will someday come to light regardless of how long it takes.

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.”

During the torture of suspected Mungiki leader Kimani Ruo at Ngong Forest, police officers called their bosses and replayed tapes of his confessions. On hearing the tapes, Provincial Police Officer Njagi Njue ordered over the telephone that, “kazi iendelee,” meaning the work should continue. Police Commissioner Ali ordered that Kimani Ruo be killed with instructions that the body should never be discovered. Indeed, Kimani Ruo’s family never knew what happened to him, until Kiriinya’s tape was made public in February.

The Police Commissioner recommended for promotion several police officers who excelled in death squad operations. A Mr Maina was promoted overnight from a Corporal to Inspector of Police. His colleague was promoted from Constable to Corporal under similar circumstances. There are many such promotions that continue to take place within the Kenya Police force.

Police commanders encouraged financial fraud in order to reward death squad operatives. Senior officers in the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) ordered junior officers to make false overtime claims in order to get paid for their secret activities. The officers complied and went home with Shs10,000 each ($125).

Such tactics are deliberately designed to frustrate future investigations as records will only show payments for overtime. It also makes it easier for police to request extra funds from the Ministry of Finance on grounds that officers are putting in “extra hours.”

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.

Most Kenyans do not appreciate the extent of rot within the police force. It is common to hear individuals arguing that the deaths of a few innocent people is a worthy price to pay in the war against crime and Mungiki. But who decides between innocence and guilt? Isn’t that what the courts are for?

Giving individual police officers the power to decide between guilt and innocence is a disaster in the making. Kiriinya’s testimony reveals that the officers involved in death squad operations are driven by the desire for wealth and glory. Police officers get overnight promotions for torturing and killing people. Others do it in order to steal money, vehicles and other property.

Surely, this is a lawless society. Unless death squads are stopped and the guilty officers brought to book, the future of Kenya is in doubt. And for this, President Mwai Kibaki must accept responsibility.

The Nairobi Chronicle recommends that every Kenyan read for themselves the signed confession by Bernard Kiriinya. Its only 16 pages long and just 1.4 MB in size. Click here to download the PDF document from Mars Group.
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Oscar: murdered by injustices he fought

Like most well educated, middle class Kenyans – and a trained lawyer at that – 38 year old Oscar Kamau Kingara had not planned to campaign for the poor, downtrodden citizens.

The late Oscar Kamau Kingara

The late Oscar Kamau Kingara

After graduating with a law degree, Oscar joined the family business that was involved manufacturing, meat and fish processing, real estate, import/export and sale of building materials within Kenya.

He planned to marry, have children, then live happily and quietly ever after. However, fate had other plans in store for him.

In 1996, Oscar experienced the injustices perpetuated by the state through a policy of destroying local industries for the benefit of multinationals. The government issued a statement meant to ensure that fish exports from Kenya were stopped. Oscar wrote in his website that the decision was, “aimed at punishing people from Nyanza province who were perceived by the KANU government to be anti-establishment. The policy was (Siasa mbaya maisha mbaya) meaning, “bad politics equals bad life.”

The government suspended fish exports to the European market, forcing Oscar to close down a multi million dollar factory in Kisumu that was processing and exporting fish. This first hand experience of high handed impunity by the state was an eye opener and Oscar realized how justice is hard to get especially for the vulnerable poor.

In 1998, Oscar founded the Oscar Foundation Free Legal Aid Clinic Kenya (OFFLACK). Oscar Foundation offers free legal services to poor Kenyans who cannot afford a lawyer. The foundation trains paralegals across the country in peaceful resolution of grievances.

In its website, Oscar Foundation says: “We educate youths to respect the rule of law, more so the Foundation encourages the poor and the youth to seek justice through the law and due process and not through violence or any other unlawful means.”

It was through the fulfillment of this mandate that Oscar Foundation was drawn into the Mungiki issue. Mungiki is an underground movement drawing its membership from ethnic Kikuyu youths in urban slums and rural squatter settlements.

