The name Kenya Police Force used to evoke fear and apprehension from Kenyans of all walks of life, especially those bound to find themselves on opposing sides with the state at one point or another. Acres of footage abound from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s of overzealous security agents (sometimes working overtly in cahoots with hired hoodlums) manhandling legislators, senior lawyers, world renowned activists and members of the clergy, and Wanjiku.

The manner in which these members of the security agencies assaulted Kenyans was not only bizarre but scary, as if they were wolves unleashed on unsuspecting sheep. They would arrive in droves, shouting and screaming orders, wielding rungus which would soon land on patriotic bones before teargas canisters were shot into the picket lines – to immobilize targets before indiscriminate beatings descended. Usicheze na serikali seemed to be the mantra.

And so when Kenyans decided to write and adopt a new Constitution, the transformation of the police from perceived thugs-in-uniform into civil, amiable arbiters who (unless in extreme instances where they’d need to use brawn) would, in the idealized minds of the drafters, ask Kenyans whenever they met on the streets naweza kukusaidia aje? instead of the dreaded wapi kitambulisho? Under this new policing regimen, peace, love and unity would abound. 

And so we went all out. The name was changed from Kenya Police Force to National Police Service, because theirs was supposed to be utumishi kwa wote, not utumishi kwa wachache, the wachache being those at the helm of the state who issued inhumane orders for the deployment of force against dissenting Kenyans. Then, it was thought, the police needed to be protected from the wachache by giving them autonomy and better terms of service, and so in came an independent Inspector General of Police, replacing the political Commissioner of Police. Then came the National Police Service Commission (NPSC), to safeguard the wellbeing of police officers, so that the police wouldn’t need to dance to wachache’s tune.

These, and more changes, didn’t just come out of thin air.

There had been Philip Alston, followed by Philip Waki, then Philip Ransley – otherwise known as the Three Philips – easily three individuals who hoped to alter Kenya’s policing in the most fundamental ways; doing extensive investigations, collecting voluminous views, writing bulky reports and making hundreds of radical recommendations (Ransley alone made over 200). 

Alston, serving (2004-2010) as the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions made damning revelations in 2009 about the Kenya Police’s suspected complicity in extrajudicial killings and summary executions, concluding that the police couldn’t investigate themselves, calling for an invitation of foreign security agencies. Waki, a Court of Appeal Judge who served (2008) as chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry Into Post Election Violence (CIPEV) – otherwise known as The Waki Commission – scrutinized the extent to which the police responded to and were implicated in the 2007/2008 post-election violence, and just like Alston, sought far-reaching reforms in seeking to prevent a repeat of the accusations laid against the police. Ransley, a retired Court of Appeal Judge, chaired (2009) the National Task Force on Police Reforms – otherwise known as The Ransley Task Force – prescribing specifics on how and where the police needed reforms. Feeding on Alston and Waki, Ransley consolidated nearly anything and everything for a rebirth of the police.

Despite huge resistance – from some quarters within the police and from politicians of the old order who viewed the police as an extension of their political goons – police reforms took on a life of their own, especially after the passing of the 2010 Constitution which incorporated some of what had been pinpointed by the Three Philips. It is out of these hard-fought changes that today Japheth Koome sits at the helm of the National Police Service as Inspector General.

And yet, going by his latest utterances – such as the assertion that the questioning (whether merited or not) of his actions as the police chief (regarding the police’s conduct during Azimio La Umoja One Kenya’s maandamanos) are driven by the fact that he is a Meru; or his continued declaration that picketing and protests (which are constitutionally guaranteed) will not be permitted by the police – indicate a man who may be choosing to operate under the old policing order. Under that Police Force, police bosses were political appointees (in which case Mr. Koome’s being a Meru would be a factor), whose promotions were based on their ethnicity and proximity to political godfathers. It was also in that discarded era that the police either thought they were a law unto themselves or operated on an orders-from-above basis – to permit or not permit rights and freedoms – for the sake of appeasing political powers that be. 

The point Mr. Koome is missing is that when crunch time comes and everyone has to save their skin, politicians will use the Constitution to shield themselves, because the law envisions an independent police service, such that the policing buck stops at Mr. Koome’s door. When that time comes (and it more often than not does come in democratic states like ours, even if it takes time), the fact that he is a Meru or that there are politicians targeting him or defending him won’t matter. The person put to task will be the Inspector General of Police – whoever he or she is, and it happens to be Mr. Koome at this juncture – who shall carry the weight of the police service in its entirety on their shoulders, being the agency’s overall commander.

The best Mr. Koome can do is to befriend the Constitution.

It will stand by him when no one else will.

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