1 December 2012

Kenya: Why We Should Be More Kind to the Police


The village where I was born was so progressive when I was growing up that its one lane shopping centre had a petrol station, a real marvel in those years.

Years later, my friends and I would after 'painting the city of Nairobi red' retire to Kanyariri for our night cap that mostly lasted till the wee hours of the morning.

Over the weekend, the line of cars belonging to the patrons of the only bar would stretch length and breadth of the entire shopping centre and the revellers would alternately drink and eat pork and mutton throughout the night.

Then more and more young people became jobless and restless and crime became the order of the day to the extent where one opened a shop in the morning, ran it during the day, it was vandalised that night and was closed the next day.

One by one, the customers of the lone bar deserted and the few who were left were invaded and made to lie down at gun point as they and the bar owner were robbed almost on a weekly basis.

Gradually, Kanyariri became a ghost town and for ten years I never passed anywhere near the shopping centre. Then one or two years ago, the area was transferred from the jurisdiction of Kikuyu to that of Kabete police, a police post was put up and several officers posted to it.

A few months later, I started hearing that the place had come back to life and that people could actually have a peaceful drink at the local pub.

I of course did not believe this but as friends kept insisting, one weekend mid this year, I went back to the drinking joint of my youth and I was glad I had made the decision.

I met and had a good time with former schoolmates, friends and acquaintances I had not seen for years. Some were drinking the warm beer, while others enjoyed their cool 'keg' but there was harmony among the youth and their elders.

Among the patrons were two 'reserved' customers that I later learnt were police officers who freely mingled with the rest and once in a while enjoyed a game of pool.

They sipped their drinks gingerly, maybe because they were on call 24/7 or because they did not know where the next one would come from.

These are mostly lonely men (and women) who have left their families in faraway lands and survive mostly on ugali and sukuma wiki and the occasional drink, all in the service of 'king and country'.

But those they serve mostly take them for granted. Kanyariri now has a second pub, a few general shops that operate without the fear of being broken into and goods stolen at night and 'outsiders' are even buying land there and putting up residential houses.

That is how the presence or perceived presence (for I hear there is only one officer for more than 600 Kenyans) of security agents make a destination safe and there are many other destinations in this country like Kanyariri.

In fact, most trading centres in Kikuyu bordering Nairobi were controlled by thugs and organised criminal gangs until the current OCS of Kabete was posted to the station.

He and his officers, those in Kanyariri included, work extra hard to ensure there is security despite the lack of equipment and resources.

I am told the government vehicle used by the police in Kabete is in most part unserviceable and fuel is the perennial problem that is faced by the police across the country.

The community in Kanyariri conducted a fund raiser to refurbish the land rover that is used by officers at the post. But the vehicle rarely has fuel and so is usually grounded and the officers have to rescue the rest of us on foot.

When an officer asks those in distress or other Kenyans to assist with fuel, they are accused of corruption. Recently we heard the police spokesman lament that the officers have poorer fire power than criminals and lack such basics as bullet proof vests.

Any police officer will confirm this and much more, albeit confidentially. King and country seem to have abandoned those who watch over us as we peacefully sleep and Kenyans are 'fingering' these security providers for a few pieces of silver.

It has happened all over the country where criminals and political gangs mow down police officers protecting their loot or in furthering some nonsensical political ideology.

What happened recently in Baragoi and Garissa is beyond understanding especially due to the fact that some Kenyans appear to have literally sent these officers to the killing fields with malice aforethought.

In Garissa, three army officers were murdered in cold blood, apparently with the knowledge of some locals. "The Al Shabaab is here and people know where they are but you cannot talk about them otherwise a grenade will be thrown at your family at night", one resident told a TV reporter.

As if that was not enough, local leaders from both Baragoi and Garissa shouted the roofs off alleging torture of their people by the soldiers, but no word of sympathy for the slain security personnel.

Senior government officers and parliamentary committees took helicopters ride to these destinations to investigate what went wrong and then come back and heap blame on the security agents.

And the ferocious human rights organizations are in deep slumber - apparently, police rights are not human rights. And with all due respect, why should the government order flags at half mast on the death of two of its cabinet ministers and not do the same for over 40 officers who violently die while on duty?

Time has come for this country to recognise the importance of security and those who provide it, by giving them their due in terms of remuneration and equipment and instead of fingering and blaming them, Kenyans should provide the disciplined forces with information that will secure us all.


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