We must draw a line that must not be crossed in terms of our relationship with law enforcement officers.
A dangerous trend is steadily taking root in the Kenyan society— bold attacks on police officers by civilians. Last week as I was driving in the morning along Thika road next to Muthaiga Police Station, I saw a traffic police officer waving through the driver’s seat of a bus he tried to impound asking for help.
The bus driver and his turn boy were strangling the police officer. I picked my Maasai rungu and rushed to help a police officer- a “Maasai rungu” to help a police officer???
In 2009, there was an incident in Njiru area on the outskirts of Nairobi where a mob of rioting youths turned their wrath on the APs who had been deployed to quell the chaos, snatching a G3 rifle from one of the officers in the process. And all this happened in the glaring eyes of TV cameras that covered the incident.
Since then, there have been countless cases of civilian attacks on police officers, with the latest incidents where villagers attacked an AP camp in Bungoma and razed it to the ground, forcing the officers to flee for their dear lives despite being in possession of firearms.
In the recent Tana Delta clashes, nine police officers were attacked and slaughtered in cold blood by an unknown gang as they manned a police post. The gang snatched the officers’ firearms and set ablaze two police vehicles in the camp.
Similar reports of civilian attacks on police officers are also on the rise in the now volatile Coast Province— during the recent riots that followed the killing of Muslim cleric Sheikh Aboud Rogo, angry protesters attacked anti-riot police with explosive devices, killing close to ten of them and injuring scores of others.
And the trend continues in other parts of the country including Kisumu where two rival criminal gangs recently had the audacity to match to the police station and demanded the removal of the OCPD, and one of their members released from police custody.
There are analysts who say that, unfortunate as they may be, these increased incidents of civilian attacks on police officers are as a result of the increased freedoms that Kenyans are enjoying in the wake of a new constitutional dispensation.
This school of analysts argues that these attacks are characteristic of a people who had been deeply oppressed for many years and the moment they get some degree of freedom, they tend to vent out their anger on the people or institutions that oppressed them in the past— this is the kind of explanation that former U.S Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld gave for the wave of violence that erupted in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
“Freedom is messy”, Rumsfeld famously offered as an explanation for the chaos that beset Baghdad in the weeks that followed the ouster of Saddam Hussein.
But even if freedom is messy as some analysts put it, civilian attacks on police in Kenya are setting a very dangerous precedent. As his explanation for the lethargic manner in which police responded to the recent inter-ethnic bloodbath in the Tana Delta, deputy police spokesman Charles Owino was uncharacteristically candid; “We cannot respond with force because you Kenyans will accuse us of being trigger-happy.
The last time we responded to such lawlessness, you (Kenyans) took Ali (former police commissioner) to The Hague. We will not allow you to take Iteere (current police boss) to The Hague,” Owino said.
One could tell that Owino’s response was a well-rehearsed script that had the backing of his superiors and one that represents the official position of the Kenya Police.
In essence, what the Police are telling Kenyans is this; “you gave yourselves a new constitution that guarantees freedoms, and since our hands are tied by law, it is upon you Kenyans to decide how you want to police your society.”
Indeed, many police officers say that they are unwilling to act decisively in certain situations for fear of being accused of using excessive force.
“Today, many of us just carry firearms like decorations. We patrol crime-infested areas but pray that we are not called to action. But when we come across situations where criminals are also armed, we prefer to turn the away than engage them in a fire fight for fear of being accused of extra-judicial killings and the likes,” a police sergeant who sought anonymity said.
While some people may dismiss such explanations as mere excuses by the police aimed at holding the pending police reforms to ransom, there is need for Kenyans to reflect on what is going in the police force in order to come up with a solution that benefits all.
As much as we may argue on many other issues, one issue remains indisputable— the Kenyan society is becoming more and more militant, violent, and lawless, and if something is not done to curb the increased attacks on police officers by civilians, even our new-found freedoms will be impossible to enjoy.
According to Prof. Kanyinga, “if you want to understand the Kenyan society, just count the number of bumps in our roads- we have lost our moral values as a society”. No country in the sub-region has as many bumps on their roads as Kenya. Why?
There are countries like Denmark, US, and Britain among many others whose citizens enjoy immense freedoms. But attacking police officers by civilians is the last thing you would hear coming from these countries. In fact, there are serious consequences to face for attacking a law enforcement officer.
In this regard, as we Kenyans enjoy new freedoms courtesy of the new constitution, we must also draw a red line that must not be crossed in terms of our relationship with law enforcement officers.
If police become the constant victims of lawlessness, then we may end up having no society to speak of, the new constitution notwithstanding.
The writer is the CEO of Kenya Muslim Youth Alliance and deputy Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM).