Tag Archives: Accountability

An Open Letter to the Inspector General of the Kenya Police Service, Brig. Boinet

Belated congratulations to your new appointment dear sir. With over thirty years experience in the force, you are as much a police insider as can be. You know all that ails the force first-hand: the solutions as well as the priorities.

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Inspector General of Police Boinet (right) with President Uhuru at State House Nairobi

However, Inspector, your kind of experience may be a blindfold. We humans tend to get numb to our problems over time. The only true consolation at the demise of a loved one, for instance, is the passage of time. Having worked in the force for three decades, you may no longer feel the force’s inadequacies as sharply as a new recruit or an outsider observer. Police welfare is amongst the worst of any public employees. Your charges lack proper housing, personal protective equipment and proper health insurance in a long list of other basics. New entrants into the force find these inadequacies difficult to adapt to. Many of those who turn their guns against themselves or colleagues are police officers newly confronted by these difficult inconveniences.

With the passage of time, those who stay in long enough (like you have) numb and learn to cope. Corruption in your force is mostly driven by the need to meet these most basic of necessities: decent housing, transportation to work, family investments should one die in the line of duty and above all, a living wage.

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Police housing in Moyale near the Somali border.

As a senior officer, you have already taken care of these pressing needs at a personal level. Inadvertently or intentionally, you probably consider the process of adapting to these inadequacies as some unofficial mark of pedigree or rite of passage. That is why it will be vital that you seek out and listen to voices from outside as much as those from within. You may wish to consider the following four suggestions from an outsider whose only qualification for advising you is curious informal observation of other countries’ forces and a burning love for Kenya. All the four are long-term proposals that will need inter-ministerial collaborations within government.

First, the process of joining the police force (and the other security forces) needs to change. It has been a long while since the colonial times when the White man lined us up to look at the completeness of our teeth or absence of scars as qualification to joining the forces. The society is more educated and crime is more sophisticated. We need not prevent our best students from joining the forces if they so choose. Why can we not advertise vacancies in the forces in the dailies and invite applications from all interested individuals who meet high physical and academic entry criteria? We can have a central admission committee that receives applications, prepares a shortlist and interviews applicants in an open fair process. Since competition is bound to be high, the interview can include oral presentations as well as written exams on contemporary general security issues, an aptitude test and targeted physical tests. Anyone who goes through this is not only passionate but also fit for service.

recruits
Police recruits undergoing a casual physical examination.

This new crop of officers will be beholden to their country rather than godfathers in the force. Obviously, they will need to be paid well, housed properly and well equipped for the job once they graduate from the police college. Not all will make it to Kiganjo, but those who do not will provide a better recruitment pool for the private security companies; many of which employ people who cannot grasp any of the security challenges of today’s Kenya.

Second on the list are our police stations. Police stations across the country sit on some of the most prime real estate. Sadly though, these prime properties have been turned into junkyards. The police force loses threefold in the current setup:  a poor image, loss of revenue for the free secure storage of junk and the opportunity cost of putting the land to a more economically productive use. Inspector, you can achieve value from these prime city plots by first decluttering all them of junk. It is the insurance companies’ responsibility to store damaged vehicles as investigations continue. To preserve evidence, the police force can go digital. Employ the services and equipment of crime scene investigators who will archive the scene and relevant pieces of evidence on digital media and in forensic labs. The accident vehicles can then be towed to designated storage yards at the insurance companies’ cost. Such vehicles may be released to their owners or insurance companies as soon as the police are satisfied they are of no evidence value or the cases settled.

Police station
The front yard (occasionally backyard) of a typical police station.

After decluttering stations of junk, sir, you need to reconsider the citing of cells. To many Kenyans, the police station is an informal jail. This is because police temporary holding cells are an earshot away from the front service desk. Why not have cells off the police station, or at least in a separate isolated block away from the service desk?  Take hospitals for instance, they keep the mortuary out of site of patients and other clients. A force that seeks to improve its relationship with the public must not only act friendly but also appear so.  Most stations have enough land that can inventively be redesigned to make them places of refuge that they should be. Many are large enough to house high-rise police housing apartments, a school, a dispensary, a small playground for officers and their families and neat offices for serving the public. In many countries, a visit to the police station is similar to a visit to the bank or clinic on the next block down the street. No images of tonnes of rusting twisted junk, no sound of commotion from the cells next door, well-lit airy rooms, friendly officers and resting grounds. We need not fear ourselves, police or civilians as we both share a common spirit of a safe secure Kenya.

albany, georgia
Albany Police Department in Georgia, US.

