The fourth Police Inspector General of Kenya was sworn in yesterday. As Japhet Koome assumes office, what might he find in his in-tray and which opportunities could he seize to deepen human rights-based, professional policing and access to justice for all?
Firstly, an admission. I attended and actively contributed to the vetting of the incoming Inspector General through a memorandum and petition offered by the Police Reforms Working Group. The petition posed a few inconvenient and hard questions to the nominee related to his role in the 2017 post-election violence. The action was neither personal nor vindictive. While parliamentary vetting of State officer nominees is crucial for legislative oversight, active public participation is the fullest expression of the constitutional article 1 that states “the people are sovereign”.
This is the second time civic organisations have questioned the competency and suitability of the presidential nominee in the public interest. On 27 March 2019, we offered ten questions for MPs to ask Koome’s predecessor, Hilary Mutyambai. How would he practically stop unlawful police killings, enforced disappearances, and corruption, improve community-police relations, and reduce police violence during protests and public assemblies? Would he enforce court orders without fear or favour and collaborate with IPOA and IAU?
The incoming Inspector General can do no better than download and read “Missed Opportunities: A scorecard on the Jubilee Administration and lessons for the next Government”, released in July 2022. Despite persistent documentation, media publicity and actions by oversight agencies, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances increased rather than reduced under his predecessor’s watch.
While the legal mandate of the Inspector General has not changed in the Constitution (Art.245) and National Police Service Act (Sect.10), the public safety and political context have. The fourth Inspector General takes up office in a week that has seen Kenyans demanding action against rising petty offences and violent robberies that have claimed the lives of many, including Keegan Githua (26) of Kiambu.
As the IG took his solemn oath before the Judiciary on Friday, a high court was sentencing three police officers and a civilian for the torture and murder of Willie Kimani, Josephat Mwenda, and Joseph Muiruri after a lengthy six-year trial. The reshuffling of senior commanders, disbanding of the Special Service Unit, and prosecution of nine police officers have been encouraging.
However, for the reforms to be credible to the public, investigations must go beyond the Kenya Kwanza contractors and Indian nationals Zulfiqar Khan, Zaid Kidwai, and Kenyan driver Nicodemus Mwania. Koome’s public commitment to stopping police criminality, establishing a police wellbeing directorate and the County Policing Authorities, and an open-door and transparent policy towards independent offices and human rights organisations was reassuring this week. These promises will require political will, practical actions, and partnerships across the state and civil society to go further than his predecessor. The incoming IG can start by decisively disciplining his Bondeni OCS. Inspector Kimutai misinterpreted the law this week to publicly urge residents to kill criminal suspects in Nakuru.
The IG can embark on a national listening tour of his stations and communities most affected by poverty and crime. Developing a broad-based national coordination mechanism will also deepen partnerships and eliminate the idea human rights organisations, and police are on different sides. He can build on the exciting appointment of the first woman and PHD holder Police Spokesperson, Dr Resila Atieno Onyango, by increasing POLICARE funding and improving the current 1:10 ratio of women to men police officers as a strategy to reduce gender-based violence.
He must also assert his independence against the controversial presidential appointment of State House Principal Administrative Secretary Bernice Silaal as National Police Service accounting officer. The appointment contradicts Ruto’s own public commitment to financial independence and undermines the authority of the Police Service Commission.