Search for new Kenyan police chief enters final stage

Just over half of the people who have been interviewed to be Kenya’s first Inspector-General of Police were involved in the security operations during the violence that shook the country four years ago.

In the first public interviews in the country’s history for the job of top cop, nine men and women argued why they fit the bill before the National Police Service Commission, in the spirit of openness dictated by the constitution. The interviews took place on Friday, Saturday, and Monday this week. The commission chose the nine from 102 individuals who applied for the job when it was advertised on October 15, 2012.

Five of the interviewees were senior police officers or government officials during what is now commonly referred to as the post-election violence that occurred between December 2007 and February 2008 when more than 1,000 were killed.

The senior most of them at the time is David Mwole Kimaiyo, who until the end of January 2008 was the Director of Operations of Kenya Police. Currently, Kimaiyo serves as Kenya’s representative to the Regional Centre on Small Arms and Light Weapons. The most visible of them is Eric Kibaara Kiraithe, who at the time was and still is the national police spokesman. The other three – Grace Syombua Kaindi, Hassan Noor Hassan, and Joseph Henry Ashimalla – served at the provincial level during that bloody period.

Kaindi was the police boss in Nyanza Province where many victims died from gunshots or had gunshot wounds. She now heads the Kenya Police Airport Unit. Hassan was the chief administrator of the Rift Valley Province. It is for the violence in this region that the four Kenyan accused at the International Criminal Court (ICC) have been charged. At present Hassan heads a government initiative to restore a major forest area, which is the source of five of the country’s rivers. The initiative is called the Mau Forest Restoration Interim Coordinating Secretariat. Ashimalla was the police boss in the Rift Valley Province during the bloodshed. He is currently the deputy head of the police’s main training institution, the Kenya Police College.

With Kenya scheduled to go to the polls in March next year, few of the interviewees listed preparing for any eventuality before and after the elections as a priority if they get the job. Most listed as priorities rank and file issues, such as reviewing promotions. Only two of the nine stated fighting corruption in the police would be a priority if they became the Inspector-General of Police. In annual surveys on the frequency of bribery and size of bribes ordinary citizens pay to institutions, the Kenya Chapter of Transparency International found between 2001 and 2008 the police always ranked as the most corrupt.

The Commission took Kimaiyo, Kiraithe, Kaindi, Hassan, and Ashimalla to task for their roles during the post-election violence. Each defended their actions, stating in the lead-up to the December 2007 elections there were no major lapses in security. They also stated the violence broke out spontaneously after the presidential results were announced and they managed the situation as best as they could. Kimaiyo, during his interview, stated that there are lessons that could be drawn from that period but did not elaborate what they were when he was asked to.

Currently, the Commission is interviewing candidates for two positions of Deputy Inspectors-General. These interviews will end on Saturday. The commission is expected to announce soon afterwards its shortlist of three nominees for each position. The shortlist for Inspector-General will then be sent to President Mwai Kibaki. He will, together with Prime Minister Raila Odinga, chose one individual and forward that name to the National Assembly for the relevant committee to vet that individual.

All this could happen as early as next week because the National Assembly returns from recess on November 20. Given the anxieties across the country about whether Kenya is better prepared than 2007 for the elections, the assumption is Parliament and the government will move with speed to ensure a new Inspector-General is confirmed before the National Assembly goes on Christmas break. If that does not happen then Kenya could go into the elections without new leadership at the police because it is unlikely the National Assembly will resume business before it is dissolved on January 15 for the polls.

The new posts of Inspector-General and Deputy Inspectors-General of police are creations of Kenya’s two year old constitution informed by ordinary citizens’ experience of police brutality, extortion, and poor investigations of politically sensitive cases. Since independence from Britain in 1963, Kenya’s top police officer has held the title of Commissioner of Police and enjoyed near absolute power directing operations and determining the promotions and dismissal of all senior officers, among other things. However, the Commissioner of Police has served at the pleasure of the President, which has meant the Head of State has effectively controlled the police.

The new constitution changes this. Now, it is required that the Inspector-General and the two deputies are to be recruited competitively by the National Police Service Commission, which is also responsible for policy-making. The Inspector-General also only serves a single term of four years and can only be removed if a tribunal recommends so.

Supplementing the constitutional provisions is an autonomous body to provide civilian oversight on the police called the Independent Police Oversight Authority. This authority flows from proposals made over the years that Kenya needs to adopt new methods of police management and also provide for a forum citizens will be comfortable approaching when they have complaints against the police. A government-appointed task force on police reform also recommended the Authority be formed in its report submitted in October 2009.

Whenever Kenya’s new Inspector-General is confirmed to the job, he or she will not need to worry about how to change the police. The report of the National Task Force on Police Reforms is comprehensive on how to bring the National Police Service into the 21st century, covering issues such as policy on deployment of police officers to addressing rank and file matters.