The third proposal touches on police roadblocks. Inspector, you have manned a roadblock at one point. You know what happens at these mostly illegal barriers. As a first act, please publish a list of all the gazetted roadblocks across the country and denounce all others. By empowering citizens with this information, you will have pulled the rug from under the feet of errant officers who spring roadblocks at their convenience. However, beyond publishing the legal roadblocks, you will need to creatively make sure that non-compliance to the law pains the offender and rewards the enforcer. Currently, it makes little sense for a scrupulous police officer who enforces the law to the letter and collects millions of funds in fines for the state yet their pay remains a pittance and working conditions an abuse. It is possible to sanitize corruption by making sure that a percentage of the fine collected will be due to the officer enforcing the law. This will directly reward officers who work diligently and progressively discourage petty offenses like speeding and carrying excess passengers. Needless to add, the police must be equipped accordingly with gadgets that will collect irrefutable evidence of all alleged crimes. Body cameras and radar guns are some of such equipment already in use elsewhere.

President Uhuru launching 175cc traffic police motorbikes. These are short-life, low power and low maintenance bikes in the class range of boda bodas. Meanwhile, VIP escort police ride state of the art high powered bikes for the pompous service of small elite.

Finally, police welfare is sorely lacking in many areas. By virtue of their job, police officers put their lives on the line for the rest of us. Naturally, the government ought to take care of police officers and their families both during the officers’ lives and upon their death in the line of duty. The ongoing police housing project is welcome but it is moving at snail pace. Many officers still live in squalid conditions. Police need their own schools, transport to work, dispensaries and convenience stores within their housing estates. With proper planning, vetted citizens can share some of these amenities (like schools and clinics) at a fee. It is possible to have souvenir and gift stores and police museums at major police stations: selling branded merchandise like t-shirts, key rings, umbrellas, mugs, caps, etc and telling the heroic tales and history of our police through artifacts, mementos, documentaries and lectures. This serves a dual purpose; it raises revenue for police welfare while blending the public and police together.

A souvenir mug from the NYPD

It is said that when you are the bottom, the only way to go is up. Our police force has so much to do to improve itself for the benefit its workers and the country at large. It begins with an understanding that police are currently working in less than humane conditions. These conditions have made our otherwise gallant officers easy target for bribery and mental conditions like suicide and depression to the detriment of the society in general. Inspector General, make it enviable and rewarding to serve in the Kenya Police Service.

FOUR LIES PEDDLED BY THE OFF-AIR TV STATIONS AND THE FACTS BEHIND KENYA’S DIGITAL MIGRATION

Kenya’s three leading media houses, (Nation Media Group, Royal Media Services and The Standard Group) have recently voluntarily pulled their TV broadcasts off air after failing to prepare for the digital TV broadcast migration. While independent media is historically vested with the noble duty of impartiality, accuracy and honesty in their broadcasts, the events leading to the said TV stations going off air have exposed how the three media houses can sacrifice facts and objectivity for self-interest and preservation.

According to the three, they are off air because of two reasons: one, the high court ruling in favor of digital migration did not give them time to import new equipment and two, Communications Authority forcefully raided their transmission site in Limuru and carted away their analogue transmission equipment. As a result, they say, ‘over 90% of Kenyans‘ have been thrown into an information-entertainment-education black hole. This, they add, is a constitutional affront on Kenyans’ right to information, Kenyans who are now ‘angry and frustrated’ at the lack of NTV, QTV, Citizen and KTN in their living rooms.

How much time?

To be fair, both reasons for their being off air are true and valid to an extent. However, both are dishonest and  twisted; this is why. The discourse on digital TV broadcast happened in the US in from the early 1980’s culminating into their adoption of digital TV (DTV) as a national standard in 1997. Other developed nations like Western Europe and Japan saw the economic sense of DTV and adopted it about then. For the rest of the world, the International Telecommunications Union’s (ITU) Regional Radio Conference (RRC) adopted a resolution in 2006 committing all member countries to the adoption of Digital Video Broadcasting (DVBT) as national standard by July 2015. Kenya is a signatory and therefore adopted the resolution in 2006. Kenya’s enthusiasm with DVBT saw her set her own migration date as July 2012, three whole years ahead of schedule! Kenyan media players therefore had six years to meet the internal migration deadline and a further 3 years to fine-tune any teething problems before the global deadline. Our neighbors Tanzania migrated in 2013.

The 2012 deadline was in fact beaten when Signet, a subsidiary of KBC, went live with Kenya’s first DVBT transmission in December 2009 in Nairobi. The following year Kenya adopted an even better digital platform, DVBT2, to save us the cost of a future migration. The dates remained the same. Again, Signet went live with DVBT2 in February 2012 in Nairobi.  A new company, Pan-African Network Group was live on the same platform in Nairobi in June of the same year. It is instructive to note that all these developments happened in the public space. Tenders were floated and won openly. Standards were set and deadlines announced.

