The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: Nyumba Kumi Will Not End Insecurity


Security is not to be played around with. It should not be a mystery for state functionaries, who lecture on 'Nyumbi Kumi' on television.

Re-inventing the wheel should not be their preoccupation when they and the public knowwhat the issues are. Neither should dealing with the symptoms of a much bigger problem be the only entry point - a short-term official reaction to a much deeper national malaise.

Involving the public in community policing is a good beginning in addressing a problem that a needs a long term vision, with solutions that go beyond knowing your neighbours.

Young people killing wananchi in Nyakach District and stealing cattle would more likely take up less riskier livelihoods if they had options. And they would not act with such impunity and complicity if the police were not abetting the crimes. This is not just about knowing your neighbours.

Which is why it is irritating, and even confusing, when government officials talk of the Nyumba Kumi initiative without substantial involvement of the public or explanation about how it would work, and what it intends to achieve in real and measurable terms and time.

The Nyumba Kumi fad can enhance public participation in community policing, but is not the byword for managing the soaring insecurity across the country. There is more to teenagers and young adults toying with guns in cities than just knowing your neighbours.

After all it is a general code among gangsters that they do not rob their neighbours. In their neighbourhoods, thugs are citizens of high moral standing by day, or when neighbours are watching. Criminality is their other life, known to those who do not know them. Criminality is always an underworld activity, competently hidden from the sounds and sights of the neighbourhood.

To blame the anarchy in northwestern Kenya on poor knowledge of neighbours - or non-implementation of Nyumba Kumi - is balderdash. It is a scapegoat hard to market as the solution to the running hostilities among the Pokot and the Turkana.

Or how would Nyumba Kumi stop highway robberies? Car carjackings or diversions of public service vehicles into byways and forests, even in the city of Nairobi - the seat of the Inspector General of Police? Nairobi is the base of the National Intelligence Service, where they have installed 'digital' listening gears to those who plot crime against the people.

Nairobi is also the seat of power and the home of the Commander-in-Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces, yet it is also the epicenter of daily crimes - some right in the city centre when the sun shines.

Let's be serious on this because the government's main reason for existence is to guarantee public security. That insecurity is this high means the state has failed in one of its key duties to the citizenry.

Back to this fad: Would there also be 'Duka Kumi' to prevent future repeats of the likes of the September 21 attack on Westgate Shopping Mall? How about 'Benki Kumi' to contain robberies that target banks, where valuables are concentrated?

The current spate of insecurity is not a laughing matter, but Nyumba Kumi is a great subject for caricature. Its operations and goals will remain vague until such a time that it has been explained to wananchi in ways that allows them to buy-in and participate.

A Facebook friend Waranya Moni gives this interpretation: "You can stop highway robberies through 'Gari Kumi'. Drivers of cars, public service vehicles, and cargo transporters will be required to move in convoys of ten vehicles after the occupants have exchanged their particulars, including taking pictures of each other on smartphones. These would then be transmitted to Vigilance House for safe keeping."

Moni's interpretation may sound ridiculous, but the public knows that although neighbourhood crimes are rising, they are not the only scenes of insecurity. How will Nyumba Kumi work for beach hotels to protect crimes against tourists? Or shall there be 'Hoteli Kumi' initiative? Will people residing near hotels be required to know the guests in the hotels?

A security officer in Migori County has given a somewhat workable tip for boda boda riders in the border county in southern Nyanza. The counsel follows hijacking of cars, disappearances, and murders of motorcycles riders.

The security officer says fighting insecurity begins with potential victims of crimes. He is asking the riders to ensure they take names and national identity card numbers of their clients, especially after 8pm. They have to share the information about their 'last' clients with other riders at the points where they pick them.The same advice could go to drivers of Proboxes who are targets of thugs, especially at night in upcountry locations.

The Nyumba Kumi initiative could supplement the Jubilee promise of creating millions of jobs every year for young people who deal in crime. Legitimate options could reduce the number of young people who would otherwise resort to crime.

The Government should also better know a police station without means of transport and personnel is of no use to public security. Nyatike constituency in Migori County, for example, has five divisions, but with only one vehicle for the District Commissioner. Just how does not expect the police to work? Finally, Happy New Year.

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