By Jacktone S. Ambuka
Known for his skepticism of a powerful government and his love for individual and collective liberty, third president of the United States Mr. Thomas Jefferson said â€œwhen the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people; there is liberty.â€
The words of Thomas Jefferson came into my mind this week on the backdrop of police brutality that was meted against peaceful demonstrators in Nairobi. The government (police) unleashed terror and fear in the hearts and minds of protesting citizens as un-armed peaceful demonstrators were dramatizing their discontent with lawmakerâ€™s threats to disband salary Remuneration Commission (SRC)-a commission that harmonizes salaries for state official and unilaterally increase their salary. Although use of pigs as a symbol of greedy politicians was inexcusable, police descended with kicks, blows, whips, military water cannon and teargas.
The tyrannical scene at the Kenyan parliament was reminiscent of the dark days of former president Moiâ€™s government that outlawed peaceful demonstrations. Dissenters were imprisoned without trial and severe police brutality was unleashed against innocent citizens. You would think those dark days in pursuit of freedom and democracy are behind us. Unfortunately, those days are still well and alive.
Apparently, old habits die hard. Although we promulgated a new constitution in which basic freedoms and bill of rights including freedom of expression, demonstration and assembly are well enshrined; old order seems to be deeply ingrained in the new government of President Uhuru Kenyatta.Â During the protest that was dubbed â€œoccupy parliamentâ€, about 18 members of the civil society including former journalist Boniface Mwangi were arrested. Notable demonstrators included a constitutional lawyer professor, Yash Pal Ghai, and human rights activist, Mr. Maina Kiai. A picture of a young man being brutalized by police officers spoke a thousand words. It exemplified how the mindset of our Kenyan police is still steeped in the old dispensation that thrived on wanton use of excessive force, physical abuse, verbal abuse and psychological abuse to weaken the resolve of citizens.
Yet, reports about police brutality and violation of human rights arenâ€™t new. These reports have been associated with the Kenyan police in the past. A couple of years ago, former United Nation human rights rapporteur Professor Philip Alston unearthed a damning report that exposed gross violation of human rights in Kenya. The report elicited imbroglio between lieutenants of the two principles of the former coalition government.
Moreover, the Government this week was put on defense by the United Nations Committee Against Torture for perceived inability or unwillingness to implement reforms in police service. The committee lamented that \”There is a perception that the state is failing and it is failing through the police. The credibility of a state is like the credibility of an individual. It is gained by ethical practice.â€
Additionally, Waki Commission of Inquiry into the Post-election Violence (CIPEV) released a â€œstinging indictment of institutional failure and complicity of internal security apparatus (including police) in gross violation of human rights and crimes against humanity.â€ The inquiry revealed that dozens of people were felled by the bullets of rogue and undisciplined police officers. Among other recommendations, CIPEV envisioned improvement in performance and effectiveness of police service. Although much has been achieved to reform police department, it seems it is too little too slow.
Without a doubt, Kenya police service requires urgent reforms if we are to attain a civilized society founded on the rule of law.Â Sadly, Inspector General (IG) of police Mr. David Kimaiyo appears to be good at issuing threats and warnings.Â But when it comes to accomplishing tangible reforms, our IG scores grade E. He is yet to implement policies that can enhance police effectiveness in delivery of services to the public. But until our police officer are trained to respect the bill of rights as stipulated in the constitution, endeavor to end corruption and enhance public relations with the citizens, we will never attain a truly reformed police service. This is a new Kenya. We must reform police service. Police brutality has got no place in the new Kenya.
Jacktone Ambuka is a Kenyan residing at State-college Pennsylvania, USA. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org follow him on twitter @JackAmbuka or check his Facebook page – Bunyore Discussion Board.