In the meantime, KTN, Citizen TV and NTV kept themselves busy with the 2007 general election and the subsequent violence. They had live events, debates, analyses and all. Kofi Annan’s peace accord was actually signed live on TV. 2012 seemed millennial. These broadcasters either thought the migration was not happening or as happens in Kenya, felt insulated by the right people in they knew in the right places. Either way, they simply had no recourse plans. Having lost a bid for signal distribution following a half-hearted participation in the international tender in 2011, they successfully moved to court in 2013 to compel the then CCK to award them frequencies.The local migration date was then moved to December 2014, more time for them. Meanwhile, DSTV launched GoTV, a new service that would tap into the DVBT2 platform but NMG launched QTV, another channel on the analogue platform!

Another election happened complete with all the media frenzy. Come November 2014, the three moved to court in a grossly belated move to stop the digital migration. They wanted more time! Yes, more time to import decoders and transmitters! Eight years later!

The Law

As a matter of fact, all willing media houses have had more than enough time since 2006 to not only comply, but also chart the path of the digital migration. What is happening at the three media houses is a classic case of economist Joseph Schumpeter’s ‘creative destruction’ theory: new technologies disrupting interests and comforts of entrenched players in an industry while destroying entry barriers to new players. The only difference in this case is that the change has been brought about by legislation rather than innovation and the resistors have failed to garner the political muscle to thwart the change.

History is replete with grand examples of the cost of resisting technological change. Kodak, the inventor of the digital camera, was killed by the same digital camera because they failed to manage changes in the industry occasioned by their new technology. Nokia gave us mobile phones but died after failing to manage changing consumer tastes and trends. Same fate befell the pioneer smartphone maker, Blackberry. Here in Kenya, the then Kencell was a market leader in voice, data, geographical coverage and number of active mobile connections. As the market evolved to low income consumers and gadgets, our mighty Kencell stayed put. Several name changes later, they cannot provide a worthy alternative to the mighty Safaricom.

By law, the three media houses have until March 30th to broadcast in the rest of the country on the analogue format. Their joint decision to go off air in protest and blame it on the Supreme Court and CA is at best a fatuous teenage tantrum. While at it, they surely know a clause exists for the repossession of unused frequencies. CA’s action after the court ruling is not only legal but fair for those who have abided by the migration timelines.

Information Black hole

It is simply not true that 90% of Kenyans are now groping in the dark following this voluntary shutdown. TV ownership in Kenya stands at 30% of the households. That aside, we are in 2015. It means there are new media for accessing information, entertainment and education. The proposition that these three media houses provide material that would be deemed educative is one that is best not interrogated so as not to give it undeserved currency and in the interest of our comely friends in Nigeria and Latin America. For the 50% of Kenyans with internet access, this forms the main source of information and entertainment. The simple reason is that internet is mobile and individualized. You have it in the bus, in the club, at home, in the office, at school and everywhere else.

This lie is even made more interesting by the fact that the broadcasters went off air but continue to upload their programmes on YouTube. Obviously, they understand that we have alternative media. It is really their loss. No one pays viewers to watch advertisements on TV but free-to-air (FTA) TV runs on advertisers’ money. The intelligent thing would be to quickly comply, even compromise today’s profit, but maintain their respective viewership. The law requires that all FTA’s must be carried by all content providers free, subscription or otherwise. Therefore, GoTV, Startimes, Bamba TV, Zuku and the rest simply comply with the law by carrying the local FTA channels. Going off air does not punish them or the viewers; neither does it save or earn NTV/Citizen TV/QTV/KTN any money. In fact, less than 0.5m Kenyans have internet good enough to view a newscast.

Angry and Frustrated

We are supposed to be angry and frustrated that we can’t watch NTV/Citizen/QTV/KTN! Patriotism means I will not make an honest description of what I really think of the quality of content of these TV stations. Granted, they are the most popular in Kenya. Advertisers want numbers; the quality of those numbers may not matter. Two thirds of Kenyan households do not own TV’s for various reasons. Why would they be angry and frustrated? For their neighbors!

In summary, these TV stations have had over eight years to prepare for the migration. They still have a month to broadcast in analogue in the rest of the country and can reach viewers with compliant devices through digital frequencies they currently own. They must be included on all decoders free by the law. Kenyans have multiple other sources of information, entertainment and education and are therefore neither ‘angry and frustrated’ nor in ‘darkness’ at the absence of these stations on their TV screens. The law must be obeyed by all without undue exceptions and on this, the three have shown an inflated feeling of entitlement to special treatment and dishonestly tried to shape the facts in their favor. It’s little wonder when else these broadcasters willfully ignore facts and objectivity in pursuit of vested partisan interests.

