Many dreamy years ago, when I and many of you were still naive and uncorrupted by grown up stuff, a near-extinct animal called public service existed, and thrived. Agricultural extension officers traversed the land and interacted with small scale farmers. We taught the Singaporean civil service the strings, back when Kenya and Singapore GDPs were almost at par. Our national intelligence service was reputably one of the best in Africa if not the world. There were drugs in pharmacies of dispensaries and hospitals. National ID cards and passports were there for the taking. Pensions and retirement benefits for career civil servants who had given their all for a better Kenya were readily available. The civil service was this hallowed calling, where only the best went to and contributed immensely towards development of the nation. Wikipedia tells me that public service is that which is provided by government to people living within its jurisdiction, either directly (through the public sector) or by financing provision of services. Wikipedia also says civil service can refer to either a branch of governmental service in which individuals are employed (hired) on the basis of professional merit as proven by competitive examinations; or the body of employees in any government agency apart from the military, which is a separate extension of any national government. There is nothing which screams public service louder than the police, nurses and doctors, lecturers, teachers, firefighters, game rangers, prison warders, immigration, water, roads, housing and transport. Security however is the loudest screamer.
Kenya Police Force. Kenya Police Reserve. National Police Service. IPOA. National Police Service Commission. Johnston Kavuludi. It’s been a quite a journey from the days of the Colonial Police, as depicted below, of a parade of “askaris” in front of the police headquarters in Mombasa (ca 1900) (photo courtesy of Hans- Martin Sommer, M.A, Research Scientist for a research paper on The History of the Police in Kenya commissioned by the National Museums of Kenya in 2007). The colonial police has acquired many different shapes and forms as has its mother department. Internal Security and Provincial Administration had a colonial tint to it. Ministry of the Interior painted a picture of a savage territory overrun with heathen savages who needed to be put down (secretly, I think this is the unofficial security government posture judging by the way they execute (no pun intended) their mandate as happily captured in the photo below from an unnamed source). Enter Homeland security. Kinda has a nice ring to it and evokes images of supercool government security agents with supercool security gizmos battling all forms of evil to keep citizens safe from harm. Unfortunately, these 2 photos, 115 years apart tell a different story. A tragic one.
Below: Flogging of suspects in Yumbis, Garissa, Kenya, May 2015
In 2015, in Kenya, almost everything that can kill you will and does. Open gaping manholes on the streets, buildings jackknifing midway through construction, getting knifed down unlit streets for a purse or a cap, giving birth, traffic accidents, floods and famine, malaria, HIV, cancer, politics and very lately the new king of death on the block, terrorism. 2015 has been a particularly gory year and hundreds have lost their lives to terror. So, why is Kenya who only a few years back was being referred to as the “island of peace” whose neighbours were falling apart, falling apart? A very simplistic reason could be that there is no more public service ethos. As PLO Lumumba aptly describes it, Kenya has adopted a new ethos, “Sonkonization”, the worship of money or wealth. Regardless of how it is made or where it comes from. Especially irregardless. Everyone wants more at whatever cost, and public service is the fastest avenue to RichesLand.
There have been several reports of folk quitting high paying jobs in other sectors to join the civil service, with its low pay and unlikely career progression potential. And then there is the police recruitment exercise which has become a national obsession. It seems everybody wants to join the police in Kenya, with its low pay, hazard, appalling living and work conditions. In fact millions of shillings exchange pockets during this exercise in bribes for a chance to make the cut. It’s a no brainer why. Gravy train. And so they look away and line their pockets and buy 0.8 acre plots and build hideous concrete structures with concrete walls and buy second hand Japanese vehicles. My problem in this context isn’t the mindless avarice. It is how, 115 years later, we still recruit security officers to offer perhaps the most critical and sensitive public service. Security. We make it obvious that the best are not needed, and only the most desperate unemployed not-so-academically-inclined athletic youth with a perfect dentition have a chance. Double that chance if your sponsors can put together a bribe for the selecting officers. Then we expect to hopefully turn this lot into supercool security agents securing the homeland from harm.
So, how has the role of police evolved in 52 years since independence to respond to global threats of terrorism, cyber security, evolution of human rights & democracy and illegal wildlife trade? Can our police respond adequately to these emerging trends in development of civil societies? Shouldn’t there be a more efficient and smart way of recruiting police officers capable of responding to these new threats other than counting their teeth, measuring their height and timing how long and fast they run? What about entry exams? Why can’t we recruit officers from an already existing and highly effective facility like the National Youth Service whose reason for joining public service was actually that? What about a professional program to recruit the best programmers, engineers, lawyers, forensic experts into the public security service? The public security posture should radically change from that of colonial askaris tasked with the responsibility of providing guard services and beating natives into compliance to a public security organization professionally run, staffed and equipped. That also means it’s time to de-politicize and by a large extension de-ethnicize security management. No more horse trading – a Maasai for a Maasai CS for Internal Security. For example. It also means more resources for the cops. How can we say we are serious about fighting terror when we have a measly 13 aircraft for the police, half of which are grounded for lack of spares? How tragically moronic must we collectively be? It also means we have to be able to integrate bio-data into a national mainframe database for fingerprints, photos and names, and embrace the use of digital technology like internet, CCTVs and drones to help cut down the cost of intel and 10,000 cadets. Having the IG on twitter isn’t enough. Surely Kenya can be able to do this. The president recently launched the command and control center of a new police surveillance system and this is indicative of the potential to transform public security service. We definitely have the resources, judging by the billions of public shillings regularly featuring on headlines as having been stolen, lost or misappropriated. Oh, and it means treating our security personnel humanely. How can we expect a police officer who lives in a hovel and survives on a monthly pittance and zero hazard pay to uphold the rights of a suspect or citizens when all he understands is being treated like an animal? Or not to engage in sleaze to make ends meet? Probably engaged in sleaze in order to get into the police service in the first place! Lastly, it means we have to do away with police stations, tucked away from the eyes of the prying public, dens of iniquity where all manner of evil reigns supreme. Huruma police station comes to mind. Why can’t police stations be part and parcel of the communities they serve? Saw a very interesting model in Awasi, Kisumu where a police station or post was located in a new commercial building smack in the center of the town! The next step would be to equip such stations and link them with the new police command and control center.
Remember. Security begins with you. Amen
Word of the Week: Term Limits – this could be Africa’s saving grace and should apply to all elective posts. Imagine a world where you can only suffer elected fools for a given amount of time. Might give this country the turn-around it needs by dismantling old boy networks, cronyism, apathy, lethargy, sameness.