As an American living in Nairobi and working on the 2007 elections managing an observation effort, many of the most enduring images for me are of the security forces, the GSU, the Administrative Police and the Police Service.
The appearances in the days before the voting matched the rumours that the security services were 'containing' Kibera. On the eve of the voting, we watched on television images of Administrative Police being dispatched to the west under circumstances that were murky at best and officially denied.
The GSU played a heavy role at the KICC during the post-vote tallying period and ECK Chair Samuel Kivuitu was whisked away under heavy security to announce the chosen winner with a small private audience and cameras only from the KBC.
As violence arose from protest and its suppression, and from gangs and militias which were in some cases sponsored by political players, people around the world saw the indelible image of Kenya's GSU, in full paramilitary battle gear, standing shoulder to shoulder, to protect . . . an otherwise empty park.
Thus, it was clear that the priority of the government was to control access to the politically-hallowed ground of Uhuru Park rather than to protect the citizens.
The Waki Commission determined that the largest single grouping of those killed were those shot by police.
From this background, I watched the course of the implementation of the so-called “reform agenda” over the years since. Reform of domestic security services has been crucial if Kenya is to become a fully functioning democracy in which the government operates under rules of law to serve the country and its citizens rather than protecting narrower political interests to the point of killing innocent Kenyans with impunity.
On balance, what we have seen from the current government is delivery of only a tiny fraction of the necessary police reform in the five years since the disaster in the wake of the last election. When the new constitution was finally passed in the contested referendum in the summer of 2010, it included among its structural reforms the creation of the new Inspector General post to lay the groundwork for a more professionalised force less subject to political manipulation.
Unfortunately, the priorities of those who ended up in power through the botched 2007 election and the mediated settlement have been since the passage of the constitution primarily elsewhere.
How any of us could be surprised by that would be beyond me. Thus, it was not until late 2011 that the crucial implementing legislation, the National Police Service Act, was passed by Parliament.
This is legislation that was crafted carefully with serious expert input and had the government than moved forward with some minimal sense of urgency to implement the proscribed reforms Kenya could be in a different situation today. For reasons that no one seems to have attempted to explain, however, the government sat on its hands until late last year as yet another election approached.
We now have an Inspector General appointed and confirmed finally, after the oversight panels were belatedly constituted. Thus, finally the senior leadership to implement the planned reforms is in place and at some point in the future, if things are not disrupted by next month's election, there can be hope of substantive reform.
For anyone that doesn't fear the role of the Kenya's domestic security forces in the meantime, including in regard to the new election and the politicians, please look around Kenya, to the Tana River Delta, to Garissa, to Baragoi, and to gang-infested cities and towns in whatever region.
Read the report from Amnesty International dated January 30 entitled “Kenya Police Reform: A Drop in the Ocean.” Read the report released by Human Rights Watch on February 8 entitled “High Stakes: Political Violence and Kenya's 2013 Elections.”
These organisations dispatched professional researchers to conduct interviews on the ground at higher and lower levels throughout the country to report on the reality of security conditions without political spin or the bland dismissive reassurance of government spokesmen and bureaucrats.
Part of what is so disappointing about the pace of progress in police reform is that it has so much impact on the lives of ordinary Kenyans. Unlike electoral commissions that play a specific role on a periodic basis, the difference between good policing, bad policing or no policing is a key determinant of the quality of life for Kenyans and the failure of the political class to act with alacrity in this area says a great deal about where their priorities lie in spite of the opportunity to learn hard lessons from 2007-08.
I will say that I am concerned for the new Inspector General David Kimaiyo, specifically. He seems to be professional and he has long experience. I was especially intrigued to read about him in the report of the Parliamentary committee that investigated the Artur Brothers fiasco in 2006.
As a senior police official at that time, he was one of those witnesses who was initially obstructed from testifying by those in power in spite of being subpoenaed, but his testimony was eventually secured.
It is good to know that some people were at least afraid of what he would say. Nonetheless, he is in a new position set down on top of an old and dysfunctional organisation that he has inherited and that he does not have time to change before the election.
The news already reports a rift over appointment authority between Kimaiyo and the chair of the new National Police Service Commission—the kind of kinks in a new system that should be expected and that inevitably take time.
Ultimately, Kimaiyo even on paper, is only one member of the National Security Council. Even though he has some additional theoretical authority, he is to implement rather than set the government's security policy.
Like Samuel Kivuitu in the weeks before the election in 2007, he has respect and credibility from his past, but he is one man only, one vote on security policy, and not fully in control of what will happen even within the police service at this point. This should be a sobering thought in light of what we all saw play out in the last election.