REFORMING THE POLICE – A MISSION WITH A FINISH LINE OR A SISYPHEAN ENDEAVOUR? ASKS WAIGANJO.
In Greek mythology, Sisyphus or Sisyphos was the founder and king of Ephyra. During his time as King, he proved to be a sly and deceitful person.
On numerous occasions, he violated the revered Greek concepts of hospitality and generosity shown to travellers and guests. Instead, he killed them, in a self-serving attempt to prove he was a ruthless king.
These violations, his cunning and hubris made him fall foul in the eyes of Zeus, the Greek god of the sky. Zeus punished Sisyphus by forcing him to roll an immense boulder up a hill only for it to roll down every time it neared the top. Sisyphus would repeat this act for eternity. Throughout the classical influence on modern culture, tasks that are both laborious and ultimately futile were therefore described as Sisyphean.
The country’s National Police Service can trace its origins to the period between 1887-1902 when the East Africa Trading company, later the Imperial British East African Company, operated in Kenya for purposes of furthering British Interests. The company would establish an armed security force comprising of Indians and a skeleton staff of Africans referred to as askaris. This security force would later morph into a police force regimented along military lines and with military training.
The Force primarily served as a tool of the colonial government and was rightly seen by indigenous Africans as a punitive citizen containment squad. The relationship between the police and the indigenous Kenyan population rapidly deteriorated as a result.
The historic culture of brutality and systemic ineptitude within the police force came to a head between 2007 – 2009, following the disputed 2007 general elections that was characterized by numerous extra judicial killings and enforced disappearances.
In the aftermath of the infamous 2007 post-election violence period, and following recommendations made by the Waki commission of inquiry and the National taskforce of police reforms, sweeping changes within and outside the police service would be put in place, to bring much needed and far reaching reforms. One key institution established to bring about police reform and professionalism in the country was a civilian policing oversight body established by an Act of parliament to hold police accountable to the public.
In spite of the gains made in the journey to reform the police, cases of police brutality and torture, extra judicial killings, enforced disappearances, abuse of power and corruption among others have continued, to an extent unimpeded.
Granted, a decent number of those cases have been independently investigated and errant police officers charged in courts of law and convicted for their crimes but these cases have not done enough to change the enduring public perception of the police service and permanently banish its brutish image to the depths of history.
Perhaps the journey of police reform is one not to find closure but of attrition. Perhaps, ultimately, there is no coup de grâce blow to finally slay the dragon of police brutality and lawlessness, to lead us to proclaim that we are free at last from its grip. Like Sisyphus, perhaps all that can be done is to sustain our efforts towards reform. The effort is the end in itself.
Mr. S Waiganjo works for the Independent Police Oversight Authority