In mid 2007, after a series of brutal murders blamed on the Mungiki sect, the Kenya Police launched the War on Mungiki. By September 2007, the government admitted complicity in the deaths of at least 300 suspected Kikuyu youth accused of Mungiki membership. Human rights organizations believed the figure to be closer to 500. It is estimated that between mid 2007 and today, at least 1,000 people were abducted and killed by police death squads. A United Nations report says that death squads operate with the full knowledge of the top police command.

The families of the dead and missing had no legal recourse. As expected, most of them were too poor to afford lawyers. Kenya’s mainstream media were too afraid to get involved in the Mungiki issue, for good reasons obviously. This is why the families of the disappeared turned to Oscar Foundation to help them trace their loved ones, or at least use legal processes to bring identify those behind the killings.

The late Oscar Kamau and his Foundation were exposing the secretive killings perpetrated by the Kenyan government against its own citizens. It was not something they had initially set out to do but they simply could not ignore the horrific tales they encountered with each passing day.

On February 25th 2008, the United Nations Special Rapporteur, Prof Philip Alston, issued a report condemning the Kenya Police for illegal killings. Alston recommended the dismissal of Attorney General Amos Wako and Police Commissioner Mohammed Hussein Ali. The government contemptuously rejected the report and vowed to continue its War on Mungiki.

Yesterday, March 5th, the Oscar Foundation called demonstrations in support of the United Nations recommendations. Transport was disrupted in Nairobi, Central Province and the Rift Valley which are the Mungiki strongholds. The government vowed to crack down hard against the organizers of the demonstration.

Yesterday, as Mungiki members and sympathisers engaged in street battles with police, government spokesman Dr Alfred Mutua issued a chilling warning: “the Government assures the people that all security measures have been put in place to ensure they are not harassed or their daily lives disrupted any longer.” Mutua attacked Oscar as a supporter and financier of Mungiki activities.

By nightfall, Oscar’s lifeless body was the subject of tug-of-war between University of Nairobi students and the Kenyan Police. Oscar and his associate at the Oscar Foundation, Paul Oulu, were shot on a public road adjacent to university hostels. The location where Oscar and Paul Oulu were killed is less than a kilometre from State House – the official home of the Kenyan president.

Witnesses say that armed men in one, perhaps two or more vehicles struck as Oscar and Oulu sat in their car. The gunmen sprayed Oscar and Oulu with bullets. They two activists had no chance of surviving the onslaught. It is clear that the mission of the gunmen was to kill and silence forever those frustrating the War on Mungiki.

With usual short-sightedness, Kenyans are celebrating the War on Mungiki, rationalizing the killing of innocents as a, “necessary price to pay.” Experience from other parts of the world shows that when human rights are violated, nobody is safe.

Today, the target of state brutality is Mungiki. Next year it will be another group.

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Find out more about the Oscar Foundation on this website: http://www.oscarfound.org/

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Activists killed near State House

A Kenyan human rights activist who has criticized the Kenyan government for abducting and killing thousands of people has been shot dead near the president’s official residence.

Oscar Kamau Kingara was shot in his car alongside his colleague, Paul Oulu. Oscar leads a legal aid organization, the Oscar Foundation, which is agitating for the rights of suspected members of the Mungiki sect, which has borne the brunt of the government’s death squad operations.

Kenyan security forces accuse Oscar of supporting Mungiki.

Incidentally, the shooting came hours after a government spokesman said that, “all security measures have been put in place to ensure the public not harassed …” It is not clear whether last night’s public execution was among the raft of “security measures” that the government is alluding to.

Mungiki held a series of demonstrations across Kenya yesterday, backing a United Nations call for the country’s police commissioner and the Attorney General to resign for complicity in illegal police executions. Both Oscar and Oulu had testified before United Nations Special Rapporteur, Philip Alston.

The Kenyan government has dismissed Alston’s recommendations that the police chief and Attorney General resign. Minister for Internal Security, Professor George Saitoti, has vowed to continue the war against Mungiki, raising fears of further abductions, killings and disappearances.