Insecurity in Kenya and the upcoming March 2013 elections

It is a mere three and a half months before the March 4th elections in Kenya and compounding the problems facing the electoral commission (which is riddled with corruption allegations and is yet to register voters) is the fact that insecurity in the country appears to be on the rise. The recent killing of at least 40 police officers in Baragoi (in northwestern Kenya) says it all. This comes just a couple of months after the Tana River massacre that left over 100 villagers and police officers dead in mid-September.

(credit: Gado)

The Tana Delta and Baragoi massacres exposed the failures of the intelligence and policing operations in the less-governed parts of Kenya (roughly the northern half and most of the east and southeast of the country). In both cases the government was caught flat-footed and unable to respond rapidly to emergent security threats.

A lot of finger pointing followed both incidents, with the police claiming that their hands were tied by strict laws on the use of force (thanks in part to the justifiably hyperactive human rights crowd in Nairobi) and the politicians blaming one another for incitement of the perpetrators of the crimes.

The latest incident in Baragoi has forced the president to order the deployment of the Kenya Defense Forces to assist in bringing to book the bandits behind the murder of dozens of policemen.

But the deployment of the security forces alone will not bring an end to the cycle of killings that have plagued Kenya in the last several months. In order to clean up the toxic mix of archaic cultural practices, local politics and economic interests, the government will have to be a little bit more broad and nuanced in its approach. What ought to be done about the cultural practices behind cattle rustling? How, if at all, are local leaders ever involved in these operations? What is the local political impact of these raids?

Which brings me back to the 2013 elections. The electoral commission has only one month beginning on Monday Nov 19 to register 18 million voters. Serious lapses in security that seem to be commonplace in large parts of the country do not inspire confidence in the agents of the commission who are supposed to traverse the whole country to build a new voter roll.

A failure to register enough voters for the election due to insecurity will de-legitimize the whole process, with dire consequences.

I hope that the electoral commission is following the investigations of these incidents of violence closely (especially since it has the power to punish those in contravention of election laws). Many Kenyans trust that the commission will be fair on election day. It is therefore not inconceivable that knowing that they won’t change the results after people have voted, crooked politicians have resorted to gerrymandering by other means – by dislocating certain pockets of voters or instigating violence to suppress voter registration and eventual turnout.

Ali’s exit was long overdue

In an ideal world the ranking of an institution as the most corrupt in a country is enough reason for the head of that institution to resign or initiate radical reforms to mitigate the situation. But this has never been true for the Kenya Police Force. Every year,  the Kenya Police Force has emerged as the most corrupt institution in the country without serious repercussions at Vigilance House. It therefore came as welcome news when the president announced today the replacement of Major General Ali with Mathew Iteere as Police Commissioner.

Ali tried to rein in organized crime and to tame the proscribed Mungiki sect. The executive lacked the political will to let him finish the job and Ali lacked the spine to take the fight to those who stood in his way. He was also anti-reform, which must be the main reason why the president has chosen to show him the door. His legacy will forever be tarnished by the force’s extra-judicial killings that took place on his watch. But he will also be remembered as the no-nonsense commissioner who moved the force from the backward days of the Nyayo era police state towards a force befitting a quasi-democracy. Many would agree that for a reformer he lasted for too long at the helm and therefore failed  (kind of like what will become the fate of his former boss, President Kibaki).

Mr. Iteere, from the paramilitary GSU, comes in at a time when the force needs urgent structural and operational reforms (as recommended by the Ransley report). I know nothing about the man but I hope he is strong enough to stand up to the president’s  men (and increasingly the Premier’s men too) who might stand in his way. We wish him well.

spread the word…..

The Kenyan government continues to refuse to deal conclusively with the issue of police brutality and extra-judicial killings. Here is a link to an open letter to the prime minister and president on the issue. Read it and pass it along.

I am particularly disturbed by the continued politicization of the killings. ODM seems to be the most vocal against the killings while PNU remains more cauti0us in its approach. I believe it is wrong for both ODM and PNU to try to politicize this matter. Kenyans are dying, some innocent, and we risk a complete breakdown of the rule of law. And how is police commissioner Ali still in office?????? Why hasn’t ANYONE been fired yet??? Accountability, accountability, accountability.