- Other roles are exposing police misconduct, calling for transparency, accountability and community participation in policing and championing reforms.
- Traditionally, civil society organisations have been excluded from discussions around security and policing issues on the basis that it is a debate only for the government or the police.
This is by raising public awareness of policing issues, promoting debate around policing practices and reform and monitoring the performance of the police and government bodies.
Other roles are exposing police misconduct, calling for transparency, accountability and community participation in policing and championing reforms.
Traditionally, civil society organisations have been excluded from discussions around security and policing issues on the basis that it is a debate only for the government or the police.
Governments often want to retain control and police do not think that civil society understands the particular complexities of policing.
But, to get to a community-focused police service, a reform process needs the input of the community.
The walls put up by governments and the police must be scaled by civil society and the community.
Activities of civil society organisations relating to the police are of two types.
The first is where an organisation looks at police misconduct and human rights violations.
The second is where an organisation looks toward systemic reform of the police.
Sorry to say, but the majority of civil society work in Kenya has been looking at police misconduct – there has been little consideration of systemic reform – partly because of the challenges already mentioned.
Human rights organisations have been particularly active in monitoring and reporting police misconduct; for example, a non-government group called MUHURI has done significant work documenting human rights violations by the police and security forces and monitoring police performance.
Large international organisations, such as the International Commission of Jurists, have played a role in raising the profile of police human rights violations internationally.
There has been little work on systemic reforms.
You will all agree with me that a key aspect of civil society activity around policing is the way the media operates and approaches policing issues.
The media has a valuable watchdog role in exposing wrongdoing, providing information, making comments and raising public awareness.
The Kenyan media is considered to be one of the most independent in Africa and actively covers and reports on police misconduct.
The media has occasionally been at risk, with – the government making it clear on a number of times that it may not continue to allow the present level of press freedom.
In the past, the National Assembly has passed laws that have targeted the media with retrogressive clauses despite the provisions of Article 34 of the 2010 constitution which enshrines freedom and independence of electronic, print and all other types of media.
The Security Laws (Amendment) Bill, perhaps the most contentious in the life of the 11th Parliament, had proposed that, among others, that police must approve the publication or broadcasting of information relating to investigations on terrorism.
A provision that was highly contested as being misconceived in dealing with insecurity.
The contestations of laws targeting media show the scope of threats but Kenyans of goodwill have risen to the occasion to safeguard the already available constitutional principles.
Opportunities for future meaningful reform in Kenya are taking steps towards realising true democracy.
True democracy is not a possibility until the police model is democratic, accountable and transparent policing, rather than repressive, partisan colonial policing.
Kenyan civil society has an absolutely critical role to play in monitoring police misconduct and engaging with the government and other civil society groups and individuals to push for systemic reform, despite the challenges working within the Kenyan political context.
At a local and national level, Kenya needs more civil society engagement with policing and reform.
The good work of organisations that already monitor violations, and the good work of the media who give a face to the crimes of the police, needs to continue.
Civil society individuals and organisations also need to take more advantage of some of the tools at their disposal to ensure police accountability.
Civil society also has an important role to play in making sure that government reform processes – such as the current police and prison reforms task force on the improvement of the terms and conditions of service and other reforms of the National Police Service and Kenya Prisons Service – are effective and their recommendations thereof are implemented to the latter.
The potential for civil society to be involved in police reform in Kenya has generally been untapped.
Debates around policing are common though, more civil society organisations are taking on policing work, and the reform process has gathered momentum.
This is largely due to the work of civil society individuals and organisations; and a continued, community-focused and successful reforms process will require the support and input of civil society.
A Kenyan democracy needs a democratic police service; a democratic police service can only be borne of a community-focused reform process.
Dr Humphrey Young, PhD, Public Policy & Development Expert