16 November 2012

Kenya: Baragoi Massacre Sign of Deeper Rot


A fortnight ago on Citizen TV's Cheche show we hosted deputy commissioner of Police Kingori Mwangi to discuss the nature and progress of reforms.

Mr King'ori, a senior ranking man in the force and a candidate for deputy Inspector General vehemently denied that disgruntled police officers were planning a go-slow to protest their pathetic working conditions.

His colleagues who were watching the show from around the country were enraged that their condition was not being presented properly to the public.

Their disgust and anger in numerous text and twitter messages confirmed that despite the openness envisaged in the new constitution and freedom of speech are yet to trickle to public service sector where officials are still constrained from speaking the truth for fear of victimization.

The next day, administration police and some regulars embarked on an uncoordinated go-slow, defying Police Service Standing Orders that prohibit strike action.

But the fact is how is the public ever going to empathise, and even act, on the plight of police officers if their seniors wont speak about it?

Fact is, the Kenya Police, which is the central pillar of our internal security, is on the verge of a breakdown and there are serious challenges to the performance of its mandate.

The Police are understaffed, underpaid, poorly equipped and hence utterly inept at discharging their crucial mandate. As a consequence, there are serious schisms within the police ranks that will never be known thanks to the internal culture of not speaking out and punishing those who do.

Work pressure and the choking conditions under which they live account for the rising incidents of murder, suicide or homicide as our cops turn on each other or their spouses in frustration.

Senior officers like King'ori, outgoing commissioner Mathew Iteere and Fred Kapondi, the chairman of the Parliamentary committee on national security say they have done all they can to pressure government to allocate more resources to the Police.

But with such staggering deficits as over 400 police stations being without a vehicle, or Sh1200 worth of petrol per day for a police station, what is to be expected of the police force?

Why does the government find it more important to fund infrastructure development when insecurity is wiping out would-be beneficiaries? Do the police have capacity to secure this country through this election, I wonder.

The refrain from police commanders whenever challenged on their service is simple - they do what their means allow them to.

And that, sometimes, means exposing their juniors to raw danger, such as the ill-fated Suguta operation in which over 40 police officers and reservists were mowed down by bandits. You can't blame it on poor planning.

According to police sources, the mission to rescue Samburu livestock stolen by the Turkana was planned for four days.

It involved Rift Valley Provincial PPO Mbijiwe (who as police commander in Baragoi in 1996 survived the chopper crash that killed acting District Commissioner Nyandoro), and Assistant Commissioner of Police Willy Lugusa, Baragoi OCPD Crispin Makhanu and the intelligence chiefs.

Enough personnel from the GSU, Anti Stock theft Unit, AP, and regular police were mobilized from other police posts in Rift Valley and dispatched to join the operation.

They waited. The operation could not proceed because it was deemed impractical to go into the treacherous Suguta valley without air cover.

Many are the fatalities that have been registered in that area which is a terrain of wild and remote valleys and caves. But it, seems, pressure by influential Samburu politicians with connections to the internal security docket in the Office of the President and the county commissioner exerted pressure on the OCPD to walk his men into the valley of death despite oblivious of the danger.

The aftermath of this combination of political pressure and inadequate means to execute the mission is the many brothers and sisters who now lie dead, injured or unaccounted for.

The authorities could do nothing as perfectly loyal citizens lay under siege from bandit fire, cut off from the rest of the world. None to the rescue: One day. Two days.

The Police command cannot shirk the responsibility for exposing those young men and who women of valor who walked into death on the instruction of their charges.

Charges who should have known better the probability of success of the operation. That's negligence or incompetence. Nothing less, Mr Iteere.

David Makali is the director of the Media Institute in Nairobi. He has been a journalist (reporter, editor, trainer, publisher, researcher, media critic and press freedom activist) for over 20 years.

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