In a country where top businesses thrive on political patronage rather than competitive and technological innovation, NMG, RMS and SG obviously feel lost in the absence of a political compass. They have been forced to play by the rules for once and are clearly unprepared. This may not be the cleanest of all government processes neither is digital TV Kenya’s pressing priority, but there were time and avenues for that discourse. It is my wish other government bodies emulated CA and that the politicians let these bodies work. Most importantly, Kenyans need to see our leading media houses for what they really are; brokers.

Celebrating Kenya @ 50: Who’s Hosting?

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In colonial Kenya, long before I was born, the government was a foreign entity only domiciled in Kenya. It came with its structures and practices from yonder and paid little courtesy to what the locals felt or thought of its ways. If anything, the government’s goal was to subdue locals so the protectorate could advance the Queen’s agenda. That is how the fertile highlands were settled by the rulers and not the locals. To ensure the locals remained on their knees, the government decided what activities anyone could do. For instance, locals could not grow coffee or tea; Kenya’s black gold back then. If a local got within the white man’s circle, it was for their role in keeping their fellow black man subdued. We therefore had chiefs and askaris who were meaner to African Kenyans than the supposed-oppressor White rulers were.

At independence, for some strange reason liberation carried with it the animosity that existed between the privileged few and the masses. The police continued to be agents of torture and repression. The average public servant was not accountable to the ordinary citizen but to the new black “white” man. Colors changed but the relationships did not. Citizens were liberated but were still supposed to remain in their pre-independence clothes. The rulers meanwhile conveniently grabbed the white man’s wardrobe and did not care to turn out in the white man’s best attire.

Today, 50 years later, your average public officer will easily lose their job if they went against the grain of the establishment. Even when their action was in public interest! We still cherish the GSU for their ability to reign terror on fellow citizens. We still clothe our tribal demigods in the colonialist’s garbs; irreproachable, benevolent and with a free will to tread over us as they may please. The ordinary citizen has remained at the same spot he was at independence; unwilling to upset the leadership with uncomfortable questions, unquestioning when called to vote and always sorry for his own sad plight.

In the last week, two events got me thinking of how stagnated our society has remained in leadership and accountability. On Wednesday 14th, former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr and his wife were both sentenced for what in Kenya would be called corruption. Jackson was sentenced to 30 months in jail for stealing Ksh 65M of public funds. While that may not be big news in Kenya, the news is that these public funds were donations by the public to Jackson’s election campaign kitty. Now that would get most Kenyan politicians and citizens in serious thought trying to contemplate what the offence was! And as if that were not strict enough, his wife got a sentence for falsifying tax returns to hide the theft. The Jacksons were condemned and chastised for what in Kenya would never be known in the first place. A man once touted as potential president climbed down the public moral altar in disgrace courtesy of greed and public accountability.  Jackson displayed a kind of greed we are not strange to in Kenya. He spent the money on a Rolex watch and few other little luxuries at a time when his family’s combined annual earning was over Ksh 26M. In essence, Jackson stole money he already had to spend on things he did not need. The Kenyan public sphere is replete with supposedly honorable men who steal money they have for things they do not need but get away with their impropriety. Sadly and oddly, the ordinary citizen is firmly stuck to his colonial mindset; not asking questions and worse, swearing support when tribe is appropriate.

The second event was in Germany. An 8-year old boy was bitten by a turtle while swimming in a small lake. The boy sustained an injury but nothing life threatening. However, what followed is unimaginable in Kenya. The entire lake was drained and residents and firemen searched for the single 40cm turtle in the mud all weekend.  Such is the value of human life. And such is the epitome of public accountability. It saddens that we lose thousands of innocent productive citizens in Kenya in such senseless ways as road accidents yet nothing is done about it by the responsible public officials. The idea of public officials serving the public is still a far cry. The colonial mentality of serving a boss has held our leaders from recognizing the dignity and potential of our own people. Instead, all decisions must conform to the interests of the establishment first before those of the citizenry.  This is why we will still cherish the GSU for their batons, fear the police for their handcuffs and hold leaders in awe for their positions. In the meantime, nobody will move to fix the carnage on the roads, the want in hospitals and the disarray in schools. All this while, the public remains firmly seated in their role as subjects rather than employers of the leaders. The few who try to make a difference are just that, few.  In Mandela’s words, it remains a long walk to freedom.