Community-Oriented Policing in Kenya

Kenya is a diverse country and home to many tribes, some of them with long-standing rivalries. In remote areas like Turkana, the dry climate, long droughts, and very limited natural resources often exacerbate tribal conflicts. In such remote locations, the Kenyan police is reliant on the Kenya Police Reserve (reservists) to upkeep peace. However, the police reservists are essentially volunteers who often lack sufficient training and resources. This is unsurprising given that the official police also lack both resources and training.

Other key characteristics to help understand Kenya’s complex security situation are its historically unequal society, high levels of poverty and corruption, and high rates of unemployment and crime. Additionally, much of the Kenyan populace regard the police force as a highly corrupt institution. Nevertheless, Kenya originally introduced community-policing initiatives in 2005, and in 2013 launched Nyumba Kumi. Nyumba Kumi’s aim is to facilitate and encourage communication between the populace and authorities, by ways of a neighbourhood watch scheme based on units of ten households, on matters such as community level accountability and security. However, this initiative has only been selectively implemented throughout the country. Moreover, some communities feel it has been imposed upon them rather than being requested, and they refer to the new structure as foreign or unfamiliar to their culture. Furthermore, the use of ICTs for community policing in Kenya might prove challenging in remote areas due to the lack of necessary infrastructure paired with very high illiteracy levels.

Perceptions of Security and Insecurity
Many Kenyans experience distress due to, and through fear of crime. Physical violence is the biggest threat; muggings, robbery, rape, domestic violence, cattle raids, resource conflict, and police brutality are all significant concerns. There is also fear of kidnappings, house invasion, and carjacking among wealthier members of society. Terrorism is a significant concern, especially from the Somalia-based group, Al-Shabaab. The response of the military and police to terrorism has been almost counterproductive in making Kenyans feel safe. Muslim youths feel harassed and insecure as they regard some of the violence against Muslims in Kenya as unfair. However, the most commonly reported crimes in Kenya are petty crimes, for which youths are mainly responsible, as well as domestic violence and land grabbing.

Security providers
Kenya has three identifiable security providers. The main one is the National Police Service (NPS). The NPS remained the chief security provider after decentralization in 2010. Nonetheless, the NPS are critically under-trained and lack necessary resources. The second most important security provider is the Kenya Police Reserve (KPR), or reservists. The KPR are volunteers, with minimal training and lack of equipment, who generally provide security in remote parts of the country where the NPS is absent. Finally, several informal youth groups or gangs provide an unreliable source of security. They also provide some services such as waste disposal, sanitation, and water. There is also an informal group identified as the local militias, or Mungiki. They provide security, but force individuals to pay taxes for their services. Overall, the concept of community-oriented policing in Kenya is not new, but has not been embraced or received as expected by communities. The main barriers seem to be the lack of trust in the National Police and the approach taken so far to implementing and developing the community-oriented policing models.

Current Status of Community-Oriented Policing
The community-policing initiatives implemented in Kenya so far have done little to combat the country’s rising crime rate. Initiatives have been largely localized or restricted to certain areas, in part due to the police forces’ lack of presence in certain areas of the country, along with their lack of resources. This has hindered implementation of the COP strategy by preventing a unified action. Furthermore, there has been a lack of community inclusion when devising the COP programs. Whereas, including communities in the process may overcome the feelings of unfamiliarity and avoid activities that conflict with local cultural norms.

Source: ICT4COP Research, NMBU

Photo credit: Joseph Boinett/Twitter


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