With barely five months to the elections there are concerns that the slow pace of reforms in the security sector may compromise the realization of a peaceful poll. As the country readies for the March 2013 poll, a string of grenade attacks, emergence of criminal gangs and revival of outlawed groups, clashes in Coast and North Eastern regions, and violence at political rallies is raising questions on the level of preparedness by security organs ahead of the first election under a new Constitution
In just under 10 days, the nation has awakened to reports of an explosion at a Sunday school service in Nairobi, a machete wielding gang’s disruption of a rally at the Coast and manhandling of an MP by a mob at a political rally in Makueni. Between August and September, more than 100 people were killed in clashes in Tana River County, in what was reminiscent of past election year cycles of violence. Weeks earlier, Mombasa town was turned into a ‘war zone’ as youth fought pitched battles with police after the killing of controversial preacher Sheikh Aboud Rogo.
Fisheries Minister Amason Kingi was addressing a political rally in Kilifi when a gang alleged to be affiliated to the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), struck, killing Kingi’s bodyguard. The MRC, a group pushing for secession of piece of Coast Province from Kenya, is also alleged to have warned locals against participating in the forthcoming poll, heightening fears it may disrupt election-related activities like voter registration.
To date the country is yet to get an Inspector General of Police and two deputies to the position, amid concerns key reforms in the police force are on the back burner. Although the newly sworn in National Police Service Commission has promised to have the position filled by December, security experts argue this is not the only issue ailing the sector. “We should by now be training police officers, specifically on electoral security, to enable them handle disputes that may trigger violence at polling stations,” says African Centre for Security and Strategic Studies Chief Executive Officer Simiyu Werunga. Operationalization of the Commission is expected to set the stage for recruitment of an additional 7,000 officers before the elections. A similar number of officers graduated recently.
Captain (rtd) Werunga also weighs in on the emergence of illegal gangs, which he says points to lapses by security agencies. The Standard on Sunday last week reported the emergence of politically connected criminal gangs in Kisumu, in addition to other groups like Mungiki, the MRC and al-Qaeda linked terror cells in the country.
“Once the Government has declared an outfit illegal, it becomes the responsibility of the police to enforce the attendant regulations. This means investigating and arresting persons, regardless of their status, who may be supporting, or directly involved with activities of such gangs,” says Werunga.
Among those who have urged the country’s leaders to expedite security sector reforms before the March 4, 2013 election is former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. While on a visit to the country last week, to ensure the laying of a peaceful groundwork for the elections, Annan said reports of violence and regrouping of militia gangs was worrying. Calls to enhance security ahead of the elections have also come from the Church, which last week said it was finalizing a suit against the Government for its failure to protect Christians and their properties.
Churches have borne the brunt of grenade attacks in recent months, recording more than 15 deaths in one day when two churches were attacked in Garissa, in July. Kenya Human Rights Commission Programmes Officer Lillian Kantai says besides making a substantive appointment to the position of Inspector General, there are crucial reforms in the security sector like vetting of police officers, which should have been addressed before the election. “There is a possibility we may be moving into another election with some officers who still hold responsibility for commission of crimes during the 2008 post-election violence. We needed to have all officers vetted,” says Kantai who is in charge of Security Sector Reforms at the commission.
Kantai says besides retraining officers, it is also important to ensure they are technically equipped to respond to crises. Lack of a unitary command within the police force, and proper co-ordination among security organs has been cited as a contributor to the current spate of insecurity.
There have also been suggestions for security organs to profile electoral violence cases to help craft better responses to such incidences. While maintaining that police reforms would benefit both citizens and officers, Kantai says there is need to establish basic electoral guidelines ahead of the 2013 poll. “Basic minimum electoral policing guidelines would include addressing issues of force, handling of public rallies, identifying and instituting prosecution on hate speech, and having an effective co-ordination mechanism between the police and National Intelligence Service,” she told Standard.
Institute for Security Studies researcher Emmanuel Kisiang’ani says besides appointment of an IG, there are much broader issues in the security sector like pay, housing, and a change of attitude among officers that must be addressed. He cites some provisions of the new Constitution like devolution, which if not well handled could result in mobilization of people along sectarian lines.
Dr Kisiang’ani, a researcher in conflict prevention and risk analysis, also points to Kenya’s engagement in Somalia as another security threat that must not be ignored. “As we go into the election we must be alive to all possibilities of security threats including attacks targeted at voters on polling day. We still have extremist groups like Al-Shabaab that have resorted to guerrilla tactics on realizing that they could not fight a conventional war with the better equipped armed forces,” he says.
PeaceNet’s policy advisor Nyang’ori Ohenjo says the country’s security sector is still unprepared in terms of numbers and structures that should have been in place before the election.
Should timelines within the Constitution have been kept then the country would have had an Inspector General of Police, a year after promulgation of the Constitution in August 2010. But delays in passage of critical legislation on security sector reforms, as well as wrangles between coalition partners President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga contributed to the late establishment of a body mandated to recruit the new IG.
Members of the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) board, which is mandated to investigate complaints related to disciplinary offences committed by members of the National Police Service, took office earlier in July.
According to Ohenjo the security organs’ (miss) handling of the Tana clashes was a pointer to the state of the security sector’s unpreparedness in dealing with conflict that may arise during elections. “What would be considered as hotspots, or potential security threats are increasing, given recent events in the Coast and Nyanza regions where militant groups have emerged,” says Ohenjo
The situation, he says, is worsened by the ethnic trajectory taken by politicians. “We find ourselves in a catch-22 situation because any occupant of the Inspector General of Police office would need political goodwill to effectively institute reforms. Then there is also the fact that the police themselves have internal issues that may affect officer’s morale,” he says.
source standard newspaper 14/10/2012