The recent terrorist attacks as well as the near-misses have led to heightened security in most public spaces. These days when one drives into a shopping mall you will get stopped at the gate for a security check, walk through a fixed or hand-held metal detector point, and meet private security guards walking around. You will also most probably catch a glimpse of armed police officers patrolling at some point or other.
Of course the checks done do not always leave one with a sense of security. Recently, as I waited to drive into a shopping mall I watched as one security guard checked my car boot while another guard walked around the car checking underneath with a mirror. Once they were done I asked one of them exactly what they were looking for and he smiled and told me ‘usijali’. As I drove in, parked my car and got my bag from the boot; which had not been checked; I was not sure whether the checks I had undergone would have identified me as a criminal had I been one. It left me with a sense of unease, as I thought of the thousands of people visiting that and similar malls across the country, every day. On another occasion I asked a guard whether he knows why he is doing what he is doing, after he let a car pass unchecked because the driver told him the boot does not open.
However public security is based substantially on pre-defined profiling of potential risk elements, whether it is a vehicle, or individuals, based on type and behaviour. This means that in most occasions a security officer has already pre-determined whether a car, driver or walk-in client is a potential threat even before they start physically checking them.
This then defines whether they will actually check the car or person and how intense the check will be. Incidentally, unlike has been suggested by some civil society activists and opposition politicians, profiling is a security process used across the world. This is why people from certain countries or religions get more intrusive security checks at international airports, than others. It is also the reason you get a more thorough check at a road block when driving a Probox, than when driving a Land-cruiser VX.
But profiling is not enough, especially when looking at the security needs of a country like Kenya where most private security guards are not adequately trained on how to do it. Kenya also has a police-to-population ratio of 1-to-1000 (or one police-man for every 1,000 members of the public) as compared to the UN-recommended ratio of 1-to-450; which means that even in those cases where qualified police officers do the profiling, we do not have enough resources to go around. Add the challenges faced in situations like what happened in Eastleigh recently where members of the Somali ethnic community there were screened, and the resistance it attracted from the human rights community as well as the political opposition, and it becomes clear additional security processes are required.
The Kaguthi-led ‘Nyumba Kumi’ initiative is one such process that could address the gaps that exists in Kenya’s security sector. It has been structured as a community policing initiative to get members of the public to work together with security agencies, to identify and hand over bad elements within them. Unfortunately Kenyans have understood this initiative to be a process where neighbours spy on each other, on behalf of the State. The initiative has also been rolled out as if it was being introduced into an environment where the kind of social relationships on which it is meant to operate, do not exist.
This is why Nyumba-Kumi is not delivering as expected. But all is not lost.
A good way to start this off is by presenting the concept differently. We could borrow from the concept of the family unit where each Nyumba-Kumi is focused more on protecting itself from the ‘outside’, rather than in looking for problems from within it. It can also be messaged as an ‘I-am-my-brothers-keeper’ initiative, where members of the public add the drive for better security around them into existing social affiliations; this will then bring in all those chamas, religious home-groups, welfare associations, etc; Kenyans are already part of, into the initiative. The concept could also be restructured so that it stops looking like a government-led initiative, and becomes a public campaign. We also live in an age where Internet platforms can be set up for members of the public to access tips on general security at home, on the road (as a driver, passenger or pedestrian), or in public spaces; and upon which they can bring attention to incidences or situations they encounter as they go about their business, that have raised their security concerns.
Only when Nyumba-Kumi becomes understood as how the public helps the government direct limited security resources strategically will participating in it become an automatic responsibility of every Kenyan.