opinionBy Mugambi Kiai
The avoidable slaughter and massacre in Suguta Valley in Samburu of Kenyan police forces last week was truly horrendous, horrific and horrifying.
We must cry with, condole and comfort the families of the close to 40 police officers whose lives were ruthlessly cut short under a hail of bullets in this gruesome, spectacularly-failed security operation that aimed to pursue suspected cattle rustlers and recover stolen livestock.
The sheer scale of the atrocity that wiped out these officers is enough to pierce the heart, uproot the soul and numb the mind. But we are also entitled to answers. How did this happen?
How come greenhorn recruits were suddenly plunged headlong into the heat of deadly militia operations; the footballing equivalent of a youth team suddenly deployed and sent out to face the might and wrath of FC Barcelona in a final game of the European Champions League?
How is it acceptable that the current top leadership of the police will not take full responsibility of the vacuous strategic and tactical arrangements that are apparent from any sober analysis of this outrage?
In addition, how are we to respond to reports indicating that the bodies of these hapless officers were left to rot in trucks outside a primary school for at least four days?
How dare we continue to countenance such careless, casual and cavalier conduct from the top brass of Kenya's civilian and uniformed security sector leadership?
How many times, and to what fatal effect, are warnings around the incompetence and ineptitude of the leadership and management of Kenya's police service go unheeded?
The happenings and aftermath of the Suguta Valley attacks offer a perfect demonstration and illustration of just how downright rotten things are when it comes to the operational challenges facing junior police officers.
This is not a situation that we are newly unearthing or suddenly recognising. In 2009, a National Task Force on Police Reforms chaired by Justice (Retired) Philip Ransley released a report after making "a comprehensive analysis of the operational environment policies and legal framework within which the police in Kenya work..."
This report highlighted a number of issues: in light of the Suguta massacre there were clear findings about the operational challenges facing especially junior police officers.
Overall, the report stated: "Of considerable concern to the Task Force was the welfare of the police. It was found that that working conditions of the police left a lot to be desired."
We have questioned the deployment of new recruits to the unforgiving terrain that is Suguta Valley. With regard to deployment, the report stated: "Deployment within the Kenya Police Force is governed by Chapter 23 of the Force Standing Orders of the Kenya Police...the Task Force however, found that deployment has not always been carried out in accordance with the provisions of the regulations. In many cases, deployment has been at the discretion of senior officers without regard to specialist skills."
Moreover, even as we raise issues about the deficit of leadership and management, this report noted: "There are serious management problems in the Police Services, arising from, amongst others, poor leadership, patronage, wrong placement, disconnect between the lower ranks and their seniors, outright corruption, or its abetment.
The task force is of the view that no meaningful change can be implemented until the current senior police officers in the Kenya Police are re-evaluated for suitability in their current positions, as a good number of them are associated in one way or the other, with the problems in the...police services."
The Task Force actually recommended that all officers of the rank of Assistant Commissioner and above be subjected to a review based on professionalism, integrity, track record, and psychological fitness.
There were a number of depressing findings with regard to specific operational needs. "The police lack enough vehicles for their...work...Where vehicles are available they lack appropriate maintenance and many of them are broken down.
Insufficient fuel is allocated for the running of the vehicles which is said to be approximately 10 to 15 litres per vehicle, per day, which hardly has any impact on operations.
There is also a lack of appropriate policy, which can be applied in determining the right vehicles for the relevant policing area with a view to ensuring effectiveness."
The Suguta Valley tragedy also raised issues about air support for the officers who were ultimately left totally exposed to a ruthless ambush: "The police further lack appropriate and well-maintained aircraft for operational purposes.
This Task Force noted that the Police Air Wing is severely incapacitated, it continues to operate old and malfunctioning aircraft that have previously experienced accidents.
They are extremely expensive to maintain and the air wing lacks appropriate servicing and trained personnel. It is noted that the use of aircraft to ease policing in the country has been largely ignored.
The Task Force doubts the effectiveness and suitability of the aircraft currently available for policing." Also of note; "The police lack the right and appropriate communication equipment.
Only the senior officers are provided with mobile phones even though the funds for airtime are inadequate. Junior officers are not provided with mobile phones or funds for airtime...In addition, the walkie-talkies are insufficient and obsolete.
There were complaints from operational officers that spare batteries are not available, the charge strength is weak and the frequency is often interfered with..."
The police "lack adequate protective clothing and equipment" - this could address why the victims in Suguta were deployed without bullet-proof vests. More profoundly, the report found that "Operational preparedness is still weak and the quality of police operations has been undermined by...[a] myriad of challenges...In reviewing the state of preparedness of the police to combat insecurity and other forms of emerging security challenges...the Task Force concludes the police are ill prepared."
There is a lot more in the Ransley Task Force Report. The fact is that we have dithered to remedy issues that were highlighted as urgent three years ago.
Now, it has cost us precious human lives. Tragically too, from the luxury of their elevated professional pedestals, those who should have initiated and undertaken this remedial action have refused to take responsibility. It's a bleeding shame!
Mugambi Kiai is the Kenya Program Manager at the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa (OSIEA). The views expressed in this article are entirely his own and do not reflect the views of OSIEA.