Kenya: Why Police Spokesman Was Pushed Out of Service

A declaration by police spokesman Charles Owino on his intention to join politics, plus a push for realignments in the top ranks of the National Police Service as the 2022 General Election fast approaches have seen him pushed out.

Mr Owino, who, according to sources, is just the first of several senior officials within the security sector who could be moved in the coming months, as has been the tradition in the period leading up to elections.

In early 2013 and in September 2017 -- just weeks before the repeat presidential election -- Mr Owino was among seven senior officers who were promoted, while others were transferred.

The police spokesman was in March ordered to go on leave. He was recalled last week. However, on arrival at his office, he was informed that he was being transferred out of the National Police Service (NPS).

He will now take over as deputy director of the Kenya National Focal Point (KNFP) on Small Arms and Light Weapons, which effectively removes him from the nerve centre of security operations.

Acting in his place is Mr Charles Koskei, the deputy director of Corporate Communications in the NPS. However, the Director of Criminal Investigations (DCI) George Kinoti is also lending a hand. Recently, he called a press conference to respond to a media expose on the illegal trade in fire arms by rogue police officers.

Less limelight

"I am happy with the move as it will accord me less limelight before I finally exit the service to vie for the Siaya gubernatorial seat," said Mr Owino yesterday.

Created in 2003, the KNFP is a multi-agency initiative under the Interior Ministry that brings together various government ministries, departments and Civil Society organisations in the management and control of small arms and light weapons in Kenya.

For a person who has been a near constant face in the media before his fortunes began to dwindle within the NPS sometime in mid-2019, the ejection of Mr Owino was a long time coming.

Efforts to clip Mr Owino's wings started two years ago when Mr Hillary Mutyambai was appointed inspector general of police. The IG, who is himself media shy, is said to have ordered all communication from the National Police Service to the media to be expressly cleared by him.

This effectively gagged the office of the spokesman, which until then had been very vocal. The last nail on Mr Owino's departure, however, came when he made known his political ambition while still serving as spokesman.

"An appointed State officer shall not in the performance of their duties act as an agent for or further the interests of a political party," says the Leadership and Integrity Act.

"An appointed State officer or public officer shall not engage in any political activity that may compromise or be seen to compromise the political neutrality of the office," says the law.

Mr Owino has been in charge of communication at the NPS since taking over from Mr Kinoti. He had a brief stint as spokesman in 2013, when Mr David Kimaiyo was IG.

He was replaced by Ms Zipporah Mboroki, who also served briefly until 2015, before Mr Kinoti was appointed to the influential position.

Mr Owino is so far the longest serving police spokesman since the service rebranded, courtesy of the 2010 Constitution.

Differed with bosses

A graduate of political science and communications, Mr Owino's tenure as spokesman has been largely successful, albeit a little controversial, especially on the way he defended police officers accused of brutality and harassment of the public.

He has at times rubbed his bosses the wrong way, like when he recently differed with his boss, Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i, on the eligibility of recruits into the police service.

In an interview on Citizen TV in March, shortly before he was forced to go on mandatory leave, Mr Owino defended the preference by the police to recruit secondary school graduates who scored a minimum KCSE exam grade of D+ (plus).

According to the police spokesman, officers with higher grades were returning to colleges and acquiring degrees and thereafter seeking promotions. This jeopardized service delivery, he explained.

"We have a challenge when we employ every policeman with grade C plus and above because they go back to school, they get their degrees and then they come back and say that they do not want to serve at a certain level. It is important we get officers who have C plain, C minus and D plus," said Mr Owino.

His sentiments came just days after Dr Matiang'i said the qualification for recruitment into the police service should be raised from D plus, to improve service delivery.

Speaking during a graduation ceremony for 46 prosecutors at the Prosecutor Training Institute in Loresho, Dr Matiang'i questioned the service's capacity to deal with emerging crimes, saying graduates of the Kiganjo Police Training College were no match for tech-savvy criminals.

"This is why I have been fighting that we look at the cut-off point of the people we are admitting. Surely, if we are admitting you with a D plus then we are telling you to go to the complex science of analysing blood and preparing a document that the DPP is going to use in court to prove murder, are we serious honestly? Are we serious?" he had asked.

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