Public confidence in Kenya’s police force has been eroded due to accusations of impunity, excessive use of force and brutality, disregard for human rights, abuse of due process and malignant corruption. The promulgation of a new Constitution in August 2010 was designed to changed all that. It provided the bedrock for instituting extensive security sector reforms in Kenya after decades of demand for political and socio-economic transformation. Most notably affected by the reforms are the police.
Public outcry for transformation in the police sector in particular have been driven by the ills in the police force whose nefarious reputation has eroded public trust. Those feelings continue to persist but the on-going reforms have brought some hope that the ‘force’ will transform into a ‘service’ that is accountable, professional, transparent and possessing a human rights sensitive approach;, as well as the operational capacity to deliver on its obligations to the Kenyan public.
Prior to the passing of the new Kenyan Constitution, the Commission of Inquiry into the Post Election Violence in Kenya submitted an indicting report in 2008 regarding police conduct, as did a subsequent report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions. Both reports offered recommendations for the overhaul of the existing policing system. In pursuit of these recommendations, the government set up the National Task Force on Police Reforms in May 2009 headed by Judge (Rtd) Philip Ransley, to recommend proposals for police reforms in the country. Afterwards, the Police Reform Implementation Committee (PRIC) was set up by the President to fast-track and coordinate the implementation of the 200 recommendations of the Ransley Task Force in line with the new Constitution. The PRIC has since prepared five Bills that provide a framework for the implementation of the reforms and if properly enacted as stipulated in the Bills, the reforms should effectively transform the previous policing system. The Bills are the National Police Service Bill, the National Police Service Commission Bill, the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) Bill, the National Coroners Bill and the Private Security Industry Regulation Bill.
Civilian oversight is critical to the democratic control and governance of the security sector, and the creation of the Independent Police Oversight Authority, stipulated in the IPOA Bill is as such crucial as it will provide much needed accountability and monitoring functions over the Police Service. Part of the IPOA mandate will be to receive public complaints regarding police conduct and will also have powers to conduct its own independent investigations. If faithful to its responsibilities, this civilian oversight body will contribute in restoring public confidence in the police and in stemming political interference, which has been a major hindrance to police performance. Those mandated to run the body should as such be of impeccable character, vetted by the public and possess the will and ability to carry out their responsibilities without fear or favour.
Another significant reform affects the management of the Police Service, through the introduction of a single police command structure. The National Police Service and the Administration Police, previously run separately, will now be headed by an independent Inspector-General of Police, who will be appointed under the advise of the Police Service Commission. The police, effectively transformed from a ‘force’ into a ‘service’ is also another important reform aspect expected to reverse decades of a police culture characterized by impunity, secrecy and brutality into one that is more transparent, humane, responsive and proactive rather than reactive. To support these efforts, the Police Code of Conduct should be revamped in order to transform general police behaviour and end years of unethical conduct.
Other reforms address issues of capacity within the police service. Gaps in terms of manpower and training fostered by years of malignant corruption, nepotism and lack of resources have also contributed to poor service delivery by the police. Police morale as a result of poor pay, deplorable living and working conditions and an unsympathetic public, (which finds it hard to appreciate some of the good work of the police), are also challenges to efficient and effective police performance. The reforms which the ministry of internal security estimates will cost over 80 billion Kenya shillings over a three year period will be used to address these capacity gaps through proper remuneration and housing, refurbishment of police stations, new equipment and vehicles, upgrading communication equipment and skills training. Community policing strategies introduced almost a decade ago to enhance public confidence but which have produced little success are also set to become more effective once the reforms take hold. In order to properly address these capacity issues, government should therefore ensure that budgets and funding for the various projects are adequate, released on time and that reforms remain sensitive to gender and minority concerns.
Granted, local ownership of the reform process will be fundamental to effective police reforms in Kenya. However, critical to the reforms will be continued engagement with the international community, because their involvement has contributed significantly in filling critical gaps through provision of technical expertise and funding along the reforms journey. Sweden, the United Kingdom, the US, Japan and the UN are some of the key partners and donors supporting the reform efforts and to the extent necessary their continued participation should be encouraged.
In order to effect comprehensive systemic change, coordination with other parts of the security sector and its actors will also become critical in achieving desired reform outcomes. This is because owing to their function, the police are inextricably intertwined with the criminal justice system and their performance inevitably impacts on its effectiveness. It is therefore significant that the judiciary and other security sector actors such as the Criminal Investigations Service and the National Security Intelligence Services are undergoing similar reforms. However, these efforts should be well coordinated in order to achieve a properly functioning and efficient criminal justice system, able to deliver with fairness and justice.
Successful implementation of the police reforms in Kenya will serve as a good model for SSR in Africa. Also, with the next general elections set for 2012 and considering police conduct during the last elections, the reforms have been widely welcomed by the public. The political will displayed thus far by the government to the reform process is as such commendable and will be imperative for sustaining the reforms and delivering meaningful institutional change within the Police Service and also across the security sector in general. In this respect, outstanding Bills that have yet to be passed in parliament and signed into law by the President should be expedited. Also, civil society actors, who indeed play an invaluable and active role in the reforms process, should continue to raise awareness, advocate and monitor performance in the reform process, conduct research and provide information and expertise relevant to achieving sustained and successful police reforms in Kenya.
Written by Irene Ndungu, Consultant Researcher, Peace Missions Programme, ISS Pretoria Office